BAGUIO CITY — Local media workers, writers, and artists in the City of Pines commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre with songs, poems and calls for justice in a short program at the People’s Park on Thursday, November 21.

Before the program, the participants marched down session road carrying lanterns and banners demanding justice and an end to impunity.

Frank Cimatu of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Baguio-Benguet chapter (NUJP-BB) and Rappler correspondent said it had been ten years of injustice to the families of the victims. He said that the promulgation of the case has been long overdue.

In his opening message, he gave a picture of how many journalists died in the massacre.

“Ammoyo no kasano kaadu ti 32 a writers wenno journalists a namassacre? No agpapressconda ditoy Baguio halos kasdiay kaaddu ti media nga agatattend. So kayat na saoen no pinatay mo diay kasdiay kaadu a tao, kasdiay met kaaddu ti napukaw a boses (Do you know how many is 32 writers or journalist massacred? If they call for a press conference in Baguio, that is almost the same number of members of the media that will attend. That means if you killed that many, many also lost their voice),” he said.

According to him, the incident put the Philippines in the world map being among the Top 5 countries with killed journalists and where the state fails to bring justice for the victims.

“While it has put the Philippines in the world map, it is nothing to be proud of,” he added.

He said the attacks against journalists are not isolated cases but a systematic effort to “silence the messengers because they want to control the country.”

“This has been happening for a long time. Even before the Ampatuan massacre, they have been killing people, adun ti colleaguesmi a pinatayda (they have killed many of our colleagues) Even after the Ampatuan massacre, the threats, harassments, and killings continued even to those based in the Cordillera,” he said.

He stressed that being a journalist in the country is hard and tasking.

“We are deemed enemies of the state, but we are not your enemies. We are defending dagiti awawan boses na ken marigatan (those who have no voice and marginalized); that is why we are always under attack,” he explained.

KEEP THE FAITH. Frank Cimatu of NUJP-BB and Rappler urged colleagues to keep their commitment of delivering fearless and truthful reports amid the intensified attacks against members of the media.
Photo by CEGP Cordillera.

Attacks on Cordillera media

Cimatu pointed out that members of the press in the Cordillera also experience assaults against their rights and profession.

“Maysa a kon kadagiti kinasoanda ti libel gapu iti maysa lang nga FB status. So every now and then I have to go to Quezon City for my hearing. Dakkel a banag, makapabannog (I was slapped with libel just for an FB status. So every now and then I have to go to Quezon City for my hearing. It’s a big thing, tiring),” he narrated.

Cimatu is facing a libel charged filed by former Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol for a Facebook post in 2018.

The veteran journalist and poet pointed out the relentless attacks against Northern Dispatch. He cited the attempted murder of Brandon Lee, a correspondent of Norther Dispatch, on August 6. State agents red-tagged and harassed Lee before the shooting.

Cimatu also mentioned the false charges against Sherwin De Vera, managing editor of Northern Dispatch and his inclusion in government’s terrorist proscription petition against the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army.

He said that contrary to what the Duterte administration wants the public to believe, the attack on Rappler is not just about Maria Ressa or their outfit, but a systematic attack on press freedom and the people’s right to know.

Rappler, together with Inquirer and ABS-CBN, caught the ire of the Duterte administration for its critical reporting of the government’s programs and policies.

The NUJP-BB in a statement also noted that during the August workshop of the National Task Force to End Local Communism in Baguio, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency labeled Northern Dispatch as a publication of rebels.

In 2018, Presidential Task Force on Media Security Undersecretary Joel Egco pressured SunStar Baguio to take down a story, which he claimed was false and has tarnished his reputation. The government official also badmouthed reporter Jonathan Llanes in his interviews. SunStar stood by their report to be factual and verified.

Deadliest attack against media

ARTISTS FOR JUSTICE. Artists and writers joined NUJP-BB in demanding justice for the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre through their poems and music. Sulong Likha, created the backhoe effigy, a symbol for the for the incident and effort of the perpetrators to hide their gruesome crime. Photo by CEGP Cordillera.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them journalists, on November 23, 2009, in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao “to be the single deadliest event for the press since 1992.” The incident also remains to be the worst case of electoral violence and the deadliest single attack against journalists ever recorded in the country.

Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., together with his father Andal Ampatuan Sr. and brothers Zaldy and Sajid, were charged as mastermind and primary suspects along with their minions and some police officers. The Ampatuan clan has ruled the province for decades.

Members of the media were covering the filing of the Certificate of Candidacy Buluan town Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangundadatu for governor of Maguindanao challenging Andal, Jr. The convoy, headed by Mangudadatu’s wife and relatives, was heading Sharriff Aguak, the capital of the province when the suspects waylaid them.

Ten long years after, with Ampatuan Sr. dead, Sajid out on bail, and Zaldy hospitalized for a heart ailment, the Supreme Court set the promulgation on the case on December 20.   

The NUJP said the families of the victims and the media community expect no less than a conviction for the Ampatuans and their cohorts. The group also called on the government to end the culture of impunity in the country.

In her poem, Luchie Maranan of the Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) said, “the land is one brutalized field.” She stressed that “pens and keyboards are mightier than a backhoe” and that people will not retreat for the fight for justice and forget the incident.

To date, there are 13 journalists killed under the Duterte while and 186 murdered media practitioners since democracy was supposedly restored in 1986. # nordis.net

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