EDITORIAL – Still 5th in impunity
As in previous years, the Philippines is once again ranked among the five worst countries in terms of killings targeting journalists. There has been no spike in journalists’ murders in the past year. But the 41 unresolved killings kept the Philippines in fifth place for the third straight year in the 2019 World Impunity Index drawn up by the Committee to Protect Journalists, behind only Somalia, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan.
The CPJ explained that the Philippines was rated among the worst partly because of the failure to resolve the world’s worst single attack on media workers: the Maguindanao massacre.
This Nov. 23, the nation will mark 10 years since hundreds of militiamen and police led by Andal Ampatuan Jr. shot dead 58 people, 32 of them media workers, crushed them inside their vehicles with a backhoe, and buried them in a shallow mass grave on a hillside in Maguindanao.
The 10th anniversary is approaching with one of the principal defendants, Zaldy Ampatuan, confined in one of the country’s top hospitals ostensibly for irregular heartbeat, with the consent of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. The accused mastermind, clan patriarch Andal Sr., died of cancer in 2015 with the case against him unresolved.
Over the past decade, key witnesses in the grisly mass murder have also died or disappeared. As the deadly assault got underway, several of the journalists had managed to use their cell phones. They called for help as they narrated the approach of their killers led by Andal Ampatuan Jr., at the time mayor of Datu Unsay town.
People therefore thought it would be an open-and-shut case at least against him and some members of his family. The motive was there: the attack was aimed at the wife and other female relatives of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who were on their way to Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao.
In daring to challenge the Ampatuans’ stranglehold on power in what was then the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mangudadatu apparently thought that his foes, evil as they seemed, would not dare harm women and journalists. He thought wrong; his female relatives, according to some reports, were even shot in the genitals.
People also guessed that the horrific nature of the crime would lead to a judicial resolution quicker than the usual glacial pace of Philippine justice. Unfortunately for the country, we also guessed wrong.