Maguindanao Massacre

Conflict of schedule prevented me from joining yesterday’s march of the Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ) to condemn the Maguindanao massacre, which also took the lives of around 30 Mindanao journalists. At this stage, though, all of us in the media profession are outraged. We mourn the senseless deaths of our colleagues.

In this, the saddest period of our country and Philippine journalism, fortifying our solidarity is the only way to go. It therefore warms the heart that, from Batanes to Jolo and from the Philippines to the farthest reaches of the globe, condemnation of the Nov. 23 bestiality in Maguindanao can be heard. Such is needed if justice is the goal.

Days have passed but I still feel a mixture of anger, sadness and worry every time the Maguindanao massacre comes to mind. The other night a GMA 7 report put a face on the names of the journalists who died while covering the filing of the certificate of candidacy of a member of the Mangudadatu clan. I was both enraged and teary eyed.

The happiest days in my journalism career happened when I was in the field. There, the challenges in covering a developing event are always eased by our interaction with our colleagues. The faces of the reporters shown in that GMA 7 footage and fotos all radiated the same humanity that the powerful overlook in their attempt to stifle the truth.

Mourning and condemnation, however, are only phases in the pursuit of justice. We all must focus now on the next important stages, especially on the manner the Arroyo administration is handling the investigation and identification of the perpetrators. This early, I am beginning to worry if those killed will ever be accorded genuine justice.

Look closely and you will find that the magnitude of the bestiality committed in this incident is matched only by the kind of power the suspects are wielding. Andal Ampatuan Jr. is mayor of Datu Unsay town. His father, Andal Sr., is governor of Maguindanao. His brother, Zaldy, is Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao chief.

As details of the massacre are put to light, the more one sees how this power was flaunted in the crime. The backhoe used to bury the bodies of the victims is owned by the Maguindanao government. Among the armed men linked to the crime were top police officials in the area. Reports say that the perpetrators later sought refuge at the Capitol.

In short, government personnel and resources were used in the corralling and slaughtering of the victims and in the subsequent attempt to cover up the crime. That shows the height abuse of authority in Maguindanao has reached. The situation did not occur overnight; it is a product of years of looking away by the Arroyo administration.

Yet, in the current quest for justice, Malacañang is not even going through the motions of creating an impression that it is distancing from the suspect Ampatuan clan, its ally. The administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD did expel the Ampatuans, but Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza has been babysitting the clan the past few days.

I hope the case against Andal Jr., the main suspect in the massacre, won’t go the way of that of Ruben Ecleo Jr. that has dragged on for years without clear outcome in sight. Andal is also rich and influential and can hire the best lawyers to turn the judicial process on its head. That’s why public pressure must be continuously exerted on this one.

(I wrote this for my November 27 “Candid Thoughts” column in Sun.Star Cebu)


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