Thursday, June 23, 2011
Lawyer Romy Capulong said it best: The legal battle to have live coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial is not just about media coverage; it is about access to justice. Now, the families of the victims (and the accused) can be spared the heavy burden of regular travel to Metro Manila to witness the trial. Hopefully, live coverage will also educate Filipinos on the law and the judicial process in this country.
It is true that many journalists gulped at reading the 15-page Supreme Court decision penned by (just retired) Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales. A cursory read does show daunting challenges. To keep this note brief, I shall not rehash the SC decision; please use the hyperlink.
But in a meeting convened by petitioners immediately after the promulgation, we agreed (on Atty. Capulong’s advice) to hold off filing any clarificatory motion and, instead, explore all avenues via dialogue with the Supreme Court. After all, it IS a unanimous decision; unprecedented and with positive repercussions for the administration of justice in this nation.
The petitioners, thus, proceeded on the presumption of good faith – a view that has been validated by swift (and very level-headed) action from the part of Court Administrator and spokesman, Justice Midas Marquez.
There are still a few issues that need to be clarified. But on the whole, discussions between petitioners and the SC have been very fruitful. Already, media entities are preparing their applications. These will be processed speedily, Marquez says, once the decision becomes final and executory. Hopefully, lawyers for the accused accept the decision. At least one counsel, for suspended ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan says they will not file a motion for reconsideration.
From my notes, here are the results of the dialogue between the SC and petitioners:
The SC starts trial live streaming next week on its website and will confer with media groups on improvements needed;
Networks with more than one TV channels can file as a single entity, listing down all platforms available for live coverage;
Networks with more than one channel can shift carriers of the live coverage, so long as there are no breaks, up until promulgation of verdict. (TV to website is not acceptable). Networks should inform viewers at all times where the live coverage can be accessed.
While the decision directs no breaks, unless sanctioned by the judge, news organizations may exercise their discretion should life-and-death and/or earth-shaking news erupt. (There is still the danger of cancellation of license for live coverage but we will have to trust the court’s appreciation of our good faith.)
While live coverage is on-going, crawlers about other news will be allowed, as well as SILENT windows about other events happening. No override of audio will be allowed while proceedings are on-going.
Live coverage on TV and the Web can have windows with graphics to provide viewers with context and greater clarity about proceedings (timelines, for example).
Media entities are allowed to use excerpts of the live coverage for their news reports, which can also occur during breaks.
Brief annotations before and after “scenes” are allowed, as is commentary so long as these are factual and do not violate the rules governing sub judice.
The SC will try its best to provide its own legal expert to annotate points of law. News entities can also have experts during their news breaks – again, subject to rules covering sub judice.
The SC will operate the lone camera in the courtroom, giving focus to the judge, witness on the stand and lawyers of both sides; mics will be provided all five.
The SC will ask lawyers to position themselves so that their profiles and not their backs are shown on-cam. (This is, of course, not binding and they won’t be penalized if, in the heat of the moment, they forget that fine point of coverage.)
The Court will decide on the blurring or blacking out of persons with seucity problems or of children. Justice Marquez is amenable to requesting the Court to provide media at the start of the day’s proceedings with a list covering all possibilities.
The SC will provide still photos of courtroom proceedings for the media, but these will just be higher-reso images of the same angle provided by the audio-visual camera. Photographers will be allowed opportunities for photos at the start and end of each day’s proceedings, on a first-come-first-served basis.
Reporters covering will be allowed to live tweet or post grabs on social networking sites, subject to sub judice rules. The SC will not hold the public’s comments against any media organization and will not monitor individuals. Website live chats covered by the same guideline: Journalists advised to be factual, the public free to comment.
Media entities not covering live can still grab from the SC live footage or purchase from networks doing live coverage and process these for news; the same, for other organizations interested in the proceedings – all subject to the same sub judice rules. They can still apply for recording but prority will be given those that cover live.
Radio stations (often stand-alone) can do live stream on their websites and use the same for their broadcast news packages. Any live coverage on radio will be covered by the SC rules for TV.
The SC will do its best to arrange for a viewing room where tech arrangements will also be set up to fulfill the decision’s mandate for the least disruption to trial proceedings.
Marquez foresees no deadline for applications. As the trial is expected to go on for years, media entities that pass for the moment on live coverage can apply at a latter time.
