‘Journalists not barred from covering massacre trial’

First published in The Philippine Star, 13 November 2014

The Quezon City judge handling the Maguindanao massacre trial yesterday said journalists are not barred from covering the court proceedings at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 told The STAR that the court proceedings have always been open to the public.

She made the clarification after police and jail officials banned journalists from attending the massacre trial.

Solis-Reyes said the court has not changed its rules when it comes to media coverage, adding that journalists are allowed to attend the hearings provided that they only take notes using pen and paper.

She said only the live broadcast of the trial is prohibited based on a 2012 Supreme Court (SC) ruling. Read more of this post

Backhoe operator tags Bedol in bribe try

First published in The Philippine Star, 4 November 2014

The backhoe operator who allegedly dug the graves of the victims in the Maguindanao massacre has accused former election supervisor Lintang Bedol of attempting to bribe him to alter his testimony.

Suspect Bong Andal, in a 47-page judicial affidavit obtained by The STAR, said Bedol – a former Maguindanao provincial election supervisor – approached him last June in the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame, where they are both detained.

Andal is charged with multiple murder in connection with massacre, while Bedol is facing charges for allegedly rigging the results of the 2007 midterm elections in Maguindanao.

According to Andal, Bedol asked him if he will accept P300,000 in exchange for not identifying a certain “RG” as among those involved in the Maguindanao massacre.

“You will just refuse to identify him and then you will earn money,” Bedol allegedly told Andal, who said he refused the offer because he does not want to sacrifice his family.

When he asked who will give him the money, Bedol supposedly told him that the money will come from him.

Read more of this post

Malacañang public petition page coming soon

First published in The Philippine Star, 2 November 2014

The government is planning to establish an online petition platform similar to the White House petition page of the US government.

In line with its efforts to expand and improve the government’s feedback mechanism, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office will put up an online platform for petitions on the gov.ph website, PCDSPO said.

“Users will be able to log in and post petitions, which will then be open for e-signatures from the public. When a certain signature count is reached, an official response will be posted,” it said.

The PCDSPO said discussions on the design and features of the platform have been made.

The communications group has opened a webpage http://bit.ly/1qcE0wO where the public can provide constructive insights until Nov. 15.

Read more of this post

US pressured Phl for Smith custody (3/3)

First published in The Philippine Star, 24 October 2014

MANILA, Philippines – The United States put enormous pressure on the Philippine government to regain custody of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith after his rape conviction in 2006, confidential cables released by WikiLeaks showed.

The STAR is reviewing cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 in the light of the death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, who was allegedly killed by Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton in Subic earlier this month.

A series of cables supposedly sent to Washington by then US ambassador Kristie Kenney revealed the actions taken by the embassy to regain custody of Smith after he was found guilty of raping a Filipina on Dec. 4, 2006.

Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 139 Judge Benjamin Pozon ordered the detention of Smith in a Philippine jail following the guilty verdict.

But US embassy officials argued that the US could retain custody of Smith as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides that the custody of an accused “shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

Read more of this post

Wiki: US admitted ambiguity in VFA custody provision (2/3)

First published in The Philippine Star, 23 October 2014

MANILA, Philippines – The United States embassy recognized the “ambiguity” of the custody provision in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and admitted in 2009 the need to clarify the issue with the Philippine government, a confidential cable released by WikiLeaks showed.

The STAR has started reviewing the cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 in the light of the death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, who was allegedly killed by a US Marine in Subic earlier this month.

One cable – dated April 27, 2009 and supposedly classified confidential by then US ambassador Kristie Kenney – revealed the embassy’s position agreeing to the need to clarify the custody issue of US servicemen convicted for committing a crime in the country.

“Given ambiguity in the VFA about both where custody lies following initial conviction of a US servicemen and detention facilities where they should be held, we believe it is important that we begin discussions on how we clarify these undelineated requirements and whether there is a more workable, less debilitating, custody process,” read Kenney’s comment in the cable sent to Washington.

The supposed cable was written just days after the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of US serviceman Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was charged for allegedly raping a Filipina in Subic in 2005.

Read more of this post