THE guilty verdict on the Ampatuan brothers and companions for the Maguindanao massacre case was a victory for the campaign to protect journalists. But is it case closed?
Not to the families of the journalists killed, media groups, civil society organizations and concerned citizens who have been part of the search for justice for the victims. They issued a statement dated Sept. 12, 2020, asking the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) to reconsider its classification of the Ampatuan (also known as Maguindanao) massacre case as resolved.
The letter addressed to Unesco director general Audrey Azoulay expressed “distress and disappointment as news reports, including from government media, have called attention to Unesco’s classification of the entire case as ‘resolved’ and citing this as an accomplishment of the Duterte administration and its efforts to protect journalists.”
Signatories to the letter include the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). They said the court conviction in December 2019 of 28 persons accused of planning and carrying out the killings and 15 accessories was a triumph of justice, “Regrettably, that one court decision does not mean that the case is ‘resolved.’ Far from it.”
At least 58 people, including 32 journalists, died in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre, making it the worst incident of electoral violence in Philippine history and the deadliest single attack on journalists in the world.
Among the reasons cited on why the case cannot be considered “resolved” are: The Ampatuan family members convicted of the crime have filed appeals before the trial court and the Court of Appeals, and there are still suspects who have remained at large.
There is no update yet from Unesco about the letter.
The Cebu media industry marks Cebu Press Freedom Week 2020 this Sept. 20 to 26 in a different kind of celebration as all activities will be conducted online or in virtual reality. Press week is held every September, in the week where Sept. 21 falls. This is to remind people of the 1972 declaration of martial law and the need to protect press freedom. The press was stifled when news organizations were closed and journalists arrested during martial rule.
It is the community press that is at greater risk to assaults compared to national media based in the nation’s capital. The Ampatuan massacre case is an example of how political lords can rule over their communities and act with impunity to silence critics or those they believe are against them.
I agree with the letter writers that a court decision cannot erase this assault on the press. To consider the case “resolved” is to lead others to forgetfulness and to another massacre of journalists in a small community away from the national spotlight. That case closure can ironically expose community journalists to danger.