|Stop killing journalists|
The Maguindanao Massacre
In our previous issue, I said it was a “feel good” issue. That was then.
While I would normally welcome the month of December with happy anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I can’t help but feel very sad and outraged at what had happened in southern Philippines, particularly in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao, on November 23. Now infamously known worldwide as the “Maguindanao Massacre” – no less than 57 defenseless people were brutally murdered in broad daylight. They were men and women that comprised the convoy of aides and relatives of Muslim politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, plus a batch of local journalists. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) released their final count of 32 print and broadcast media journalists. Fifteen of the 57 were innocent motorists and by-standers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In this issue of Pilipino Express, we are featuring a photo essay of the aftermath of the Maguindanao Massacre by former Winnipegger, Rev. Dann Pantoja who is now based in Davao City. He is currently the president of Peacebuilders Community Inc. in Davao City. Two days after the massacre, he went to the site of the heinous crime, his photos are in this issue of the Pilipino Express.
My younger brother, Jon Joaquin, is a journalist. He is now based in Davao where he decided to settle with his Davaoeña wife and two children. He is the managing editor of the Mindanao Daily Mirror. I have asked him to write his views on the slaughter of his fellow journalists.
Stop killing journalists
By Jon Joaquin
Someone on Facebook asked why people — we journalists, specifically — are saying, “Stop killing journalists” when it should, under the circumstances, be, “Stop killing” – period. That made me think, and I had to admit to myself that in the current case (the “Maguindanao Massacre” or, as some colleagues insist, the “Ampatuan Massacre” since it happened in the town of Ampatuan), we should really be condemning the fact that innocent people, regardless of their professions, were killed in such a gruesome manner.
If anything, the cry ought to be, “Stop killing women” since many of the victims, including two lawyers and a number of reporters, were women. Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu had tasked his wife Genalyn as well as two sisters of his to go to the Commission on Election (Comelec) office in Shariff Aquak to file his Certificate of Candidacy (COC) for governor. He had thought that the people who had threatened to harm him if he insisted on filing his candidacy would be good Muslims and not touch the women, but he was wrong.
The killers disregarded the Koranic injunction not to harm women and proceeded to slaughter them; according to some reports, the women were even raped before they were killed. Just how barbaric the killings were was articulated by Vice Mayor Mangudadatu himself, who said his wife was “shot in the mouth, her eyes pierced, her breasts also shot, her legs mutilated and her private part slashed four times.”
I’ve heard some people blame the vice mayor for the women’s deaths because he had deliberately placed them in harm’s way, but really, who would have thought the killers would be so inhuman? Mangudadatu had obviously intended to confound his enemies by using women as his emissaries to the Comelec, but the beasts responded by doing the unthinkable.
Unfortunately, the unthinkable was also done to reporters who were brought in to cover the filing of Mangudadatu’s COC. It was an event — after all, he was going to go up against the acknowledged leader of Maguindanao — and as such, the journalists were there on legitimate coverage. The vice mayor had also obviously thought his enemies would not try anything because the media were watching, but he was wrong.
If the alleged witness of the carnage is to be believed, then the journalists were also killed “so that no one would talk about the incident.” Which brings me back to the Facebook user’s comment I had mentioned at the beginning of this article. Why do we say, “Stop killing journalists,” as if journalists were the only victims of the massacre? I am not justifying it, but I need to say that as a profession, journalists are one of the most targeted groups in the Philippines for attacks. The latest data from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) show that 104 journalists have been killed since 1986. The worst part is that practically none of the killings have been solved — not to the extent that the masterminds, not just the paid gunmen, were caught and imprisoned.
This is the fear that we journalists have in the Maguindanao massacre. Government claims there will be no sacred cows in the investigation and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, but we have heard the same thing before. So far, justice has eluded our fallen colleagues.
While it may be said that justice eludes everyone in this country, it is especially troublesome if media are the victims because attacks on our profession are attacks on democracy itself. We are not special by any stretch of the imagination, and we do not enjoy privileges that other people are deprived of. What we are are practitioners of a freedom that all of us are supposed to enjoy but are all too often prevented from doing so. If we are free to speak, then the rest of the country is free. But if we are muzzled, censored, threatened, executed, or summarily killed, everyone’s freedom of expression is compromised. And when freedom of expression is compromised, then our very democracy is in danger.
So we continue to say, “Stop killing journalists” — not because we are the only victims, but because each journalist’s death is a nail driven into the coffin of our freedom and democracy.
Final tally according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP):
1. Adolfo, Benjie, Gold Star Daily, Koronadal City
2. Araneta, Henry, Radio DZRH, General Santos City
3. Arriola, Mark Gilbert “Mac-Mac,” UNTV, General Santos City
4. Bataluna, Rubello, Gold Star Daily, Koronadal City
5. Betia, Arturo, Periodico Ini, General Santos City
6. Cabillo, Romeo Jimmy, Midland Review, Tacurong City
7. Cablitas, Marites, News Focus, General Santos City
8. Cachuela, Hannibal, Punto News, Koronadal City
9. Caniban, John, Periodico Ini, General Santos City
10. Dalmacio, Lea, Socsargen News, General Santos City
11. Decina, Noel, Periodico Ini, General Santos City
12. Dela Cruz, Gina, Saksi News, General Santos City
13. Doheilo, Eugene, UNTV, General Santos City
14. Duhay, Jhoy, Gold Star Daily, Tacurong City
15. Evardo, Jolito, UNTV
16. Gatchalian, Jun, Davao City
17. Legarte, Bienvenido, Jr., Prontiera News, Koronadal City
18. Lupogan, Lindo, News Media Gazette, Davao City
19. Maravilla, Ernesto “Bart,” Bombo Radyo, Koronadal City
20. Merisco, Rey, Periodico Ini, Koronadal City
21. Momay, Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, Midland Review, Tacurong City
22. Montaño, Marife “Neneng,” Saksi News, General Santos City
23. Morales, Rosell, News Focus, General Santos City
24. Nuñez, Victor, UNTV, General Santos City
25. Perante, Ronnie, Gold Star Daily correspondent, Koronadal City
26. Parcon, Joel, Prontiera News, Koronadal City
27. Razon, Fernando “Rani,” Periodico Ini, General Santos City
28. Reblando, Alejandro “Bong,” Manila Bulletin, General Santos City
29. Salaysay, Napoleon, Mindanao Gazette, Cotabato City
30. Santos, Gatchalian, Davao City (media affiliation not known)
31. Subang, Ian, Socsargen Today, General Santos City
32. Teodoro, Andres “Andy,” Central Mindanao Inquirer, Tacurong City