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'I view the Day to End Impunity with hope,' says Philippine lawyer Prima Jesusa Quinsayas

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas on why, despite the threats, she works as a private prosecutor on some of the most notorious cases of media killings in the Philippines

Philippine prosecutor Prima Jesusa Quinsayas has faced threats for her work on the case of the Ampatuan massacre, being commemorated here on the 2011 anniversary
Philippine prosecutor Prima Jesusa Quinsayas has faced threats for her work on the case of the Ampatuan massacre, being commemorated here on the 2011 anniversary

Erik de Castro/REUTERS

By Prima Jesusa Quinsayas

If truth be told, I was hesitant to share my own personal experiences about what it's like to be a private prosecutor on cases of media killings.

I entered the legal profession willingly and took on the work as a criminal litigation lawyer fully aware of what it entails. I have to admit the threats I've received are not a "classic example" of what a prosecutor in the Philippines has had to face. Others have faced worse. It is an inherent part of the work.

Yet, the non-lawyer side of me says no one should be threatened simply for doing her job. Journalists should not be killed for a news story they wrote, aired or produced. And lawyers should not be subjected to threats because of the cases they handle.

The death of one vital witness and the killing of a security escort of another witness in the Ampatuan massacre case persuaded me that it is time more people know about how much is at stake when a journalist is killed. Other lives are literally on the line.

For the witnesses who are still alive, their lives have changed drastically. Their mobility is very limited. They have to take extra precaution about where they go, who they deal with and what they do. The accused who have managed to elude arrest enjoy far more freedom than the witnesses who have chosen to speak the truth.

It is unfortunate that prosecutors have to actively participate in locating witnesses and securing pieces of evidence if they want to get a conviction. In theory, this is the job of police investigators. But the quality of police investigations leaves much to be desired. While the Philippine National Police has some of the most dedicated men and women in its force, a lack of resources has not made it possible for them to undergo exhaustive training on how to conduct efficient criminal investigations.

Thus, as a prosecutor, I am forced to do legwork, such as looking for possible witnesses and convincing them to testify in court. One of the first things witnesses ask is whether their safety will be compromised. Sadly, I have never been able to assure them outright that they will be safe. Instead, I often find myself appealing to their sense of truth and justice.

That's why I view the International Day to End Impunity with much hope. It has been more than 26 years since democracy was restored in the Philippines, and yet there have been only 10 convictions in media killing cases. That is a sad picture of the country's criminal justice system.

I hope the campaign to end impunity brings about the desired institutional and policy changes that will hasten the attainment of justice. I must believe that justice will prevail, and that no killer of journalists will ever get away with murder. Otherwise, I have no business being a private prosecutor.

Prima Jesusa Quinsayas is a private prosecutor on a number of media killing cases, such as the Ampatuan massacre case, and the Marlene Esperat, Crispin Perez and Desiderio Camangyan murder cases. She is profiled on the International Day to End Impunity campaign's 23 in 23 calendar on 23 November, the anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre.

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