7 years hence, still in mourning

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    AS THE grief has remained the same, so this mere update of the speech I delivered on the first anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre.

    IN PAIN. In sorrow. In rage. Today, November 23, 2016, we solemnly observe the seventh anniversary of media’s own day that will live in infamy. Nowhere in the world, not at any time in history had there been 32 media workers killed in one place, in a single day. Not to mention the 26 other civilians who perished along with them.

    The evil of that day impacted in our minds, the tragedy befallen our colleagues inscribed in our hearts, the heinousness of it all troubling our very souls.

    Seven years have passed. In the Filipino tradition, the period of mourning has already ended six years ago. That life has moved on.

    But not to us.

    Seven years have passed. With the pain, the grief over our loss only increasing by the day. The nation embittered by the slowness of the justice system.

    Seven years have passed. And still counting.

    But there shall be no forgetting.

    The mourning continues.

    The struggle for justice remains unceasing.

    The fight to end the culture of impunity that caused and effected the massacre unwavering.

    Heed us then the call to arms: “Do not go quietly into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    To us the living is reposited that sacred duty until justice is done and the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, as well as all the martyrs in the cause of press freedom shall truly rest in peace.

    Pitong taon na ang lumipas. Subali’t hindi pa rin tayo makakapag-babang luksa.

    Patuloy ang panaghoy, kaakibat ang pagpapaigting sa pakikibaka. Hanggang ang katarungan ay ganap na makamtan.

    Ang paglimot sa adhikaing ito, ang paglihis sa tungkuling ito ay paglapastangan sa kadakilaan ng pagbuwis ng buhay ng mga martir ng Maguindanao.

    Matapos ang pitong taon, wala pa rin katapusan ang pagluluksa.

    End Impunity. Justice Now!

    NOVEMBER 23, 2009 is a day that will forever live in infamy, not only for the Philippine media community, which lost 32 of its own in what is now acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press on record, but also the for the country’s body politic, for which the slaughter was the worst incident of electoral violence in the country’s recent history.

    The massacre of 58 persons seven years ago on a hilltop in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao showcased everything that is wrong in the rotten system of governance and disposition of justice in this country, where clans of warlords, criminal kingpins and corrupt politicians wield virtual powers of life and death in what amount to fiefdoms, their thievery and corruption tolerated by the centers of power that have to court their favors to effectively rule over the archipelago.

    It is a testament to how entrenched this system of governance remains that, in a country that never tires of proclaiming itself the freest and most democratic in this corner of the globe, seven years after the orgy of violence, justice remains elusive for the Ampatuan 58 as on the day gunmen commanded by a madman who would brook no challenge to the almost absolute rule he and his kin enjoyed over their poverty-stricken province mowed them down in a hail of fire and steel.

    Not even the shock and revulsion with which the carnage was greeted not just here but around the world has served to prod government to ensure that this blot to the nation be erased by the swift administration of justice to the dead and to those they left behind.

    If anything, the State, which by rights should have taken on the burden of seeing to the futures of the widows, widowers and orphans of Ampatuan – after all its agents were responsible for this most heinous of crimes – has abandoned most of them, particularly those of our colleagues who were their families’ breadwinners, to lives of misery and uncertainty, reduced to wondering where to get their sustenance from day to day.

    One orphan, that of Gina dela Cruz, died of illness because the family could no longer afford the treatment that would have saved its life. And her mother, Nancy wasted away alone after being left with no other choice than to make the grandchildren she could no longer support wards of the state.

    This heartlessness of the State, this unconcern for the plight of the people whose grief it is primarily responsible for, is also what feeds the impunity that has emboldened those who seek to silence those brash enough to seek to unveil their abuses. It is, of course, the same kind of impunity that has marked the murders of hundreds more of our compatriots whose only crime was to dare speak truth to oppressive power.

    Today, even as we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, we see a resurgence of threats and assaults on the independent Philippine press fueled by the open contempt and hostility of a leader who would brook absolutely no criticism of his person or his policies, not even if these have opened the floodgates to an orgy of bloodletting unprecedented in its savagery and its utter disregard for the rule of law and human rights.

    Seven years after Ampatuan, we fear that the worst is yet to come and the seekers of truth will be faced with ever more danger from those who see our work as anathema to their pursuit of an order built not on compassion but brute force, not on the realities we all face but the distorted picture they would force us to accept.

    Yet even as we worry, so do we affirm that these are the best times to be journalists, to be the bearers of the knowledge and free thought that the centers of power would seek to suppress. It is in these times, as in the darkest days of the unlamented dictatorship, that the independent Philippine press is most needed by the people. We do not doubt that the Filipino journalist and the independent media community will prove themselves worthy of the calling.

    (NUJP Statement on the 7th Year of the Ampatuan Massacre, November 23, 2016 Reference: Dabet Panelo, secretary general)

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