By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA —While many netizens posted on Facebook two pictures of themselves taken ten years apart, photojournalist Fernando “Jun” Sepe Jr. has his own version of the ten-year challenge. He posted one of his photographs of the Ampatuan Massacre taken on November 23, 2009, and a group picture of Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) members commemorating the massacre on Nov. 23, 2018.
In a gathering of journalists, Jan. 23 at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, the newly elected PCP chairperson said in Filipino, “We remember Ampatuan Massacre but we have to bring back the rage.”
Sepe added, “That 58 were killed is no joke. If we don’t get justice in such a big case, how else could we win the smaller ones?”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) led the candle lighting ceremony in its countdown to the tenth year of the Ampatuan Massacre.
On its ninth year, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the case may be decided in the first half of 2019.
In his speech, Raymund B. Villanueva, NUJP deputy secretary general, lamented that of the hundreds of suspects identified, not one has been held accountable for the murder of 58 individuals, of whom 32 were journalists.
Villanueva called for vigilance, noting that Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the suspects, was granted furlough last year to attend his daughter’s wedding. He said ordinary prisoners were not given such privilege.
The NUJP official also pointed out that ten years after the gruesome killing, Ampatuans remain a powerful clan.
Sajid Islam Ampatuan, a suspect who was allowed to post bail in January 2015, is running for mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao.
According to the initial list of candidates posted by the Commission on Elections on November 19, 2018, there are 38 Ampatuans running for various local positions in Maguindanao province.
Red Batario, executive director of Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for making him realize the importance of consistently fighting for freedom of the press and expression.
More than ten journalists have been killed under the Duterte administration, said Daryl Baybado of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). Some campus journalists, he added, are being subjected to surveillance.
“The state is targeting journalists because Duterte is afraid of the truth,” Baybado said in Filipino.
‘Sharpen our weapon’
Batario underscored the need to do good journalism amid the Duterte administration’s attacks on the Philippine media.
“We must sharpen our weapon, which is none other than the practice of journalism,” Batario said in Filipino. He suggested adhering to the highest standards of the craft, giving voice to those who are often ignored, and setting aside fear, among others.
For his part, University of the Philippines journalism professor Danilo Arao said it has become an imperative to teach their students to stand up and be critical amid the current situation.
Arao said journalists must not only report but also raise public consciousness. “In situations where the powerful suppresses our right to press freedom, fighting back has become an ethical obligation,” Arao said in Filipino.