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Maguindanao massacre -- questions of morality, practice of law and the legal system

Myrna Reblando Myrna Reblando's reaction demonstrates the absence of remedy within the system of justice not a mere 'hysteria'.

As described and shown in the video of Philstar.com: Victim's kin goes hysterical at Maguindanao massacre trial February 03, 2011


MANILA, Philippines -- Today's hearing of the Maguindanao massacre case was briefly disrupted after the wife of a slain journalist went hysterical outside the Quezon City Regional Trial Court. Myrna Reblando, the wife of the late reporter Bong Reblando, shouted and cursed at the Ampatuan lawyers while the NBI medico-legal officer, Dr. Reynaldo Romero, was presenting the autopsy results on the witness stand.

Unofficial transcription of the conversation from Filipino:

Crowd: 'Wag mong yakapin' (Don't hold her)

Crowd: Mam kalma lang po. (Ma'am, please be calm)

Myrna: Ayokong kumalma, ayokong kumalma. Ang tagal! Ang tagal! Matagal nang pinatay. P- - - - g ina niyo! P- - - - g ina ninyo. P- - - - g ina ninyo. (Shouting) (I do not want to calm down. It's too long. They have long been dead. F--k you all. F--k you all. F--k you.

One of the massacre victims' relatives: Myrna, Myrna, ginoo ko! (Oh my God!)

Myrna: Ayoko na. (I've had enough!)

Nena Santos, private prosecution lawyer: (Trying to calm her down) Myrna, Myrna.

Myrna: Mamatay ang mga Ampatuan. Mamatay din yan. S'an na ang abugado nila. S'an na ang abugado nila. Hoy! P---g ina 'yang mga Ampatuan na yan. P----g ina. P----g ina ninyo lahat. The Ampatuans should die. They will also die. Where are their lawyers? P- - - - g ina niyo! P- - - - g ina ninyo! (F--k you all! F--k you all!)

Crowd: Sa labas na. Turn off the lights. Patayin n'yo muna ang kamera. Mainit kasi. (A person asking a TV camera person to turn the lights of their camera) (Take her outside. Kindly turn off the light of your camera please. It's very hot)

Scene: Myrna is being taken outside the room. As she was sitting.

Myrna: Pwede bang magpatayan ang mga biktima na 'yon? Kung hindi ba naman siya bobo. Bobo. Sabihin ninyo bobo s'ya (Atty. Andres Jr.). Ang bag ko. Lalabanan ko siya kahit saan. (Can you believe it? How could the victims kill themselves? They (lawyers) are idiots. Idiots. Tell him he is idiot. Where is my bag? I will fight him in whatever (process).

Editha Tiamzon, widow of a journalist: Sira ulo ba ang mga asawa namin para pumunta lang doon para magpatayan? O, 'yon ang tanong namin. Na-interview yan (lawyer) one time. Nagbabasa kami ng dyaryo. Hindi naman kami mga tanga ano. Ang mga asawa namin, hindi tanga para pumunta lang doon para magpatayan. (Did our husbands lose their sanity that they would go to the place to kill themselves and their colleagues? That is our question to him (the lawyer). He was interviewed one time. We read newspapers. We are not stupid. Our husbands are also not stupid to (go to the crime scene) to kill themselves and their own colleagues.

The full text of the news report that complainants were reacting to as published online by the Philippine Daily Inquirer: Ampatuan lawyers: Could victims have hurt themselves?

Journalists, asking one of the defense lawyers: Your reaction sir. Kayo 'yung nilalambast ng isang kamag-anak. (You are being lambasted by one of the relatives)

Atty. Andres Manuel Jr.: I don't have any comment on that. I'm sorry.

Journalist: Sir, she was referring to your cross (examination) last time that the victims inflicted injuries upon themselves.

Atty. Andres: Well, it's part of the records. They can simply check it out eh.

