Exactly four months have gone by since 57 persons, 32 of them media workers, were slaughtered in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao, the worst single instance of political violence in our country’s recent history and the worst single attack on the press ever.
Exactly four months since November 23, 2009, we find the judicial process – and we all know how agonizingly slow the wheels of justice can turn in this benighted land – stalled, the hearings on the petition for bail of principal accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. indefinitely suspended by a slew of motions filed by his lawyers.
The wholesale filing last month of multiple murder charges against 196 other suspects in the massacre has only served to highlight the reality that the judicial road to justice will be very, very long and very, very tortuous to navigate.
But recently, there have been indications of more direct efforts to subvert the justice due the victims of this most heinous of crimes.
There have been persistent reports of offers of money to some of the victims’ kin in return for the withdrawal of their complaints. Worse, there are also reports of colleagues actually succumbing to the lure of filthy lucre and sending out press releases meant to twist the facts of November 23.
We can be fairly certain that the campaign of bribery will not end there but will try to reach deeper into those in the judicial system who are tasked to dispense justice. Just as we can be fairly certain that where bribes will not work, threats and harassment will eventually be brought to bear against witnesses and their families, the victims’ kin and everyone else involved in the struggle for justice for the Ampatuan massacre.
Nor will we be surprised that these efforts will meet the covert or even overt approval of an administration whose legitimacy has long been questioned and which has depended so much on nurturing and arming warlords to keep its hold on power.
We worry that the mounting election fever as May 10 nears may mask these nefarious maneuvers.
Therefore, we call on the Philippine media community and on the Filipino people to maintain, nay, to heighten, our vigilance.
Now, more than ever, we should heighten our resolve not only to ensure justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre and of all media killings, but to end the culture of impunity and violence that has allowed extrajudicial killings to continue unabated.
To the kin of our fallen colleagues, we urge you to hold firm and not succumb to the pressures and blandishments of those who have caused you so much suffering. We vow to stand with you until we attain the justice we seek.
To those within our profession’s ranks who would trade the cries of justice for our slain colleagues for blood money, we urge you to change course lest you be unmasked and forever stigmatized. For we assure you, we will not and will not let anyone forget.
Today is the fourth month since the Ampatuan massacre. Today we vow once again, we will keep watch, we will not falter, until an accounting is made, not just of those involved in the carnage but, just as important, of those whose mis-governance made this outrage not just possible but inevitable.