The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is seriously concerned over the impending transfer of Bong Andal, the confessed backhoe operator and applicant for state witness, to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, to be detained there with the primary accused in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre.
At Bagong Diwa, Bong Andal will be joining brothers Zaldy and Andal Ampatuan Jr., who allegedly ordered him to bury the massacre victims and their vehicles in an attempt to cover up the evidence of the massacre.
We believe that Bong Andal’s testimony is crucial to the prosecution of those responsible for the mass murder of 58 persons, 32 of them our colleagues, in what is now recognized as both the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the deadliest single attack on the press in the world.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, in an earlier interview, recognized as much.
It is therefore, puzzling and utterly disturbing that the panel of prosecutors has withdrawn the petition to admit Bong Andal as a state witness, thus paving the way for his transfer to Bagong Diwa.
Putting him in the same detention facility as those who allegedly ordered him to cover up evidence of the slaughter would clearly put him in grave threat.
It is obvious that any threat or actual harm to Bong Andal might lead to a perversion of justice through the loss of such vital testimony.
We understand that Andal’s application to be made a state witness remains pending, as his lawyer Romarico Ayson has filed a motion asking Jocelyn Solis Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, to reconsider her order to “withdraw and expunge” an earlier petition to include him in the list of witnesses.
In the interest of justice and in the name of those who lost their lives in the massacre, we urge that the transfer of Bong Andal to Bagong Diwa be recalled and that he be admitted as a state witness.
Almost four years since the carnage, the trial of the accused has barely left the starting gate. This in itself has helped strengthen the perception – nay, the reality rather – that such heinous crimes can be committed with impunity.
The potential for the loss of such a vital witness and his testimony that Bong Andal’s transfer to Bagong Diwa poses can only worsen this.