**********
Explaining the reaction of a widow of massacred journalist to court delay & practice of law in the context of their lives

The importance of observing court trials
Myrna Reblando is the widow of Alejandro "Bong" Reblando, one of the 32 journalists who were massacred on November 23, 2009. She, and other widows, who now sit in court to observe every hearing of the case of their husbands, has had a completely different way of life from the past. While their husbands knew of the socio-political context in their community being veterans and seasoned journalists of their time, their wives are not. They had their eye on their husbands; their husbands had their eyes on the news.

For Myrna, what she loved to do the most was to prepare coffee every single morning, unlike Bong who read, listened to the radio to hear the latest headlines of the day; to set the table with Bong's favourite Filipino food on it, unlike Bong who was busy himself communicating with his fellow journalists on what news story to follow up on that day. Bong had his computer and an office space where he could write news stories; Myrna had only him, their children and their master bedroom -- which she called her 'love nest' -- in which to be happy.

Myrna's presence in court is not a mere physical presence. She and the other widows who patiently attend every court hearing have to be there; they are forced to do so and deal with a tremendous decision on which only they themselves have to come to terms with. Sadly they have to do this alone as no one could ever grasp the depth of their feelings. They are engaging in a difficult exercise to comprehend and figure out how the country's system of justice functions, with their limited ideas of its legalities, in administering justice for the murder of their husbands. They react to their own experiences and grasp others similar to theirs.

In a place where Myrna lives, General Santos City in Mindanao, where news of people being summarily executed almost daily is a way of life, she and other widows of the journalists do not require documentary evidence to be convinced of how the value of lives is lost and how a family could have a member taken away from them in a senseless killing. When killing is a way of life, those who live in these societies have a tremendous amount of anecdotal evidence; only anecdotal because most of this cases are not even properly investigated, not filed in court for prosecution, and most families of the victims would rather chose not to complain because of their deeply-rooted fear of reprisals.

The records of these senseless deaths could often, in a limited manner, be available in local tabloids, local radio and TV broadcasts. Those journalists who have been massacred, including Myrna's husband Bong, are those who keep records by reporting them in their news articles. However, with the exceptionally high number of local journalists killed in the massacre, the recording and reporting of summary executions in the locality, where the people could have the possibility of knowing and recording, must have been reduced.

Legal practice and the Court
But in the trial the innocence or guilt of those accused in the massacre of the journalists, that is to say the Ampatuans, local politicians and a number of security forces personnel, must be established within the legal framework. This must be done through the weighing of evidence and testimonies as required by the Rules of Court and Statutory laws.

The Philippines has well developed Codes, Rules and local legislations on how a trial should be conducted in court, codes on how prosecutors and lawyers should exercise their legal practice within and outside the courts, how long the trial should run before completion and how investigations and prosecutions of cases should be conducted, and further, how they are interpreted in the judicial process. However, in real life most of these Codes and laws do not function effectively. And even if they do function, there are either extremely negligible records or they contain double standards. There is a tremendous gap between the legal development and the mechanism on how they should be implemented.

While the country has reached, to some extent, considerable development in the field of law and the codification of these laws; they do not have an effective mechanism whereby the meaning of these laws would be applied in real sense; that the intention and the purpose of these laws are reflected in the practice of law, in the process of investigation and prosecution of cases; and how courts interpret and weigh evidence.

On legal practice
All the licensed and practising lawyers in the Philippines are subject to the rules and regulations of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). All the IBP members are subject to their own disciplinary mechanism, particularly on violations to Integrated Bar of the Philippines Code of Professional responsibility. The IBP Board could initiate, with without formal complaints, an investigation and conduct summary hearings, on any lawyers who are accused of violating these Code.

In the IBPs Code Canon 10, The Lawyer and the Court (Rules 10.01 to 10.03), it has expressly laid down Code on how legal practice should be practiced in fairness and in good faith of the Court. However, this Code and Rules had its purpose and meaning defeated because of the presumption that whatever the lawyer does in court -- logical or otherwise, they are still part of their exercise of legal practice.

