By Rowena Paraan, NUJP Chairperson
MANILA, 23Nov2013 – It has been four years since 58 people, 32 of them media workers, were slaughtered on a hilltop in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao in what is now acknowledged as the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack on the media on record.
Four years of a crime so grievous one would have expected nothing less than swift action and redress of such outrageous injustice.
And yet, four years later, an injustice it remains.
In the meantime, at least three vital witnesses have been murdered while the families of the victims, who have had to endure the realities of coping after the loss of breadwinners with insufficient support from government, face increasing pressure to settle.
And in the meantime, media practitioners continue to be murdered and assaulted and threatened and harassed with impunity.
Lest we forget, let us revisit the bitter lessons the massacre drove home.
Yes, it was shocking in its scale and savagery, but the Ampatuan massacre was not an anomaly, not the “isolated incident” some would have us believe.
It was, in fact, the logical, even inevitable, consequence of a system of governance that allows corrupt politicians and warlords to flourish in the regions and provinces in exchange for their loyalty and support. Each and every media killing is a result of this twisted system, as is the impunity with which such killings continue — 18 to date under the current administration. That not a single mastermind in any of the 157 media murders since 1986 has ever been convicted and punished is enough proof of this.
It is a system that would rather stifle, not expand the boundaries of, free press and free expression for to it, truth is anathema. Which is why we have the Human Security Act and the Cybercrime Prevention Act instead of the Freedom of Information Law, and why libel remains a crime in our Revised Penal Code. Not to mention why journalists, activists, lawyers, environmentalists, indigenous people, religious and all those who dare speak out truth as they see it are murdered.
The massacre also highlights the perils community journalists face in our benighted land, risking life and limb for peanuts while forced to live through, even being victimized by, the events they cover, much as those who perished during super typhoon “Yolanda,” who refused to abandon their posts to the very end.
It is therefore also a scathing reproach to a media industry that obsesses over profits and ratings while neglecting those who toil in it as much as it is a tribute to the men and women at the frontlines who persist against all hardships to fulfill their duty of informing the people.
Four years after the Ampatuan massacre, it is all too clear that the only way we will ever find justice and the freedom to fully enjoy our rights is to lay claim to them, to seize them and, once we have them, to nurture them and jealously guard them against all those who would keep them from us.