Two Reflections on Two Years: To dread is to dare / Numbering the dead

Beginning today, 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.


To dread is to dare

By Amapola Española, Features Editor

We all know what fear feels like. The pulse hastens; the gut clenches; the palms tremble and perspire. But then, there are many kinds of fear: there’s a marked difference, for example, between the nervousness I feel before taking an exam and the cold stab of phobia whenever I’m faced with heights.

Both, however, illustrated to my young self that fear was something to be confronted and ultimately defeated. The pause before answering that first question and the deep breath before the bungee jump both define the moment of conquering – it’s the decision to push forward, in spite of the fear.

But on Nov. 23, 2009, everything I knew about fear changed. That night, I sat in bed gawking at my computer screen, vainly trying to comprehend the news reports telling me that the inconceivable had happened in Maguindanao.

There was none of the quickening nervousness I knew from before: the fear that crept into my veins then was slow, dark and thick as tar. I was afraid of the kind of people calling the shots in this country, and I was afraid of the fact that, as a student of journalism, this merciless system is the same one that I will have to inform, persuade and critique when I enter the profession. Did I hope to have a willing audience in a place where journalists were slaughtered without remorse? Dare I still put my faith in a system that allowed murderers freedom from both accountability and punishment?

Perhaps I can’t simply call it “fear” anymore. “Fear” at least has room for the unreal, the irrational.  But the incontrovertible truth is that 32 of the 58 who died in Maguindanao were media workers, and my apprehension of the future, of the prospect of becoming a journalist amidst the threat of certain violence, is better approximated by the word “dread.”

Dread is that strain of fear that settles at the bottom of the stomach: once it’s there, it never leaves. What I’ve realized in the two years that I’ve allowed this dread to sit in my insides is that dread is unconquerable. I can’t seek out the future and confront it. The only way to not let the dread paralyze me is to let it be my fuel.

Two years after the Maguindanao massacre, the College of Mass Communication dares to still commemorate the date. The corridors teem with students who dare to stay on the path towards a peril-fraught profession. We are here because we dare to think of a future pursuing the truth, and dare to accept the risks that come with it. It is a decision to not let the dread hold us back, but instead to let it propel us, and it is a decision to never forget the injustice that made us feel dread in the first place.


Numbering the dead

By Patricia Denise Chiu, Features Editor

Every year, freshman students entering the College of Mass Communication in the University of the Philippines go through a rite of passage aptly called the Freshman Welcome Assembly. In this day-long affair, they are introduced to their course, the profession they will work towards and the college they will call home for four (at times more) years.

As a shiftee, I did not attend my freshman welcome assembly as a freshman, but as a sophomore. Despite the misnomer, I recall the day vividly. After all, it was during then that the happy reality of finally being a Journalism major sank in. But there was something curious about that day, something that, in hindsight, is probably fitting.

Peppered between speeches by student leaders and college officials were introductions to the many varied organizations that are based within the college. I recall watching out for the Journalism organizations, for obvious reasons. And despite the fact that I write this as a graduating student who has no particular organizational affiliation, I still remember the videos flashed both by the Journalism Club and the Union of Journalists in the Philippines – UP.

Numbers. That’s what the two videos had in common. Both had a running tally of the number of journalists dead due to the profession. And that was my baptism of fire into journalism – the awareness, concretely, in a running body count, that when I graduate and practice what I study to do, some people may want me dead for it.

Today we commemorate the second anniversary of the gruesome massacre in Maguindanao that claimed 58 lives, more than half of which were media practitioners. It is  jarring that the shock I feel when I think of the number of dead isn’t as vivid as it once was. It is now a dull ache, rather than the stabbing pains I felt when I first followed the early news reports of the rising body count in Maguindanao, the semester after I entered the College of Mass Communication. I am afraid I am starting to forget.

That is, to me, the greater curse of impunity. Because as masterminds, suspects, criminals and warlords go unpunished, we run the risk of forgetting.

But the wives, the husbands, the children. They are the ones who will never forget. It is a disservice to the memories of the 58 to let justice go unserved, and so I write.

I started my education in journalism with a body count, and in a semester, I will end it with the nagging thought of more. More were included in the list of dead since I started studying to become a journalist, and more might be added afterwards. The reason I continue writing is the hope that one day–maybe when I am writing professionally, maybe when I have retired, or maybe when I am long dead– that one day student organizations in the College of Mass Communication will not need to flash body counts in their recruitment videos.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.