Let us take the actions of one of the defense lawyers, Andres Manuel Jr., shown in court in one of the court hearings in which he cross examined the expert witness, the forensic and medico legal expert, offered by the prosecution panel. The manner of his questioning and interpretations of the witnesses have been reported in the daily newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which angered the complainants. The excerpt of the report is:

###
Ampatuan lawyers: Could victims have hurt themselves?

MANILA, Philippines—Ampatuan lawyers tried to discredit the autopsy findings on 12 Maguindanao massacre victims for the second straight day, with one even bizarrely suggesting that the victims had bludgeoned themselves or that one of the female corpses was defiled by a necrophiliac.

"Could it be possible that a victim was already dead before getting these alleged gunshot wounds?" asked Andres Manuel.

"It could have been a heart ailment, asthma, appendicitis, or a seizure or epilepsy?" he added.

Chief Insp. Dean Cabrera stood his ground and said that while these could be possible, his examination showed that the cause of death of the 12 victims were their gunshot wounds.

*****
Cabrera conducted autopsies on 12 of the 57 persons, including 32 media workers, who were killed on Nov. 23, 2009, in Maguindanao purportedly on orders of primary suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr. and other members of the influential Ampatuan family. (There is a reported 58th victim but the body has yet to be found.)

Undeterred, Manuel suggested that some victims might have hurt themselves to explain the contusions in their bodies.

"Could they have done this to themselves?" the lawyer told Cabrera, who did not rule out the possibility that the victims might have hurt themselves accidentally.

Manuel then went on to ask how the doctor could have been certain with the identities of the victims when he just confirmed these with the relatives present at the funeral morgues at the time of his autopsies.

"What if someone was playing a hoax?" Manuel asked Cabrera, who looked tired at the witness stand and conceded that the lawyer's point was possible.

Necrophilia

But Cabrera refuted Manuel's suggestion that one of the dead might have been victimized by a necrophiliac, or someone sexually attracted to corpses.

Manuel raised the possibility of necrophilia in noting that the doctor autopsied victim Cecille Lechonsito, who tested positive for seminal fluid, at around 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2010.

The lawyer recalled Cabrera's statement that seminal fluid could still be detected in a woman's vaginal canal 72 hours or three days after sexual contact.

"Seventy-two hours before 6:30 p.m. of Nov. 26 was 6:30 p.m. of Nov. 23 (or more than six hours after the massacre)," Manuel said.

But Cabrera later said seminal fluid could stay beyond 72 hours in a woman's vaginal canal, especially if she was already dead.

He also clarified his earlier statement in court that "bamboo sticks" were used in the autopsy of the victims.

He said the sticks were only used in checking the wounds of victims Lechonsito and Victor Nuñez because these two were already embalmed when he autopsied them.

*****
For Myrna and the other widows who have read this report, the lawyer's argument is downright stupidity; however, for the lawyers, prosecutors and the court, they are part of the legal and judicial process. That is the dominant perception in the legal practice and the lawyers are presumed to be acting in good faith. For ordinary persons, this could be a ground for Atty. Andres, as subject of IBP rules, to be investigated for possible violation of the IBP Code of Conduct.

But this could be a question on part of the IBP as to why, as of today, there is no information on whether or not they would be taking disciplinary action on Atty. Andres. The family of the massacred victims, the Filipino people who value rule of law and fair trial; and those who follow this case in court deserve to know why Atty. Andres cannot be subjected to disciplinary investigation for possible breach of Code.

There is something deeply wrong in what is going on. Even after the wide coverage of Myrna's reaction following her reading of the report and of observing the court trial, her reaction was not taken seriously. In this report by PhilStar, she was described to have gone "hysterical". Hysteria is defined by the online Mirriam Webster as:" a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions". It implies that it was her who had the psychological problem, and not the legal process, to which she was reacting to, nothing more and nothing less.

