MANILA – Hundreds of candles illuminated the Edsa Shrine at exactly 6 p.m., Nov. 23.
Below the bronze gargantuan statue that has become a symbol of people power were journalists from all over Asia, press freedom advocates and students. At the center was a screen flashing the photographs of 32 journalists slain on Nov. 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
The gathering marked the fifth year of the Ampatuan massacre, touted as the single deadliest event for journalists not only in the Philippines but also in the world.
Among the crowd was Edita Tiamzon, wife of UNTV cameraman Daniel Tiamzon. Her candle lightened the words printed on her black shirt – “32 dead. 5 years. 0 justice. Ampatuan Massacre 11.23.2009.”
Tiamzon and the other families of the 58 victims of the Ampatuan massacre continue to grope in the dark, searching for justice.
“Deprive us not of justice,” Mrs. Tiamzon said when asked of her message to President Benigno Aquino III. “I don’t see how Malacanang is doing all it can to resolve the case,” she told this reporter in Filipino.
After five years, the trial is still locked up in bail proceedings, according to Prima Quinsayas, lawyer of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ).
Quinsayas said Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the primary suspects, presented evidence for his bail petition just last week.
Of the 70 accused who petitioned for bail, the court has so far decided on 43 petitions. Quinsayas said Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court granted bail for 41 of the accused and dismissed one petition for bail. One of those who filed bail was already dead.
Although 41 have been granted bail, Tiamzon remains hopeful that the masterminds would be convicted.
As the trial drags on, more witnesses get killed. Just this week, another witness was gunned down. On Nov. 18, unidentified men fired at Denex Sacal and Butch Saudagal in Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao. Sacal died while the injured Saudagal was brought to a nearby hospital, according to a report by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).
These developments, along with the killing of more journalists after the Ampatuan massacre, were the basis for a strong criticism from an international solidarity mission.
After this week’s solidarity mission, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) concluded, “President Benigno Aquino III’s failure to deliver a secure environment and enforce a respect for basic human rights cultivates an atmosphere that is deadly for journalists in the country.”
Delegates of the mission met with President Aquino’s Undersecretary for Legislative, Policy and Legal Affairs in the Presidential Communications Operations Office Jess Anthony Q. Yu and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
IFJ Asia-Pacific acting director, Jane Worthington, said, “The Philippines is undoubtedly an epicentre of impunity and this massacre puts the world’s attention on the inability of governments to investigate crimes against journalists.”
AlterMidya, a national network of alternative media outfits and practitioners, holds Aquino accountable for perpetuating the culture of impunity.
Luis Teodoro, chairman of AlterMidya and CMFR deputy executive director, said that Aquino’s repeated statements blaming the victims and dismissing the cases as not work-related send a message to the entire bureaucracy that his administration is not interested in solving media killings.
“He [Aquino] should stop saying that,” Teodoro said. “Instead, he should state that the killings should stop. Period.”
Members of the AlterMidya joined the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman community, members of the End Impunity Alliance in a protest march around the academic oval on Nov. 21.
Speaking during the program at Quezon Hall, Benjie Oliveros, AlterMidya spokesman, said, “To ensure justice, we must remain vigilant. This is an issue not only of journalists but of the Filipino people.” (bulatlat.com)