Massacre is single biggest loss of life of journalists

November 24, 2009

What now?

Manila Bulletin News Team
November 24, 2009

Amid the flurry of reactions to the senseless murder of scores of people in Maguindanao perpetrated by suspected followers of a political kingpin in the province, and the prevailing perception that the government is helpless to deal with the massacre, the nagging question in the minds of the people remains: What now?

Workers and media groups from the Philippines and around the world condemned the massacre, but there is no apparent concrete government action more than 24 hours after it has transpired.

The massacre is unprecedented since it was the earliest electionrelated violence and the “worst loss of life in one day in the history of journalism”, as stressed by Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

“Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day,” the press freedom organization said.

“We convey our condolences and sympathy to all journalists in the Philippines, who are in state of shock after this appalling massacre.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the massacre “a brazen challenge to efforts to strengthen our admittedly fragile democracy.’’

“Taking as hostage the journalists, who were merely going about their job of informing the public, worsens the already heinous crime and elevates it into an assault on the Constitution itself and the freedom of the press and of expression it enshrines, and the people’s right to know which these freedoms serve,’’ the NUJP said.

The Federation of Free Workers also denounced what it described a “barbaric act of violence” and demanded from authorities to immediately and seriously investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“We commiserate with the families of our fellow workers in the media and other innocent individuals who were murdered in the line of duty,’’ FFW said.

Edgar Cadagat, president of the Negros Press Club and former national president of NUJP, said he will hang a black streamer in front of the Media Center Building in Bacolod inscribed with the words, “JUSTICE FOR THE JOURNALISTS, JUSTICE FOR ALL.”

Cadagat expressed the same nagging question in the minds of everyone: Will the victims, including the journalists, be able to receive the justice they deserve?

Filipino journalists based in various cities in the United States likewise demanded the Philippine government to take all necessary steps to capture, dead or alive, all of those who were responsible for the massacre.

“The Philippine government must act swiftly and decisively to bring all the perpetrators to justice, irrespective of their positions or political affiliations,” they said in a statement.

The statement was signed by, among others, Lito Katigbak of the Philippine Star and Manila Mail; Cristina DC Pastor, Managing Editor of Philippine News; Bing Branigin of Manila Mail; Rodney Jaleco of ABS-CBN News (Washington DC) and Pinoy Herald; Jun Medina of the Manila Times; Lenn Almadin-Thornhill and Monette Rivera of ABS-CBN News (New York); Rita Gerona-Adkins of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine News and Asian Fortune; and Mary Estacion of ABS-CBN News (Baltimore).

“As Filipino journalists here in the United States, we feel that we too are victims of this senseless violence,” they said.

Administration lawmakers called on authorities to go after the perpetrators and masterminds of the brutal killing even if they happen to be political allies of the administration.

House Speaker Prospero C. Nograles said the government should set aside all political considerations and arrest the people behind the carnage at all costs even if takes the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to do it.

“This is already beyond political alliances. This horrific mass murder is just beyond human comprehension and the government should use everything in its power to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for this most atrocious incident in Mindanao,” he said.

According to reports, four survivors have tagged leaders of the powerful Ampatuan clan as the brains behind the killing of the wife and relatives of would-be gubernatorial candidate Datu Ismail “Toto” Mangudadatu of Buluan town and several others, including up to 10 journalists.

Quoting the survivors, Mangudadatu said clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. and son, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, ordered the massacre.

The Ampatuans are known to be staunch allies of President Arroyo and members of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD.

Nograles said he prays to God that the perpetrators and masterminds will “give up voluntarily to our government security forces.”

“I still cannot imagine how a man can be so brutal and cold-blooded in employing violence just to achieve one’s political end,” the Speaker said.

Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, spokesman of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD, said their members who will be found to have had a hand in the killing of the Mangudadatus and the media men should be expelled from the party.

“If the party leadership, despite overwhelming evidence, will continue to keep them in the ranks for political expediency, then it will be wracked with resignations as it will become untenable for many members, like me, to stay in a party that coddles mass murderers,” Alvarez said.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice-chairman of the House Committee on National Defense, said the Maguindanao massacre “deserves nothing but the strongest condemnation from the Filipino people.

“Killing for political reasons is already deplorable by itself, but the ruthless murder of innocent bystanders especially journalists even goes beyond diabolical,” Biazon said.

