News Commentary from the Asia Society for Social Improvement and Sustainable Transformation (ASSIST) Research and Knowledge Management (RKM) Team
by Paula Bianca Lapuz
This year marks the second anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre which resulted in 58 deaths, 32 of whom were media members and 26 others were civilians. Worldwide, November 23, the date of the bloodbath, has become the International Day to End Impunity (Malig 2011).
The Philippines has been tagged in the recent years as the most dangerous place for journalists (Gonzaga 2010 and Papa 2009). A study published in 2008 noted that half of the 77 media killings since 1986 were committed from 2001 to 2008 alone (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility 2008). Indeed, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibilityargues that while the Philippine press enjoys the freedom of expression as with any other democratic society, killing of journalists persists especially in rural areas (CMFR 2008).
The Ampatuan massacre demonstrates the power and vulnerability of the media. Journalists were not killed in Ampatuan, Maguindanao by chance. Thinking that a media convoy can shield them, the kin of then aspirant for governorship Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu faced the odds to submit the certificate for candidacy. In what is now an infamous massacre, they were all killed on their way.
Mangudadatu has since burned bridges with the Ampatuan clan, the ruling family in the province. The Ampatuans are being tried, but the murder remains unresolved. Families of the victims still bear the torment of injustice.
Ampatuan province is part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, an area ceded to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the former rebel organization that sought its creation, in 1992.
More than anything else, the one glaring message of the Ampatuan massacre is that democracy has failed in ARMM. In fact, ARMM is a failed project altogether.
The media is said to be the watchdog of the society. This is why in every attempt at declaring a martial rule, the first enterprises and institutions to be seized by the State are the media establishments.
Information is power, and it is the media that provides information. And because a free press is one of the measures of a mature democracy, the Ampatuan massacre is the ultimate proof that our national government has failed in ensuring the emergence of a democratic local government in the ARMM.
Furthermore, political stability is a pre-condition for economic growth. Unless political issues are addressed, it is certain that ARMM will not see better days ahead. In fact, it remains to be among the poorest regions in the country, slipping to the second spot in 2009, following the CARAGA region (Macabalang, 2011).
It has been two years since the massacre, but no one has been punished for the atrocity. For a very high-profile case committed in broad daylight, how hard can it get to arrive at the truth? The Philippine justice system has been disappointing time and again, and one can only hope that before the year ends, significant progress should have been made on the investigation.
Macabalang, A. G. (2011, July 13). Main News. Retrieved December 08, 2011, from Manila Bulletin: http://www.mb.com.ph/node/326662/caraga-now-poore
Malig, J. (2011, November 23). ABS-CBN News. Retrieved November 24, 2011, from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/-depth/11/22/11/ampatuan-massacre-becomes-global-focus-journalists
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. Philippine Press Freedom Report 2008. Assessment, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 2008.
Gonzaga, Robert. The Philippine Daily Inquirer. November 24, 2010. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20101124-304957/PH-Most-dangerous-place-for-journalists (accessed November 24, 2011).
Papa, Alcuin. The Philippine Daily Inquirer. November 25, 2009. http://globalnation.inquirer.net/news/breakingnews/view/20091125-238302/RP-most-dangerous-place-for-journalists-to-workwatchdog (accessed November 24, 2011).