Kin of slain media workers to visit Ampatuan massacre site

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/18 Nov) – Families of the media workers slain in the gruesome Maguindanao carnage will visit the massacre site in Ampatuan town on November 22, a day before the second anniversary of the gory crime, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said.

On November 23, 2009, 58 people, including 32 media workers (the remains of one is still missing to date), were brutally killed in the worst election related violence in the country.

It was also the largest single killing of media workers anywhere else in the world.

Last year, the families of the slain media workers visited the massacre site on November 23 itself, a frenzied event with thousands from different sectors joining the commemoration.

Rowena Paraan, NUJP secretary general, said the families of the media victims would be accompanied by a number of journalists from across the country in paying tribute to the massacre site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.

Several members of the then influential Ampatuan clan allegedly perpetrated the shocking manslaughter in which some victims were mangled beyond recognition.

Paraan described the Ampatuan massacre as the most gruesome event in the history of press freedom in the Philippines.

So far, only two clan members have been arraigned – former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and namesake Andal Ampatuan Jr., erstwhile mayor of Datu Unsay town.

Both pleaded not guilty.

Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, along with the rest of the powerful warlord clan, is trying to get out of the case through various legal and clever public relations tricks, Paraan said.

The Ampatuans have hired as lead counsel lawyer Sigfried Fortun, one of the lawyers of deposed President Joseph Estrada in the aborted impeachment trial in 2001.

“It is thus doubly important for us in [the] media to continue monitoring and reporting developments in the case. We must actively take part in the campaign for justice for the victims – no matter how long it takes,” Paraan said.

The global media community and freedom of expression advocates are expected to also commemorate the second massacre anniversary.

Every November 23 from this year has been calendared as the “International Day to End Impunity.”

As part of the second year commemoration, the NUJP would be conducting a two-day media safety conference in General Santos City on November 20 to 21.

Paraan said the conference agenda includes a risk-mapping session focusing on various types of risks journalists face depending on the area, presence of armed groups, and state of local politics, among others.

Another agenda is how to effectively investigate and document attacks against media, from simple threats sent thru SMS (text message) or actual physical assaults and killing.

Conference participants, who will come from different parts of the country, are expected to join the families of the media victims in paying tribute to them at the massacre site on November 22.

The media victims in the Ampatuan massacre were then part of the convoy for the filing of certificate of candidacy of now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who also lost his wife and several female relatives in the incident. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)