SIX YEARS ago, on November 23, 2009, 58 people perished on a hillside amid the breathtaking landscape of Sito Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao in what would be known as the Ampatuan Massacre, both for the town where it happened and, yes, we will acknowledge this now, for the family that plotted and committed this slaughter most vile.
It was to be expected, of course, that on what everyone knew by then was the eve of his victory, then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III would pledge justice for the victims of the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack on the press ever – 32 of the victims were media workers.
It should have been a promising start for the six-year term of this son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, the acknowledged icons of our democratic restoration. Several, if not all, of the victims’ families even campaigned for him, so much did they believe in his promise of justice, just as he had vowed a return to good governance, just as he had vowed transparency and the enactment of a Freedom of Information law.
But here we are six years later, and Aquino also on the eve of winding up his own six years, with no justice, no good governance, no FOI, in probably worse straits than when we started:
The trial of the accused is still barely out of the starting gates, with the clan patriarch now beyond the reach of earthly justice, one of his sons out on bail and running for mayor because the prosecution incredulously failed to prove his participation despite his presence at the meeting where the slaughter was decided and planned, and close to half of the suspects still free. It is not encouraging at all, not by any standards.
Indeed, the Ampatuan Massacre may well be the symbol of Noynoy Aquino’s term, a rutted, crooked path strewn with broken promises and a trail of blood.
Not because of what he has done but, even worse, because he has done nothing for the simple reason that he simply does not care.
How else explain the fact that when, on the first visit here of US President Barack Obama in April last year, asked what he was doing about the continued media killings under his watch — 26 at that time — he prefaced his reply by referring to the massacre but then could not even get the numbers right on one of the most heinous crimes in the country’s history, one which he had promised justice for.
And then he follows this up by insulting all our other murdered colleagues by the blanket accusation that they “were killed not because of professional activities, but, shall we say, other issues.”
It was a canard he would make again just months later, in September, when called out on his administration’s human rights record in Belgium, he brushed off the criticism as “blanket statements” and said: “For instance, in the media killings, some who used to work in media died. Did they die because they were investigative journalists? Were they exercising their profession in a responsible manner, living up to journalistic ethics? Or did they perish because of other reasons?”
And we have lost count of the times he has blamed media for everything wrong with his administration, a tiresome and infantile exercise that has, however, further emboldened those who would seek to silence critical journalists. So far, under his watch, 37 more journalists have perished. All in all, 170 have died since 1986, making us the 4th most dangerous country in the world for journalists according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index. November 23 is also among the basis of the International Federation of Journalists’ global 2015 campaign, of which the NUJP is an affiliate, to #endimpunity on crimes against journalists.
Six years after Ampatuan, six years of continued impunity, six years of unfulfilled promises and broken dreams. We would say good riddance Benigno Aquino III but no, you cannot and should not be able to wash off the blood on your hands, for which we promise to hound you and hold you accountable.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)