FROM THE MAIL
By PNA From the Mail
An Open Letter: Fact-checking a fact-checker 101
By Undersecretary Jose Joel M. Sy Egco
VERA Files recently came out with a "fact-checking" report insinuating that I have uttered statements on the status of the Ampatuan massacre case that lacked context.
Thank you for the opportunity to fact-check you, Vera Files.
First, the amateurish "fact-checking" done by Vera Files not only lacked context but due diligence. It smacks of grave bias as well, to say the least. If not self-serving.
Number one, on the issue of UNESCO's "flip-flopping" on its declaration of the massacre case as "resolved" at first to "ongoing", Vera Files failed to factor in (or deliberately ignored) the various counter petitions filed by the Heirs of 11-23 Heroes consisting of the real families of the victims, the National Press Club and its legitimate media affiliates, the Socsargen Press Club and its affiliates, the Mindanao Independent Press Council, and the Kampilan Press Corps that asked UNESCO to maintain its original declaration, in the interest of justice. The families were pinning their hopes on this as such will compel those convicted to finally pay damages to the victims' families.
Interestingly, the accused and the petitioners, including Vera Files, shared the same position on the matter. So, whose side are these self-proclaimed media watchdogs on?
To give Vera Files a clearer view and better understanding of the facts, I call their attention to these links.
Vera Files' failure to include these facts in its report is in complete disregard of the Code of Ethics' "sin" of omission.
Secondly, it is quite unfortunate for Vera Files to report on a matter, adversely against a party, on something that it has a great interest in. Where is delicadeza? I have attached screencaps here, including one admission that says Vera Files is one of the petitioners in the UNESCO case. Such gall! Nobody holds a monopoly on facts, especially the TRUTH.
You don't impose the truth. Nobody should. So, here are the facts!
As shown in the PNA article:
Pursuant to UNESCO’s “Mandate of the Director-General and methodology” on the matter, it is beyond doubt that the Maguindanao Massacre is already “resolved” and not as still “ongoing/unresolved”. There is no escaping this conclusion. As stated therein,
The information in this report on the status of the investigations carried out on each of the killings condemned by the Director-General is based solely on the updates provided by the concerned Member States.
The cases of killings of journalists are systematically condemned by the Director-General of UNESCO through press releases. General Conference 29 C/Resolution 29 (1997) mandates the Director-General to “condemn the assassination and any physical violence against journalists as a crime against society, since this curtails freedom of expression and, as a consequence, the other rights and freedoms set forth in international human rights instruments”. This mandate has been reinforced by other resolutions, such as General Conference 36 C/Resolution 53 (2011), which calls on UNESCO to monitor the status of press freedom and the safety of journalists in coordination with other UN bodies.
The information provided by the Member States has been analyzed for the purpose of this study and categorized as follows:
The status of a case regarding the killing of a journalist is considered as “Resolved” if the Member State has provided one or more of the following responses to the Director-General’s request to provide information concerning the status of the investigation
- The perpetrator(s) of the crime has (/have) been brought to justice and been convicted by a court of law.
- The suspected perpetrator(s) of the crime died before a court case could take place or be completed.
- The judicial process has revealed that the death was not related to the victim’s journalistic practice. The Director-General no longer requests status updates once a case is deemed to have been resolved.
The status of a case regarding the killing of a journalist is considered as “Ongoing/Unresolved” if the Member State has provided one of the following responses to the Director-General’s request to provide information concerning the status of the investigation:
- The case is currently being investigated by law enforcement agencies or other relevant authorities.
- The case has been taken up by the judicial system but a final verdict has not yet been reached and the suspect(s) has (/have) not been convicted and sentenced. The “Ongoing/Unresolved” category also applies to cases where only one of the suspected killers has been convicted and sentenced.
- The journalist has been reported by the Member State as having been killed by foreign actors beyond national jurisdiction.
- A court of law has acquitted the suspected perpetrator(s) of the crime (for example due to lack of or tampered evidence).
- A court of law has ruled to archive the case or is otherwise unable to be processed through the judiciary system (for example, due to statutes of limitations). This category therefore also includes those cases for which a judicial process has been completed, but where no person(s) has (/have) yet been successfully held accountable in terms of a due legal process, and hence where impunity in regard to the killing(s) still remains unresolved.
Absoluta sententia expositore non indiget. The plain meaning of UNESCO’s rules are clear and needs no interpretation. The “status of a case regarding the killing of a journalist is considered as “Resolved” if the Member State has provided” information that “The perpetrator(s) of the crime has (/have) been brought to justice and been convicted by a court of law.”
It is worth noting that aside from official correspondences and reports informing the Honorable Body of the guilty verdict given to the masterminds, principals, and their accomplices of the massacre by a Philippine “court of law” of competent jurisdiction, an actual copy of the court’s decision was even personally handed to the United Nations by Philippine officials.
