A showcase of rottenness
Nov. 23, 2009, will forever be a day of infamy. Not only in the history of Philippine media, which lost 32 of its own in the single deadliest attack on the press on record. Also for Philippine politics, the slaughter being the worst incident of electoral violence in the country’s recent history.
The massacre of 58 innocent civilians seven years ago in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, showcased everything that is rotten in Philippine governance and in the country’s justice system—like warlord clans and corrupt politicians practically wielding powers of life and death in what amounts to be their “fiefdoms” and where thievery in government is tolerated by power centers obsessed with keeping their influence and power by playing deaf and blind to all the rottenness.
The Ampatuan massacre is a testament to how entrenched this corrupt system is in a country that never tires of proclaiming itself the freest and most democratic in this corner of the world.
Not even the shock and revulsion that reverberated all over the world has moved government to ensure the swift administration of justice for the victims and their families, if only to erase this blot on the country’s image.
If anything, the State, should have taken on the burden of ensuring a better and secure future for the families of the victims—after all its agents were responsible for this most heinous of crimes.
One orphan, Gina dela Cruz, died from an illness because the family could no longer afford the treatment that could have saved her life. And her mother was left with no other choice but to make her grandchildren wards of the State because she could no longer support them.
This heartlessness of the State, this unconcern for the plight of the people whose grief it is primarily responsible for, also abets the culture of impunity that emboldens those who seek to silence the people who would expose their abuses. It is this impunity that encouraged the murder of hundreds of others of our compatriots whose only “crime” was to dare speak the truth to oppressive power.
Even as we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, we see more and more threats and assaults against the independent press in the Philippines; further abetted by the open contempt and hostility of a leader who absolutely brooks no criticism of his person or his policies, not even if these have opened the floodgates to an orgy of bloodletting unprecedented in its savagery and its utter disregard of the rule of law and human rights.
Seven years after the Ampatuan massacre, we fear that the worst is yet to come, and that the seekers of truth will have to face more danger from those who see our work as anathema to their pursuit of an order built not on compassion but on brute force; not on reality, but on the distorted picture they are forcing us to accept.
But even as we worry, we affirm that these are the best times to be journalists, to be the bearers of knowledge and champions of free thought, which the power centers would rather suppress. It is in times like these, as in the darkest days of the unlamented dictatorship, that the independent Philippine press is most needed by the people.
We do not doubt that the Filipino journalist and the independent media community will prove themselves worthy of their calling.
DABET PANELO, secretary general, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, [email protected]
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