Graphics by Geraldine Pearl Santos

The yearly commemoration of the Ampatuan Massacre in 2009 has become  desensitizing and almost negligible.

Judicial indecision, spanning a decade, has left no one to blame for the gruesome death of the 58 defenseless individuals slain at the hands of more than a hundred armed men. 

The placards have persisted, the familiar candles remain lit and the weight of every passing anniversary increases. 

Yet, as the consequences remain far-reaching, the memory of November 23 grows distant.

Journalists, as much as rights defenders and concerned citizens, have become walking targets of any administration that does not benefit from an informed public.

In the aftermath of the single deadliest attack on the press, the media landscape saw an emboldened elite who are now more capable of using their power to instill terror on truth-seekers. 

The government’s lack of urgency to act on the country’s rights record is a poorly-kept secret that has gained the attention of international watchdogs like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In fact, the CPJ in 2019 acknowledged that the Philippines’ consistent low rankings on its annual Global Impunity Index is due to the unresolved Ampatuan Massacre.

With the most unsolved murders of journalists for the past three years, the Philippines is in the league with war-torn or conflict-ridden countries like Iraq, Syria, and Somalia. 

Therein lies the tragedy of the massacre — an event that took place a generation ago, continues to haunt practitioners and civilians alike in the present. The elite that ruled the political dynasties of yesterday have only strengthened their holds on power, putting truth-tellers in perpetual danger for doing their jobs of challenging the status quo. 

It’s an inconvenient reality that we are left with and which we can only hope to solve in solidarity.

For decades we have spread the message to never kill the messenger, yet the reality of most media workers’ conditions today require them to bite the bullet with low compensation and the inability to unionize. While certainly not at par with the violence of the Ampatuan Massacre, journalists need not resort to bleeding on the ground for media outlets to protect its workers and pay what they are due. 

The Ampatuan massacre also serves as a reminder that this profession comes with a multitude of dangers, and it is only right for journalists to protect each other from harm – whether be it in the form of curses from foreign diplomats, threats of libel suits, or contractualization.

Escalating attacks have only proven that it’s not a question on whether our turn will come, but when.

The clock ticks for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, the latest libel suit against Rappler, and the looming threat of arrest on any practitioner today. What’s left is the challenge to go beyond the headlines, the reminder to heed the message of the silenced before tragedy strikes again. 

For every day that perpetrators are not held to account, injustice continues to reign. 

A decade might have passed, but we fight for as long as accountability remains elusive. 

Let this decade of commemoration serve as a declaration of our resistance to an unjust system that continues to perpetuate fear and silence. 

November 23 is not a day to remember we are powerless, but a time to remind the government there is strength in our collective memory. 

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