Statement of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication
on the first anniversary of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre
signed by 31 faculty members, 10 staff and 160 students
led by Dean Roland B. Tolentino.
Fifty-eight men and women, including two lawyers and 32 journalists and media workers, were brutally murdered on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province. The Ampatuan Massacre was not only the worst incident of election- related violence in the Philippines; it was also the worst single assault on journalists and media workers in history, and when it occurred boosted the number of journalists slain in the line of duty in this country since 1986 to 114.
As heinous as it was, the Massacre was so far only the lowest point in the continuing killing of journalists and media workers that has been going on since the alleged restoration of democracy in 1986. But it has put on trial the justice system’s capacity to prosecute its perpetrators, and has become a test of the resolve of the media community and the citizenry to see to it that not only are those responsible for it punished, but that the culture of impunity that encourages the killings – not only of journalists but of political activists as well, and of judges, lawyers and progressive local officials – that have become endemic in Philippine society is dismantled.
Only the prosecution and punishment of the killers and masterminds in the killings can achieve that end. But in addition to the numerous other cases in which the killers and masterminds have not been prosecuted, the trial of the accused planners and the killers who actually did the shooting in the Ampatuan massacre is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Only a handful of the 197 accused are on trial, but the cross examination of witnesses against the whole lot has also been agonizingly slow, given the legal technicalities that have to be observed.
The process must proceed quickly without compromising the rights of the accused to a fair trial. But equally important to the goal of stopping the killings by prosecuting and penalizing those responsible is a state commitment to the dismantling of the private armies of local warlords in some 100 localities in the Philippines.
The proliferation of these warlord armies is an outrage for which the Arroyo regime must be held responsible. In the particular case of the alleged perpetrators of the Ampatuan Massacre, it was the Arroyo regime that armed their private army, and ignored both the human rights violations and the corruption rampant in their fiefdom for the sake of the votes they could and did deliver during elections.
The Aquino administration has denied the demands of local and international human rights and media organizations to disband the civilian volunteer organizations and other paramilitary groups that constitute the core of the warlord armies. And yet their disbandment is in most cases basic to stopping the killings and to preventing the repetition of the Ampatuan Massacre: it is an indispensable part of the imperative of trying and punishing the killers of journalists and political activists, and to dismantling the culture of impunity.
The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication calls on the mass media community and the citizenry to strengthen their support for the prosecution of those responsible for the killing of journalists, and strongly urges the Aquino government, if it is indeed committed to the defense of press freedom, to disband the paramilitary groups that were so instrumental in carrying out the Ampatuan Massacre.
For verification and more details, please call the Office of the College Secretary (920-6867).