MANILA — On the tenth year since the Ampatuan massacre, media groups pressed for the conviction of the main suspects in the murder of 58 individuals, of whom 32 were journalists.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) led a protest action in Manila, Nov. 23, with the call to convict principal suspects Andal Jr., Zaldy and Sajid Ampatuan, sons of the alleged mastermind Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Nonoy Espina, NUJP chairperson, underscored the importance of conviction in the Ampatuan massacre case. In his speech at the foot of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola), Espina lamented that of the 187 media killings since 1986, only 17 had convictions.
Lawyer of the families of the victims Nena Santos earlier told the media she is confident that a guilty verdict would be handed down by the Quezon City local court. The promulgation of the case has been reset to Dec. 20 this year.
In a statement, Altermidya- People’s Alternative Media Network says anything less than conviction of the Ampatuan is “unacceptable.”
“The delivery of justice for Ampatuan Massacre victims will act like a beam of light shone into a great darkness that is the escalating climate of fear and impunity under the Duterte administration,” the group said.
In a separate statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) maintained that “convictions of the perpetrators and full recompense of the victims’ families will be a first step in reversing the long and tragic injustice.”
The Ampatuan massacre is considered as the single biggest attack on journalists and the worst election-related violence in Philippine history. The 58 victims were part of a convoy that would file the candidacy of Esmael Mangudadatu. About 100 armed men ambushed the convoy of vehicles and drove them to the top of a hill before killing them all.
Arts and media alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), meanwhile, said that the Ampatuan massacre “is also a reminder to all Filipinos of the wages of impunity, a state of conditions where the state colludes with oppressors, allowing them to wreak havoc in communities and then helping them to evade accountability.”
At the time of the massacre, the Ampatuans were close allies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Ampatuans claimed they ensured the 12-0 votes from Maguindanao in favor of Arroyo’s senatorial bets during the 2007 midterm elections.
LODI recalled that in 2018, the wedding of the daughter Zaldy Ampatuan featured a list of sponsors that included President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara, mayor of Davao, Duterte sidekick Bong Go; then peace adviser, Jesus Dureza; former Vice President Jejomar Binay and his daughter, Makati Mayor Abigail Binay-Campos; two senior officers and a several local government officials in the region.
During the Saturday’s program, Danilo Arao, journalism professor at University of the Philippines and associate editor of Bulatlat, said the protest “is not only to show our collective grief over the massacre but also our collective rage because justice has not been served.”
In his speech, Fernando “Jun” Sepe Jr., chairperson of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines, Inc. (PCP), noted that “rage has seemed to wane over the years.” Sepe called on his colleagues to continue condemning every attack on press freedom.
“Kapag naubos tayo, sino ang lalaban sa fake news, sa black propaganda? Kaya mahalagang ipagpatuloy ang galit para sa Ampatuan Massacre victims at bawat namamatay na mamamahayag,” (If all of us have been killed, who would counter fake news, black propaganda? That’s why it’s important that we continue feeling angry at the Ampatuan massacre and at every killing of journalist) Sepe said.
Fight againt impunity
Under the Duterte administration, 14 journalists have been gunned down, according to NUJP.
Bayan Muna Carlos Zarate, a former journalist and whose colleague at the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) Connie Brizuela was one of those killed, said the Ampatuan massacre is “emblematic of the extent of impunity in the country.”
Kenneth Guda, Altermidya spokesperson, said that journalists are subjected to different forms of attacks under the Duterte administration. He cited the charges against Rappler, the verbal threats against media outfits and the arrest and detention of Bacolod-based journalist Anne Krueger.
Espina maintained that journalists are officially targeted by administration’s counterinsurgency program, citing the red-tagging of NUJP and its members. Espina said he sees an escalation of attacks on the media.
Still, Espina said he takes courage from the glorious history of the Philippine media fighting the Marcos dictatorship.
Espina said that today,amid all the attacks, he sees the courage and determination of fellow journalists. (R. Olea/ )
Read Bulatlat’s previous stories here.