Anak Mindanao Rep. Mujiv Hataman urged the AFP and PNP to beef up its security forces in Maguindanao to avert further escalation of violence in the area.

“We call on authorities not to leave the place to prevent the violence from escalating. We condemn this barbaric act. We hope the government will be able to come up with an immediate and extensive solution and that it should make sure the massacre will not go unpunished,” Hataman said.

Zamboanga City Rep. Ma. Isabelle Climaco said she mourn the brutal killing of victims, especially the “women in the forefront courageously carrying the torch of freedom believing in the electoral process.”

Nograles also urged the Commission on Elections to assess the situation and determine if it is still viable to hold an election in Maguindanao.

Senators said instead of settling for another political solution, President Arroyo should pursue all efforts to bring justice to the victims.

“The President must act immediately on this shameful example of warlordism in Maguindanao. If she cannot uphold the rule of law, she should resign especially because the main suspect is reportedly her man,” Sen. Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. said.

At the same time, he called for the deployment of additional military troops and for authorities to detain Gov. Andal Ampatuan, who supposedly is in Manila.

“At the very least, there are many indications that would connect Gov. Andal, he should be made to explain. Andal and his followers should be disarmed,” he said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said President Arroyo should “shoot the perpetrators if necessary.” The incident, he said, is a test her administration cannot afford to flunk.

“This is one test that I insist the Arroyo administration must pass for a change. The entire Filipino nation must act as one in challenging Mrs. Arroyo and all our law enforcement agencies to lose no time in arresting the perpetrators of this abominable act and if necessary shoot (them) to immobilize them,” Lacson said.

“Cheating in every election in Maguindanao by the Ampatuans to deliver the votes to Mrs. Arroyo in 2004 and her senatorial candidates in 2007—in which I was one of the victims, having opgotten zero vote in the province — may be forgettable but not necessarily forgivable.

“But killing political opponents, including those who had nothing to do with the forthcoming May elections is another matter altogether and must therefore be treated differently if only to show that the rule of law can still reign in that part of the country,” he said.

Sen. Pilar Juliana Cayetano described the incident as an “affront to women’s rights.”

“This is shameful, considering that we are about to mark Internatinal Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women tomorrow, Nov. 25. It’s like a throwback to the dark ages, where women are raped and civilian supporters of political rivals are tortured, killed and their cadavers mutilated by warlords to sow fear in their claimed territory,” she said.

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan meanwhile urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to look into the matter as well as institute disqualification cases against the perpetrators.

“If it can be established that the incident had the go signal of politicians, the Comelec should institute disqualification cases against them. The Comelec must set an example for all others who may resort to election violence in the campaign,” he said.

Muslim groups such as the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy and Suara Bangsamoro also condemned in the strongest terms the heinous massacre, saying no word is enough to describe the feeling of outrage and horror over the tragedy.

PCID and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) likewise appealed for sobriety and calm to prevent the escalation of violence.

Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based at Awang Airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, said so far no witness has come forward to shed light on the massacre.

“Our commanding general has fielded a hundred intelligence operatives around the spot where the victims were snatched and the area where their cadavers were recovered to help police investigators determine who the real culprits were.

“So far, we have no solid clues on the identities of the perpetrators of this high-profile atrocity,” Ponce told journalists.

One of the massacre victims was 53-year-old Bong M. Reblando, whom the Manila Bulletin had just promoted to full time staff reporter based in General Santos City.

As of press time, authorities have confirmed the death of 24 members of the convoy, who were found or dug up in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, a few kilometers from the highway.

“There are no words that can adequately describe our feeling of outrage and horror over the brutal, inhuman violence that has brought the state of lawlessness in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to a new low. Even the most corrupt politicians, the most barbaric of warlords, have not employed such monstrous acts,” said the PCID headed by Amina Rasul Bernardo.

“This culture of impunity has been supported by national political leaders. Mrs. Gloria Arroyo has been widely perceived to have benefitted from ARMM’s ‘reservoir of votes’ during the 2004 elections,” the group added.

The MILF through Muhammad Ameen, chairman of the Central Committee Secretariat, appealed to Maguindanao’s political leaders to exercise sobriety and calm. He blamed the country’s political system for the tragic incident. (Reports from Shianee Mamanglu, Edith Colmo, Roy Mabasa, Edd Usman, Edmer Panesa, Hannah Torregoza, and Francis Wakefield)


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