‘Maguindanao massacre manifestation of everything wrong in PH governance’
Marching from Morayta to Mendiola, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and kin of Maguindanao massacre victims converged in Manila on Tuesday to protest the slow pace of justice seven years after what was dubbed the worst election-related violence in the country and the single deadliest attack on the press.
NUJP called the gruesome carnage as a manifestation of “everything that is wrong in the rotten system of governance and disposition of justice in this country, where clans of warlords, criminal kingpins and corrupt politicians wield virtual powers of life and death in what amount to fiefdoms, their thievery and corruption tolerated by the centers of power that have to court their favors to effectively rule over the archipelago.”
“Napakatagal na nga, pitong taon. Pero sa dami ng akusado at talagang makapangyarihan ‘yung kalaban, makapangyarihan ang mga Ampatuan hanggang ngayon, kaya nilang bilhin ang hustisya, kaya nilang patagalin ‘yung kaso. So ang talagang sinasabi natin ay maging mapagbantay. Tuluy-tuloy ‘yung laban, hindi dapat makalimot,” said NUJP secretary general Dabet Panelo.
(It has been seven years, but with the large number of accused and the power that the Ampatuan clan still holds up to this day, they can buy justice and further delay the case. That’s why we should be more vigilant, continue fighting, and never forget.)
Nov. 23 marks the seventh anniversary of the massacre of 58 people, mostly journalists, who were shot dead and buried on a hilltop in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province by armed followers of the powerful Ampatuan clan. To date, the court has yet to render a decision on the case of the principal accused, Andal Ampatuan Jr., and his relatives.
Of the 197 accused, 114 have been arrested. Of these, 112 have been arraigned and four, including clan patriarch Andal Sr., have died in detention.
NUJP said the massacre was a testament to “how entrenched this system of governance remains … in a country that never tires of proclaiming itself the freest and most democratic in this corner of the globe.”
“If anything, the state, which by rights should have taken on the burden of seeing to the futures of the widows, widowers and orphans of Ampatuan—after all its agents were responsible for this most heinous of crimes—has abandoned most of them, particularly those of our colleagues who were their families’ breadwinners, to lives of misery and uncertainty, reduced to wondering where to get their sustenance from day to day,” the group said in a statement.
“This heartlessness of the state, this unconcern for the plight of the people whose grief it is primarily responsible for, is also what feeds the impunity that has emboldened those who seek to silence those brash enough to seek to unveil their abuses. It is, of course, the same kind of impunity that has marked the murders of hundreds more of our compatriots whose only crime was to dare speak truth to oppressive power,” it added.
Danilo Araña Arao, associate professor at the department of journalism in UP Diliman, said he was hoping that President Rodrigo Duterte’s political will would speed up the case.
“Some lawyers were saying that it would take more than one lifetime to achieve justice. But hopefully, President Duterte will have enough political will to ensure that we will have marathon hearings and to prosecute those who are truly guilty in a legal process, so the victims’ kin will finally be at peace,” Arao said.
Alluding to die-hard supporters of the President, the NUJP expressed alarm over a “resurgence” of attacks against journalists “fueled by the open contempt and hostility of a leader.” Foreign and local journalists have been the target of online threats and harassment from vocal Duterte backers for reporting about the President’s controversial statements and policies.
“Today, even as we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, we see a resurgence of threats and assaults on the independent Philippine press fueled by the open contempt and hostility of a leader who would brook absolutely no criticism of his person or his policies, not even if these have opened the floodgates to an orgy of bloodletting unprecedented in its savagery and its utter disregard for the rule of law and human rights,” the statement read.
“Seven years after Ampatuan, we fear that the worst is yet to come and the seekers of truth will be faced with ever more danger from those who see our work as anathema to their pursuit of an order built not on compassion but brute force, not on the realities we all face but the distorted picture they would force us to accept,” it added.
But noting that it is in these times that an independent media is most needed by the people, the NUJP said there’s no stopping journalists from doing their jobs despite continuous attacks.
“Yet even as we worry, so do we affirm that these are the best times to be journalists, to be the bearers of the knowledge and free thought that the centers of power would seek to suppress. It is in these times, as in the darkest days of the unlamented dictatorship, that the independent Philippine press is most needed by the people. We do not doubt that the Filipino journalist and the independent media community will prove themselves worthy of the calling,” the group said.
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