Outcome of Ampatuan Massacre case seen as crucial to ending impunity

MANILA (MindaNews/26 November)—Failure to resolve the Ampatuan Massacre and deliver justice to the victims will worsen the culture of impunity that has come to characterize the killings of journalists in the country, a press freedom advocate yesterday told participants to the national congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) here.

Prof. Luis Teodoro, former dean of the UP College of Mass Communications and deputy executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), said it’s ”very important” that the Ampatuan Massacre be resolved and justice delivered to the victims as soon as possible, otherwise the killers would think they ”easily get away with murder.”

CMFR and NUJP have been issuing warnings over the impunity that has attended the killings of journalists and other people even before the slaughter of 58 people, 33 of them journalists, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23 last year.

Since 1986, CMFR has documented 118 journalists killed in the line of duty, only seven cases of which led to convictions.

Teodoro said journalists are being killed because since 1986 up to now, there is an impression that if you’re ”powerful and wealthy enough, you can get away with murder.”

”There’s a situation where the wealthy and powerful groups are able to get away with murder,” Teodoro said.  ”So, one way to stop it is to demonstrate that if you kill journalists, you will be punished.”

He said the scale of the Ampatuan Massacre is ”unprecedented in the history of Philippine politics and Philippine media.”

”If not resolved, it will send a strong signal to all those people out there that they can continue to kill journalists without fear of being punished,” he said. ”That’s why, it’s important that the case should be resolved.”

He also warned that mobilizing ”private armies” as part of the security forces is ”dangerous” because just like in Somalia, these forces can become ”independent power themselves.”

”It’s dangerous when the police and the military have the monopoly of arms power because arms can decide on crucial issues, including the power over life and death, like what happened in Ampatuan,” he said.

He said that in Mindanao, because ”they (the Ampatuans) deliver the votes, (former President) Arroyo turned a blind eye on corruption and supplied arms (to the clan) in an attempt to defend the state against the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front).”

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima recognized that the large-scale slaughter of people in what is known as the Ampatuan Massacre was only a result of the warnings that were largely unheeded.

”This problem has been with us for a while, reaching its height–hopefully last November 23, 2009,” she said in the opening of the two-day NUJP national congress.

”In fact, as far back as 2003, the Philippines was already being referred to as a ‘killing fields’ of journalists,” she recalled.

”When journalists are killed, it affects the way that journalists do their job,” Teodoro  said.

”The killing of journalists is a concern not only of journalists but of the society as a whole because freedom of expression affects the way we exercise all other freedoms,” he added. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)