Pooled editorial on the Second anniversary of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre
Referring to the extrajudicial killings that were so much a part of the past Arroyo administration, and the killing of journalists that spiked on November 23, 2009, President Benigno Aquino III declared in his 2010 State of the Nation Address (SONA) that his administration would “hold murderers accountable.”
Despite that pledge, six journalists have been killed since then, or a total of ten since the Ampatuan Massacre of November 23, 2009 which claimed the lives of 58 men and women, of whom 32 were journalists and media workers. Dozens of human rights workers, political activists, labor leaders and others have also been abducted, tortured and killed during the same period.
In addition to the killings that have continued in the Aquino administration, a number of community journalists have also been threatened, sued for libel on the flimsiest grounds, barred from attending interviews and press conferences, and physically assaulted. In a recent incident, unidentified persons also burned a Catholic Church-owned radio station in Occidental Mindoro. All are indicative of a state of mind among those who want to silence the press that could, in the present circumstances, lead to murder.
And yet, except for increasing the budget of the Witness Protection Program and reforming the National Prosecution Services, the Aquino administration has taken almost none of the steps agreed upon in the August2010 meeting between media advocacy and journalists’ organizations and his communication group and the department of justice as necessary to stop the killings. Among these steps were Malacañang support for changes in the rules of court to speed up the judicial process, and the inclusion of media representatives in the formation of Quick Response Teams to immediately investigate the killing of journalists and assure the preservation of evidence in the crime site.
After his pledge in his 2010 SONA to prosecute murderers, Mr. Aquino has been surprisingly silent when it comes to both extrajudicial killings and the killing of journalists. A statement from him each time anyone, whether activist or journalist, is murdered declaring his displeasure over the failure of the police to prevent it, and ordering immediate police action, could prod the police to greater efficiency and warn the would–be killers that things have changed since the Arroyo regime, and they will now be prosecuted. Mr. Aquino has also yet to dismantle the private armies, despite their role in the November 23 massacre and in a number of other cases of political and journalists’ murders in other parts of the country.
Only by demonstrating that the killers and would-be killers of journalists and political activists, human rights workers, students, judges, lawyers, and others who have been targeted in the Philippines can no longer get away with murder can the killings stop, and begin the process of dismantling the culture of impunity. That only ten cases involving the killing of journalists and almost none in the abduction, torture and murder of political activists have resulted in convictions since 1986 encourages the continuing killing of journalists and others in the Philippines. That much has been known to the national and international human rights, press freedom and media watch groups since 2003, when they found that the media and political killings had become so much a part of the Philippine environment because of the weaknesses of the justice system in the communities.
That awareness did not prevent the international press, free expression and media advocacy groups from being shocked when the Ampatuan Massacre, which included 26 non-journalists, occurred. They have declared November 23, 2009 the International Day to End Impunity not only to emphasize the global significance of what happened to journalists and media workers on that date, but also to call attention to the imperative of stopping political killings as well as the murder of journalists.
Has the Aquino administration surrendered even before the battle has begun? Is it that self-fulfilling prophecy that’s driving the Aquino government’s inability and apparent unwillingness to take the steps necessary to dismantle the culture of impunity so as to stop the killings that since 1986 have made widows, widowers and orphans of hundreds of Filipinos?