As we have written way back in 2012, we need to be reminded time and again “Lest we have, in the busyness of our work and our lives, shuffled the memory into the backs of our mind.”
Today, the 23rd of November 2016, we mark the seventh year of the most gruesome aberration called the Maguindanao Massacre that had been set upon the media and Philippine democracy with such impunity as to defy all norms of human decency.
But the same cry against impunity appears to be falling mostly on ears that would not deign to listen even as today, ironically, we also commemorate the fourth year of the International Day to End Impunity in the Philippines.
Again, as we have written in 2012 for the same commemorative event, “The massacre was a beast that nearly eviscerated the community press in that part of Mindanao, demonstrating in horrific detail the vulnerability of journalists who live and work in the provinces and who have often been, and still are, put to task for, among other things, suborning the practice of journalism. They are often portrayed as easy prey for blandishments of many kinds or willing participants in rent-seeking and rent-giving. Or that they are paid hacks of politicians and are bereft of any ethical norm or standard. This may be partly true but realities on the ground present a different picture and context of the vulnerabilities faced by community journalists.”
It is a graphic description of the kind of governance bereft of the rights-based principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination, transparency, human dignity, empowerment, and rule of law that gave rise in the first place to such an insidious phenomenon.
It is the same narrative that the government seems bent on foisting on all of us, that many of those who have been killed deserved what they got, a grim but sobering reminder that successive administrations have always demonstrated some sort of ambivalence towards journalists and media practice. These are but some of the ingredients that create a culture of impunity.
Impunity flourishes when law enforcement is weak and the judicial process is excruciatingly slow with one study showing that on average it takes more than five years for an extrajudicial killing case to undergo the criminal process; impunity becomes even more manifest when the rule of law is swept under by the expedience of crime fighting; impunity gains even more momentum when the body of an ousted dictator is buried among heroes, in the process trampling history and the sacrifices of those who fought for the restoration of democracy; impunity becomes even more rampant and insidious when citizens refuse to speak out because they could not relate their daily lives to the function of journalism in democracy; and, impunity will continue to fester like a gangrenous ulcer if we in the media will let down our guard and vigilance against threats to our freedoms tempered nonetheless by adherence to the highest standards of journalism.
It should be made clear therefore that when journalists are put at risk the very notion of democracy is put to graver peril. No amount of safety training can protect journalists when there is no clear understanding and appreciation of the role of the press to verify and make sense of what is happening around us. When we no longer are able to understand the events unfolding before us nor are able to take corresponding action, then we have allowed darkness to rule our lives with consequences so horrendous to contemplate.
We march again today to ensure that that same darkness will not prevail.
Center for Community Journalism and Development