By Gloria Esguerra Melencio
25 November 2009
MANILA – The death of 30 Filipino journalists while on coverage – the highest number of deaths in the history of journalism in one incident in all countries around the world – is media’s darkest hour at this time and age of so-called civility, democracy and peace.
They were killed in the warfront no less as other journalists in war-stricken countries. They were killed while on their way to the local Comelec office in Shariff Aguak town near Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy of Mayor Dong Mangudadatu when armed men waylaid them.
Reports said that Mangudadatu will be running for gubernatorial post for Maguindanao against Andal Ampatuan Jr., whose family has ruled the province for the past several years.
The first vehicle of a convoy of six was peppered with bullets, according to the four survivors. Scared victims of succeeding vehicles were asked to form a line along the road where they were sprayed with bullets and eventually covered with soil in “what seems to be a prepared grave” hurriedly excavated by a backhoe with the words “Provincial Government” written on it.
Eyewitnesses and local media who have known the idiosyncrasy of politics and culture in Maguindanao province point to Governor Andal Ampatuan, Mangudadatu’s former ally and friend, as a powerful head of the clan who instigated the murder of 57 people.
Media reports had it that the older Ampatuan cannot be interviewed because they were not allowed entry as the guard building said “he is not in the Governor’s Office.”
Massacred were 30 media people assigned to cover the filing of certificate of candidacy of Ampatuan’s political rival.
Journalists who were positively identified and whose bodies were among those recovered were: Ian Subang (Dadiangas Times), Leah Dalmacio (Forum), Gina dela Cruz (Today), Marites Cablitas (Today), Joy Duhay (UNTV), Henry Araneta (DZRH), Andy Teodoro (Mindanao Inquirer), Neneng Montaño (formerly of RGMA), Bong Reblando (Manila Bulletin), Victor Nuñez (UNTV), Macmac Ariola (UNTV) and Jimmy Cabillo (UNTV).
The National Press Club, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas, together with the International Federation of Journalists and Southeast Asian Journalists were one in condemning the “senseless killing” describing it as “brutality” and “savagery” beyond description.
Amnesty International records reveal there were 36 Filipino journalists killed during President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law days; 30 under President Corazon Aquino’s administration; 21 under President Fidel Ramos; 7 under President Joseph Estrada; and 68 under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration.
Adding the names of 30 journalists killed during this Maguindanao massacre, the number of journalists killed in the line of duty now reaches 98 under the present government.
Professor Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies says the Maguindanao massacre goes beyond the “rido culture” of the Muslims where family members kill each other until no one is left alive of the warring clans.
The political clans have become warlords complete with private armies and whose political and military power has been strengthened with their vast connections in the government and authorities.
“The military and police cannot decide on their own because they have to get the orders of someone higher than them which are a political decision,” Wadi says.
Calling the political clans “untouchables” which in the Filipino lingo means people powerful enough who can afford to be above the law, Wadi says: “The prevailing policy in Mindanao has been a policy of expediency.”
He explains that lawbreakers remain scot-free as long as a person in authority has a “symbiotic relationship” with them.
“Okay lang gumawa ng di maganda basta mapapakinabangan kita,” he says. “Political dynasty in Mindanao is a symptom of a bigger problem in the country.”
Meanwhile, families of dead journalists and other victims are crying for justice.