What unfortunate timing. Just as the Philippines is under the microscope for its world-renowned snail-paced justice system and lack of overall transparency, its president, Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, reportedly blacklists nine Hong Kong journalists from entry into the Philippines. The banning of the journalists is on account of how they allegedly “heckled President Benigno Aquino during a meeting of the APEC grouping last year and presented a threat to public safety.”
The families of the victims of this appalling incident as well as the broader Hong Kong community believe justice has not been properly served and that the Philippine Government has not made good on its commitment to ensure those who are responsible for the mishandling of the crisis response surrounding it are held to account. Indeed, no ranking Filipino official of consequence has been charged despite the astounding levels of incompetence exhibited by the Philippine Police which was captured on video and aired live to millions of viewers all over the world as the tragedy unfolded.
The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency recommended the ban last June because the journalists were disrespectful of the president, said Elaine Tan, a spokeswoman of the Bureau of Immigration.
“A blacklist order (has been issued) against the identified foreign nationals,” Tan said in a statement on Saturday.
“One of the grounds, anchored on the interest of public safety, is when a foreign national shows disrespect or makes offensive utterances to symbols of Philippine authority.”
The journalists had questioned Aquino aggressively about whether he had met Hong Kong leaders over the deaths of eight visitors from the former British colony in a 2010 bus siege in the Philippine capital, Tan said.
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The unethical — borderline criminal — behaviour of Philippines’ Media organisations and personalities that covered the drama are also seen by many observers to have been significantly instrumental to the degeneration of the negotiations between the police and gunman as they overstepped the bounds of good journalistic codes of behaviour during such crises and compromised the credibility of negotiators with their irresponsible reporting. None from the Philippines’ media industry have been charged for their role in the tragedy either.
Bad timing, indeed. Four years on and the Manila Bus Hostage Massacre joins an ever-lengthening list of high-profile acts of mass homicide in the Philippines that have become case studies of everything a justice system should not be. Last week saw the conviction and sentencing of government officials responsible for building safety lapses that resulted in the deaths of 162 young Filipino students in a fire that engulfed the Ozone Disco Club in Quezon City where they celebrated the end of the school year. The tragedy happened in 1996 which means it took more than 18 years for the case to crawl through the Philippines’ criminal justice system.
Last week also marked the fifth anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre in which 58 people were murdered allegedly by political warlord Andal Ampatuan in 2009. The case remains in limbo owing to the powerful politicians and feudal clans involved in the case. Interestingly enough, the lawyer who is representing the victims’ families had also recently been distracted by a more “newsworthy” case of late, the Jeffrey Laude murder case which has riveted Filipinos over the last couple of months. Roque also represents the victim’s family in that one. Suffice to say, that one is progressing through the justice pipeline at a more modern pace thanks to the close supervision of the United States Government.
So, indeed, the timing of President BS Aquino’s adolescent tantrum against these Hong Kong journalists couldn’t have been worse. In his actions are revealed the sort of society Aquino governs, and re-enforces perceptions that the Philippines is host to an inherently unjust society governed by people from whom this banal injustice emanates. Small wonder that the Philippines has become a global laughingstock and its high-horsed stands on human rights seen to be nothing more than mere fashion statements. Amnesty International (AI) is starting to see the half-baked attention that the Philippine government gives to the solving of crime as tantamount to “a mockery of justice.” In its recent report on the Maguindanao Massacre case, the international human rights watchdog noted…
“Justice delayed is justice denied. Five years after the Maguindanao massacre, the cases are still inching through the Philippine court system and not a single person has been held to account,” said Hazel Galang-Folli, Amnesty International’s Philippines Researcher.
Almost half the 197 suspects for whom arrest warrants have been issued since the massacre remain at large. Meanwhile, no prosecution has been concluded, nor has any perpetrator been convicted.
Apparently, the lives of journalists seem to matter a lot more than 162 Filipino students, or nine Hong Kong tourists seeing how much more media mileage any murder case that involves dead media people gets nowadays. At the end of the day, it does not matter whether a murder victim is a young student, a holidaying overseas tourist, or a transgender or homosexual for that matter. They are all just people who should all be treated as such under a modern justice system. This simple notion — that the victims are all people — seems to be lost even in those who supposedly champion the plight of the Philippines hundreds of thousands of murder victims.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.