Two Reflections on Two Years: How to write a news story on impunity in two hours/ A second year of impunity

Beginning Nov. 23, 2011, the two-year anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, Tinig ng Plaridel will be posting a series of personal narratives reflecting how we, the editors, have wrestled with the memory of the event. As recipients, students and future practitioners of media, this is our way of adding our voices to the call for justice, and our way of urging the public to demand a state that will nurture press freedom.



How to write a news story on impunity in two hours

By Marc Cayabyab, Associate Editor

Open word processor and start with the word “impunity.” You were assigned to write a news article on the Maguindanao massacre, the single deadliest attack on journalists. News articles should be careful in using loaded words, like “condemn,” “massacre,” or “grisly.” You use them anyway, for neglecting to do so would only downplay the scale of the event.

Define “culture of impunity” as an “absence of justice where perpetrators of murder can escape court prosecution for their crimes.” These concepts can only do so much to indicate the number of lives lost. Describe the massacre as the worst attack on press freedom. Associate the massacre with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has tolerated the spread of ammunition to ruling warlords. Explain President Aquino’s uncertainty that justice to the victims would be given under his term. Regain composure; resist agitation towards authority. This is a news story, after all.

You type “condemn” as the reaction of the media protesters. Write “massacre” instead of “murder,” for it presents the more vivid description of what happened to the 58 civilians – their bodies riddled with bullets, hands tied behind their backs, women with opened trousers and bloody groins.

The deadline pressures you to write the story fast, churning out all the details from your notes. Besides data, context is necessary – citing private prosecutor Harry Roque, it could take 55,000 years to conclude the Ampatuan trial; distinguishing the event, it is the worst election related violence in the country. The figures are staggering. The data are accurate. Context is balanced.

You cover the commemoration on November 23. The deadline is two hours from the time you left the mob. You struggle to choose between participating and covering the event; after all, the crowd shall have already reached Mendiola bridge by six, the moment you would have been cramming your paper. Outside, the crowd swells up as they walk along Recto Avenue covered in chalk figures of human bodies, perhaps for the sake of metaphor. You type away in a nearby computer shop, missing it all.

By the time you finish, it is 7 p.m. The protesters have already lit candles and drawn more chalk figures on Mendiola bridge. But surely you have not seen it yourself – the protesters have already left by the time you have sent your news. You walk to Mendiola only to find it deserted, void of any collective activity. Sigh, and contemplate the fact that covering the event can only do so much in changing the systemic problem of impunity. You mull over the thought that you have written a good enough story, just so you won’t feel so useless. You have beaten the deadline, and that’s all that matters; journalists, after all, need only think of their time stamps.

 

A second year of impunity

By Nikki Careen Palacios, Managing Editor

Yesterday marked the massacre’s second anniversary. It has been two years since a single incident placed the Philippines on top of the list of the worst countries to be a journalist. Two years have passed since the mass slaughter of the 58 victims, 32 of whom were journalists, left the media reeling.

Exactly a year since the Maguindanao massacre, mass communication students marched around campus and rallied at Mendiola, with ballers on their wrists that read simply, “Never Forget. 11.23.09.” Yesterday, students donned black yet again and headed to Mendiola once more to call for justice.

This is something we have done incessantly. Outside the college, there was a large signboard showing the number of days that have gone by without justice. T-shirts with themes revolving around press freedom are still popular among students. Conferences, talks and rallies on the matter have been consistently organized since the attack. The name Ampatuan continues to evoke feelings of disgust in the media.

The how-dare-they question has long been answered. The Ampatuans are products of a system that is capable of nurturing monsters, and we must be incessantly vigilant to ensure these monsters do not walk free.

These are men who must have felt they had nothing to fear. The attack happened in broad daylight, by a public road. The backhoe used to dig ditches for the bodies and damaged vehicles was owned by the local government. The courts have yet to convict the perpetrators and masterminds. It is an eye-opener to the kind of system we are under, and what we see is revolting.

Two years, and still little concrete progress has been made in the trial, despite testimonies of witnesses and a pile of suggestive evidence.

IPI Press Freedom associate, Scott Griffen, wrote, “Time has a way of warping justice, of making witnesses “forget,” or lose interest in the case, or become easy prey to corruption, undue influence and outright bribery, or worse, die.”

Griffen warned that documents may eventually disappear or become strangely inaccessible, or if not, be misplaced or destroyed.

The words “culture of impunity” are constantly thrown about in the college and in the news. It is now more than ever that the media must continue to uphold their watchdog role, to ensure this impunity does not continue. Not with this. Not with the worst of all incidents that drove a stake through the concept of press freedom and exposed our monsters in government.

We cannot allow this case to fester like so many previous cases of unresolved journalist killings. The Ampatuans were thirsty for power. We are thirsty for justice, and we cannot, and will not, forget.