More importantly, I hope you’re alive.
I write this letter on the 2nd anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre. To date, with 58 people killed, 32 of whom were media practitioners, it is the worst election-related violence in the country, and the single incident in the world to involve the biggest number of media practitioners deaths.
Two years and countless tears from their families and friends later, there is still no resolution to any of the cases filed against the 196 defendants. Worse, not even half of them are in jail.
Not only did this incident highlight the grave danger Journalists can find themselves in, but also that a massacre as heinous as this can go unpunished. This is not just an issue of elections-related violence or of media people being killed; this is about the culture of impunity that is being perpetuated by the lack of justice.
And if 32 media people were killed, how safe can one media practitioner anywhere in the world be? How safe can I be? So if you’re reading this letter, 20 years from now, then breathe a sigh of relief, and consider yourself lucky: you’re still alive.
To be alive after years in the media industry with the society as it is now is quite a feat– especially since I hold a rather radical point of view. It won’t be a surprise if you turn out to be working in one of the media organizations that advocate media people’s rights and welfare. And it is not uncommon for people you might be working for or with to receive death threats. Some were unfortunate enough to be one of the victims of extra-judicial killings.
But then, 20 years from now, I might not even be a Journalist. I might have taken the safer route, gone into advertising or corporate communication, and you might be safe in your corner office, unaware anymore of how important today is.
If so, then know that your 20-year-old self is disappointed in you. I am not one to judge those in advertising or corporate communication, I am merely disappointed in the idea that I will ever abandon the advocacy that I have right now.
But knowing that it is possible, I write this for when I’ve lost the idealism that the University of the Philippines has taught me.
Others say that to survive the real world, one must face realities. But while UP makes us idealists, it also makes us critical. UP gives us skills and knowledge to realize our ideals: that they have the capacity for change. While it develops our excellence, it develops our honor. And what greater honor is there than to serve the country and the people?
Twenty years from now, will we still be honoring the lives lost in the massacre? Or will we be celebrating the resolution of the cases? Lawyer Harry Roque said the trials could last 55,000 years, while over 11,000 cases and international studies estimating a case in the Philippines to last five years.
Yet while the trials continue to crawl in court, more media workers are killed in the Philippines and in other parts of the world. How many more will die? 20 years from now, how many of your classmates will still be alive and working as journalists? I feel I must remind you, that of the 58, 6 were not even part of the convoy; they were civilians who only happened to be passing by.
And so I shatter your illusion that you are safe. For in a culture of impunity, no one is safe or guaranteed justice.
Another thing to ponder upon is this: In 20 years, how many people will remember? People–Filipinos have short memories and many have historical amnesia. But to forget is not to forgive. Anniversaries help remind people, but it is up to the media, to you, to help them remember not only the date or the number, or the place. It is up to you to put context and the significance to remembering.
I am writing this for when I’m cynical because in times like these, no one can afford to be cynical. To even forget is to dishonor the lives of the martyred journalists who died for their calling. When the culture of impunity is the status quo, the apathetic are just asa much to blame as the perpetrators. If more people realize this and remember, then 20 years from now, it could be, and will be different.
And so to you, my future self: look back, remember and never forget.
Mely Ann Cristobal
November 23, 2011