BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remembering a Massacre

Below is my latest blog for The New Internationalist:

WE remember them, all 58 people who died three years ago today, on a barren windblown hill, under a glistening yellow sun, in a place they called home.

They were massacred and some of the women were raped in what would be the worst election related violence that shocked a country like the Philippines which is so used to political tensions.

It happened on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao, a province in the southern Philippines that is so rich in agricultural resources yet teeming with poverty.  

Members of ruling clan in the province, the Ampatuan family massacred the supporters of rival political leader Esmael Mangudadatu, the vice mayor of a small town in the province.

All 58 victims including Mangudadatu’s wife and more than thirty journalists were in a convoy on their way to the municipal hall to file Mangudadatu’s candidacy as governor of the province the following year.  But they were stopped by dozens of armed men and forced to a hilltop – a pre-dug mass grave -- where breathed their last.

The massacre was clearly to stop the group from filing Mangudadatu’s candidacy – a move that could end the Ampatuan clan’s decades-long rule in the province.

Citing a study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the New York Times said in a 2009 article by Carlos Conde, that the Ampatuans’ control of Maguindanao is almost absolute.

“Most of the province’s 36 towns are run by mayors and deputy mayors who are either sons, grandsons, cousins, nephews, in-laws or close allies of the senior Mr. Ampatuan,” the article said.
Three years after the gruesome killing, the families of the victims continue to cry out for justice.
Philippine president Benigno Aquino III, whose father died in the name of democracy, promised to speed up the quest for justice.

But two years into his presidency, the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice. Only two of the eight Ampatuan clan members in jail have been arraigned, according to a statement signed by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Some witnesses have already died or are missing while some relatives of the victims are on the run, fearing for their safety.

Today, journalists, press freedom advocates and families of the slain victims of the Ampatuan massacre marched to the presidential palace with 153 mock coffins to demand swift justice.

“Each mock coffin bears the name of the every victim of journalist killings, including 32 of the 58 people killed in the Ampatuan massacre,” said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, organizers of the march.

In the Philippines, 153 journalists have been killed since 1986 when democracy was restored. 

Three years ago today, 58 people were massacred on a barren windblown hill, under a glistening yellow sun, in a place they called home. Today, the quest for justice continues. We remember and we remember still.