The petitions for live coverage were filed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., (ABC 5’s senior media officers signed as individuals) relatives of the victims, individual journalists from various media entities, and members of the academe. Government networks were not part of the petition but Presdent Benigno Aquino III has instructed NBN to undertake “gavel-to-gavel” live coverage of the trial.
(INDAY is head of Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, ABS-CBN's citizen journalism arm. She formerly chaired the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.)
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
(Photos by Yvette Lee)
The series of seizures of Philippine black coral and other threatened marine life should not come as a surprise. Half a decade ago, the problem was outright poaching by foreign vessels. That phenomenon continues: Late last month authorities apprehended 122 Vietnamese fishermen onboard vessels flying Philippine flags around Balabac, Palawan.
But poaching, with its potential for diplomatic fallout, can be a costly exercise. So four years ago, the biggest illegal extractors of Philippine marine life – and possibly the biggest consumer group, too – were already laying down the foundations for more cost-effective enterprises. Doing so required setting up layers of corruption.
I wrote an article published on Jan. 17, 2007 that not only tackled poaching, but also the arrangements being done to streamline the harvest and smuggling out of Philippine marine life. It led off:
China, host of the 2008 Olympics, has launched a campaign to highlight its “Green” side but Philippine environmentalists and government officials say poaching activities of its nationals veer toward “organized crime.”
“In Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Jolo and Basilan, there are Chinese ‘tourists’ spending time in fishing villages, befriending locals and placing orders for endangered aquatic and land animals,” according to Lory Tan, World Wildlife Fund-Philippines executive director.
In between scouting for friendly locals to the actual trapping of wildlife and smuggling these out of the country, are several steps that require an intricate arrangement of “top to bottom” bribes, Tan (said)
Only last week, Tan (now vice president and chief executive of WWF Philippines) warned about the destruction of Philippine coral reefs.
He said 50 years of nonstop destructive commercial and poorly managed artisanal fishing has left only 5% in excellent condition. Only 1% remains “pristine.”Another report cited destroyed reefs in an area five times the size of Metro Manila.
Whether you’re harvesting coral or just destroying them in the hunt for other marine life, it’s a lucrative business. The value of just one shipment, believed to have originated from the coast of Cotabato, was pegged at P35 million -- for 196 kilos of sea whips corals, 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, 7,300 pieces of seashells and 21,169 pieces of black coral.
Another recent case in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu province, featured ready-to-export corals and shells, stocked in two shanties and bound for South Korea. Nathaniel Lucero, aquaculturist from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said the recovered shells and coral are “all endangered species” – nobody is allowed to harvest, much less export, these.
(By the way, Black Coral isn’t always black. Diver and award-winning photographer Yvette Leem who shared the photo above of a live Black Coral Tree, says: “They come in different colors, white, orange (like this one), fluorescent yellow and green. It’s called black coral because when the stems and branches are exposed to the sun and dried, they become shiny especially after being polished,” Lee explains. True black coral is seldom seen in commercial quantities, having fallen victim to decades of pillage. Video clips of the seizures actually show sea fans, Lee adds. The most expensive coral is actually the red kind found in the Mediterranean area.)
Back in 2006, scientists were already warning of the great pressures placed on our seas. An article by Katherine Adraneda noted that the World Bank viewed the Philippines as the world’s "center of marine biodiversity" because of its vast species of marine and coastal resources. But the WB report, "Philippine Environment Monitor 2005," also criticized the country for using its coastal resources "in a very inefficient manner”.
Elisea Gozun, former environment secretary and WB consultant, presented the report:
“Gozun said the country’s fishery resources are considered more heavily exploited than elsewhere in the world, and that the country has the most degraded reefs compared to five other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia...
Plenty of lip service has been paid to marine conservation. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a diver, even ordered then environment secretary, Angelo Reyes, to convene a task force and come up with a national integrated coastal management plan.
And yet the same administration -- headed by a woman who liked being photographed with the fishes and the big blue sea -- ignored reports of big-scale poaching.
The Arroyo administration even blocked efforts by hard-working sea rangers to apprehend poachers and bring them to justice.
Angelique Songco, head of the Tubbataha Management Office, said that in several cases, Department of Justice Officials in the national capital relieved local prosecutors, replacing them with Manila-based fiscals. Or they ordered a reversal of findings. In one case, a judge halted proceedings mid-trial to allow a plea bargain by the suspects.