Accordingly, the appeal taken by any of the accused should not, in any way, affect the classification of the incident as truly “resolved”. More so since there is absolutely nothing in UNESCO’s “Mandate of the Director-General and methodology” that says anything about the filing of an appeal being able to preclude the classification as “resolved” the cases of killings of journalists which resulted in convictions.
As a self-proclaimed fact-checker, there is much to be desired about Vera Files’ one-sided article regarding my interview. Ostensibly, your reason why you insist on having the Ampatuan case remains classified as “unresolved” by UNESCO despite the guilty verdict is due to your allegation that “some of the main accused have appealed their guilty verdict.”
The beauty and bane of our judicial system is that all are entitled to due process of law, including the Ampatuans, no matter how gruesome, heinous and horrifying their crimes are. No amount of adjectives can describe what happened on that fateful day.
But as clearly shown in the article, what you insist on should really not matter if we are going to follow UNESCO’s “Mandate of the Director-General and methodology.” I guess on this issue, nobody, not even you, want to be bothered by rules. And since the rules don’t jibe with your rhetoric, it's best to ignore them, right?
While you seemed to gasconade about the petition you signed with the likes of NUJP, Bulatlat, and Bayan, who do you think you are actually helping in doing so? The families? Of course not. What good will that do to the families? The murderers? Perhaps, because now they can say with gusto that despite their conviction, the case is still “unresolved” according to UNESCO, all thanks to you. Or maybe you yourselves to gratify your own pecuniary interests.
At any rate, in your petition to UNESCO, you opened by saying “We – the families of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan massacre”. However, a cursory reading of the signatories reveals what is not there – the families.
For veritas’ sake, be worthy of your namesake and let the public know the alleged “families of the journalists killed” whom you claim to have taken part in your petition to maintain the status of the case as “unresolved” in UNESCO’s Observatory of a killed journalist.
Unlike in your appeal, the petitions to counter the flip-flopping by UNESCO are signed by the real families of the victims of the massacre, such as the HEIRS of 11/23 Heroes.
In an article published by the Manila Bulletin to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre last year, it was stated therein that:
Elliver Cablitas, husband of news reporter Maritess Cablitas, one of the journalists killed in the massacre, wanted a final resolution of the case in order for them to avail of the civil damages that will be paid by the convicted accused to indemnify the families of the victims.
Cablitas, president of Heirs of 11/23 Heroes, an aggrupation of families of local journalists who died in the massacre, said their group was wary of the petition filed by some groups, led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) that asked the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to declare the Maguindanao massacre case as unresolved despite the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court which tried and convicted the several principals accused in the case led by Andal Ampatuan Jr. And his brother Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Cabitas and several local media organizations in the Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City (Soccsksargen) region came out with a manifesto that was sent to UNESCO to reconsider its declaration to classify the Maguindanao massacre case as unresolved as it might jeopardize the resolution of the case based on the court decision which convicted and sentenced several principals accused to life imprisonment.
He said their group also sought the reconsideration as it might jeopardize their claims for civil damages which the court ordered the convicted accused to pay for each family, ranging from P350,000 to P2.5 million.
Cablitas lamented that the petitioners, led by the NUJP, DID NOT GET THE CONSENSUS OF THE VICTIMS’ FAMILIES WHEN THEY MADE THEIR APPEAL BEFORE THE UNESCO last September to classify the Maguindanao massacre case as an unresolved case. (Emphasis supplied.)
Is this true? Did you not get the consensus of the actual heirs of the victims before making your case before UNESCO? Did you misrepresent yourselves by claiming that you represent “the families of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan massacre” in your petition? And yet you have the temerity of accusing me of lacking “context”. I think it’s you who’s out of context. You should go by the more fitting name of “Dimidium Vera Files.”
In fact, the real families of the victims have become “wary” of your petition, “as it might jeopardize the resolution of the case based on the court decision which convicted and sentenced several principals accused to life imprisonment.”
Maybe your so-called media advocates know better than them.
Indeed, Vera Files’ piece on me is nothing more than a product of lazy writing, or maybe maladroit journalism. I’m not sure which is worse, though.
By the way, on the matter concerning my "slip up" on the figures 218 and 280 when referring to those who voted on the media workers welfare act at the House of Representatives, I stand corrected. Mea culpa. I assure everyone that I had no intention of changing the actual number of lawmakers in the lower chamber. Hahaha! During live interviews, shit may happen. Slipups too. So, I always say: "Correct me if I'm wrong."
Trivia: Vera Files and its associates never had a hand in the crafting of the media welfare act. That's a fact!
Again, whose side are these guys on?
(Undersecretary Jose Joel M. Sy Egco is Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security)
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