Echoes of the silenced

The echoes of the silenced will continue to haunt the Ampatuan clan and the likes of them in powerful institutions. Those who continue to abuse their positions and gag the press in the name of political power will never know peace until justice is served.

Nearly 11 years ago, 58 people, 32 of which are journalists, rode a convoy to the provincial capitol of Maguindanao with the relatives and supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, a political rival of the Ampatuan clan. En route, the convoy was put to a halt at a police checkpoint wherein a hundred armed men from the AFP and PNP surrounded the vehicles and took them to a dirt pit where they were mutilated with bullets.

10 years after the massacre, a verdict was given for around 200 suspects – a victory for the families of the victims. But their search for justice continues as 80 people allegedly involved in the incident remain to be at large from the authorities.

This haunting experience echoes in the minds of journalists until today, wherein amid all forms of repression of the press, political killings among the ranks of the media remain rampant.

We were reminded of this culture of impunity just 13 days ago, a week after the International Day to End Impunity for Crime Against Journalists, when Vir Maganes of the Northern Watch was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Pangasinan. He was a member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the 18th journalist killed under the Duterte administration.

NUJP believes that his death was related to another attempt in 2016, wherein a placard that read “Drug pusher huwag pamarisan” was found near the shooting incident. Until today, there have been no developments about his death, and the suspect, in a similar vein to the former, remains at large.

This culture of impunity stems from the interest to maintain power, in which the rich and powerful mobilize their forces to kill anyone who seeks the truth behind their corrupt rule.

Journalists aren’t just killed out of nowhere – they are killed for speaking about the truth. They are killed for being a threat to local bureaucrats and politicians who abuse their power to keep the wealth they have plundered from the people. They are a threat to the feudal landlords who send out paramilitary groups to threaten farmers. They are a threat to logging, mining, and development companies with armed guards which seek to displace indigenous people. A threat to the powerful, but an ally of the oppressed.

Having seen this pattern of greed and death until today, it is clear that the state of affairs has not much changed over the years that have passed, just as much as the system which represses journalists has not changed as well.

The Philippines remains to be one of the most dangerous places for a journalist to be in, yet we struggle on. The voices of every fallen journalist shall linger in the corners of every newsroom, every printing press, and every studio while justice has not been given. Our fight for justice and genuine press freedom is far from over. [P]

Photo by Dianne Sanchez

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