One of the defence lawyers, Sigfrid Fortun, interprets Myrna's reaction as "breach of discipline" and argued the incident as being a "…..a security issue". Myrna's legal counsel, Harry Roque, referred to it as "continuing trauma"; and he asked the court for "ancillary remedy by way of support pendent lite in the form of "psychosocial" services to be provided".

Moral questions & legal practice
There is an enormous difference between lawyers who exercise legal practice to protect the rights of their clients to fair trial and due process, as against a lawyer who defends their clients to defeat the purpose of justice in the real sense, deliberately and knowingly, by invoking these rights. On the lawyers know their own intentions and whether they are acting in good faith or not because guilt is personal. This, however, is fundamental to protect the rights, not only of those accused; but to restore, protect and maintain the basic norms and standards of the society.

The problem is, in the present legal system of the country, there is no protection or any effective mechanism, on which lawyers, prosecutors and judges, would be held accountable once they abuse or misuse the law; for distorting the meaning of the law in their legal practice. The dominant presumption still remains that they exercise legal practice in good faith. The victims, in most cases, would also not bother taking legal action on the lawyers, in addition to the case that they already have in court, to seek legal remedies. Like the court cases that are subject to trial, legal action on lawyers also takes years.

In the practice of law, moral questions, trauma and suffering of victims seeking legal remedies, the lawyers and the courts do not give them due attention. They act on the evidence they have on hand, interpret and apply the law; they argue and decide on the facts that are offered in court by both parties. Thus, lawyers, prosecutors and judges, by doing this routinely in their daily work, have been conditioned--emotionally or psychologically--not to submit to questions of morality and emotions. They are conditioned to act on the basis of reasons and legality. They must be immune to human emotions.

Thus, this could explain the interpretation of one of the defence lawyers, Atty. Fortun, describing Myrna's reaction as a "breach of discipline"; it is easy for defence lawyers that if there are questions of law, as what Lawyer Andres put it: "Well, it's part of the records. They can simply check it out eh". It would be easy for them to comment or not to comment on whatever legal issues because they know the law, but the victims and the complainants often struggle to makes sense of the legalities.

The legal practitioners must not and should not show emotions and raise moral questions in public in their practice of law. They must be seen and perceived as reasonable persons guided with the principles of law, they are in control of themselves are not controlled by their emotions in the practice of law. For whatever reasons, by appearance or otherwise, these are done to establish competence in legal knowledge.

Victims, the media and the society
What Myrna has done is not surprising. Most Filipinos, who knew full well of the extent of how the system of justice functions, would approve of what she did; however, they could only discuss the matter in private. What Myrna had said is what most people in the society would want to tell the prosecutors, lawyers and judges committing wrongdoing to express their discontent. However, while the society shares Myrna's disgust and difficulties, they keep their anger and discontent to themselves.

Myrna, a woman who lost her loved one and whose death took from his family a father, had seen the depth as to how absent is the chance to obtain remedies from the system of justice after understanding and trying to comprehend the legal process during a court hearing. Her response was a result of her own reflections and organic education; as well as the other widows who continue to monitor the progress of the case in court. But unlike many of the Filipinos, Myrna could not keep it to herself but rather expressed it to expose how rotten the system is.

In the Philippines, there is an extremely deep-rooted form of censorship. A form of censorship that is not done through the use of law, like government agencies censoring the content of media publications, but rather there is a 'virtual censorship and policing'. The people and the society know the limits of what they can say. The ongoing extrajudicial killings of journalists, human rights activists, witnesses and even ordinary people exposing the wrongdoing of the public officers, have left a deep-rooted fear to silent and to instil fear in them.

After the wide coverage on Myrna's reaction to the court trial, the threats on her life and intimidation have further increased. Her family have received reports from concerned individuals that Php3 million (USD69,000) is being set aside, allegedly for an out of court settlement, or as a bounty to kill and silence her.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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