Monday, December 1, 2014

On the Maguindanao massacre 5th anniversary: “58 dead, 5 years, 0 justice”

Note:  This photo-essay was the special feature of the 28 Nov-04 Dec 2014 edition of FilAm Star, the weeky 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America.'  This blogger/author is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper.

Message of the IFJ-NUJP to President Aquino: "58 Dead, 5 Years, 0 Justice"

Five years ago, on 23 November 2009, 58 men and women were gunned down in Barangay Salman of Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province.  They were on a convoy to the Commission on Elections office in the provincial capital town of Shariff Aguak to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice-mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu for governor of the province.

The victims of what is now considered the worst election-related violence in Philippine history included, among others, Mangudadatu’s wife and 32 journalists and media workers. Some of them were dumped in a pre-dug mass grave using a backhoe of the provincial government.

The alleged masterminds behind the massacre -  Andal Ampatuan, Sr., Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan  - and 109 of their followers have been arrested and charged.  The trial has been going on since 2010 with hearings conducted twice a week, but it is slowed down by postponements of hearings.

Banner of the NUJP at Bantayog ng mga Bayani.
“58 dead, 5 years, zero justice,” the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NJUP) rated the country’s judicial system during their press conference at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Shrine in Quezon City on 23 November,

The IFJ is representing more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries.  It has conducted several missions to the Philippines with regard to the Maguindanao massacre and had made recommendations and requests to the government.

Last week, the IFJ with an international delegation and NJUP conducted a mission in the country on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the massacre.   Their purpose was to investigate the government’s effort to secure justice for the victims. The mission visited the massacre site; and spoke to families of the victims, members of the local media community in southern Mindanao, the police, justice and government representatives including Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.

Banner of the UP College of Mass Commucations in the campus.
The IFJ-NUJP mission will issue a full report on December 23  on these key concerns:  (a) a climate of fear continues to pervade southern Mindanao, and has led to self-censorship and safety fears for local media; (b) media organizations have failed to address the safety issues affecting their staff; (c) witnesses in the case remain vulnerable with one being killed in the past week taking to at least four who have been murdered before giving evidence in the trial; and (d) five years on and the families of the victims continue to suffer financially and psychologically and more must be done to support them particularly as they have been subject to offers of bribes to drop their civil actions in the case.

“The Philippines is undoubtedly an epicentre of impunity,” said Jane Worthington, IFJ Asia-Pacific acting director, “and this massacre puts the world’s attention on the inability of governments to investigate crimes against journalists. This was the single largest slaughter of media workers and five years on not a single conviction has been recorded.” 

Australian representative Mike Dobbie, who has led all IFJ missions since 2009, said: “It’s clear there has been little progress in ensuring justice for the massacre victims, while the suspects in the crime continue to make efforts to stall the case at every turn.”

Philippa McDonald, vice president of the journalists union in Australia (the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, MEAA) and a director of Oceania’s Media, Safety and Solidarity Fund expressed how heartbreaking it is to witness the grief and the trauma of the families of the victims all this time. “Children are growing up without a breadwinner, families are facing dreadful financial hardship and they’re suffering enormously,” she said. “Their faith that justice will be delivered is severely shaken.”

Editha Tiamzon, widow of Daniel
Tiamzon, one of the media workers
killed in Ampatuan.
The lingering grief and the trauma were strongly felt from the recollection of Editha Tiamzon, wife of Daniel Tiamzon, a media worker of UNTV, who, she said “was the last one to be dug up from the mass grave.” 

When she walked around the art installation recreating the dead bodies of the massacre victims in various arrangements of disarray, she could not help but cry especially when she was reading the names of murdered journalists and media workers, one of them being her husband.  

The art installation was composed of representations of the dead bodies of media workers: dismembered or in gestures of pain and suffering.  They were made of newspapers signifying their kind of work. 

Mrs Tiamzon cried when she went around the art installation recreating
the massacre scene littered with dead bodies.

Taking off from the Maguindanao massacre, Schave De Rozario, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Malaysia and representative of the South East Asia Journalists Union (SEAJU) spoke of the “the coldblooded murders of journalists seem to be a growing solution resorted to by politically linked groups, the powerful and corrupt in the South-East Asian region”. 

“The scourge of impunity across the region as a result of this massacre indicates that these forces in the region believe that it is OK to kill journalists and for politicians to do nothing,” he said. “The region needs action and governments must move to protect media freedom.”

Nonoy Espina, director of the NUJP, spoke of the climate of fear that is still very strong in Maguindanao and the rest of the region.  He expressed concerns about the safety of journalists.  He cited journalists in Davao being accused of being sympathizers of the New People’s Army, of being placed under surveillance, and also of journalists in Quezon and southern Tagalog provinces being threatened.

The art installation with the remembrance wall of the
Bantayog ng mga Bayani as background

During these more than four years of President Aquino’s term, 33 journalists have been killed.  “Most of the murdered,” Espina said, “received threats first.”  He mentioned that of the 177 murders of journalists, there had been 10 convictions so far of look-outs, drivers, etc. but zero of masterminds.

The IFJ-NUJP mission said that Justice Secretary De Lima acknowledged the failings of the judicial system. According to the mission, she told them that “there is still a culture of impunity and that is something that we’re trying to address and eradicate.”

The mission is encouraged by her remarks that financial support for the families of the victims on her agenda and she is intending to raise it with President Aquino.

Art installation representations of victims.

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