TOM lawyer, Gerthie Anda said: "It's the trend; they'll bargain down to the least serious crime, often with advice by government officials."
In one incident I also wrote about, the Department of Foreign Affairs actually tried to intercede for the poachers. (The DFA was then headed by former secretary Alberto Romulo, who was initially asked to stay on by President Benigno Aquino III.)
The December, 26, 2006 story went this way:
They got caught red-handed with 800 live fish, including 300 of the endangered Mameng (Napoleon Wrasse), but 30 Chinese poachers apprehended on December 21 by rangers at the Tubbataha protected marine park, may yet get to walk if the Chinese government has its way.
Chinese diplomats have reportedly demanded the release of the crew, according to sources at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese, the sources said, even want the Navy to escort the 300-gross ton Hoi Wan out of the area.
The Tubbataha rangers’ appeals for a Navy ship to escort the vessels to Puerto Princesa were ignored. But an officer from the Chinese Embassy suddenly arrived in Puerto Princesa within 24 hours of the report.
An official of the DFA also reportedly called Puerto Princesa to defend the Chinese, calling the arrest irregular and claiming the vessel was merely passing through Philippine waters.
The reason for that became clear a few days later. I got hold of a copy of Chinese Ambassador Li Jinjun’s letter to Romulo, urging the Philippine official to “pay personal attention” to the case.
Li warned the case could jeopardize the attendance of Premier Wen Jiabao in an upcoming summit of Southeast Asian nations and their East Asian partners.
Ambassador Li Jinjun linked the case to a Philippine-China fishery cooperation agreement and the country’s relations with Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of Filipinos work as domestic help.(Yap did not deny the report or address the issue of Chinese pressure, except to say his office was coordinating with the rangers and WWF.)
The envoy said the embassy was in close contact with the Department of Agriculture and the AFP Western Command. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, the ambassador claimed, had promised “to resolve the issue as soon as possible” if the fishes were released
He urged Romulo to agree to the release of crew and their vessel before it was escorted to Puerto Princesa. “In that case, we are afraid that it may make the situation more complicated and delay the early resolution.”
Poaching, of course, was happening way before Mrs. Arroyo assumed power. From 1998 to 2006, rangers across the country arrested close to 600 Chinese nationals. There was only one conviction – for 17 poachers nabbed with 54 marine turtles in December 2005.
The crime carries a 12 to 20-year jail sentence. But by the first semester of 2006, President Arroyo had signed a pardon for the Chinese nationals.
At the time I was writing the article, lawyers and government officials were trying to persuade Manila to prevent 30 Chinese poachers from the Hoi Wan from leaving the country following their release from bail. They were definitely candidates for flight, having been caught with 2,000 fishes, compressor equipment, wet suits and ten sampans on their vessel.
We’re still being bullied in the seas around Palawan, but the rape of our wathttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifers has also become an efficient criminal enterprise in the years since the WWF warned of “buyers” doing the rounds of coastal towns.
The volume of the recent seizures indicates a long-running operation, complete with half-way warehouses and consolidation centers. That doesn’t happen overnight. In 2007, Tan was already talking about “local managers”.
Senate Environment Committee chairman, Juan Miguel Zubiri has identified financier of black coral-consignee Exequiel Navarro as Olivia Lim Li. He wants authorities to investigate whether Li and her cohorts have become recalcitrant despite previous criminal charges.
Officials had apparently intercepted in 2008 a similar shipment traced back to Li. So it’s not clear why Toto Suansing, Bureau of Customs Deputy Director, claimed: “First time nag-crop up ang name nito”?)
There is another urgent reason to get to the bottom of these coral and marine life smuggling. Years back, a senior National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official told me that “impunity” could encourage involvement in other dangerous forms of smuggling.
“If they can carry fishes and other animals, they can carry drugs or even arms,” the NBI official warned.
The Philippines has a serious problem with narcotics and terrorism and the provinces cited by Tan are among the weakest links in the government’s law and order campaign. They are also among the poorest, together with some Eastern Visayas provinces where, “sailors on board a Chinese vessel en route to Hong Kong from South America dumped two tons of cocaine off the central Philippine seas in December 2009”. By July of the following year, more than 500 kilos of cocaine had been turned over by fishermen or seized from those attempting to exploit the bonanza.
Here’s the thing: If crime groups are free to harvest, collect and consolidate corals and marine life, what else have they been stuffing into those huge containers?