IT HAS been 117 months since 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, were waylaid and butchered on a hilltop in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
All because the leading members of a powerful and wealthy political clan could not countenance any challenge to their almost absolute rule over their province and believed they could get away with mass murder.
Nine years and nine months on, with the trial finally wrapped up, we are told we can finally expect a verdict before the 10th anniversary of the slaughter, the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack on the press ever.
While convictions will surely be welcome, we cannot shake off the fact that taking close to a decade – though we have to stress, through no fault of the judge – to resolve a case involving so heinous a crime is already a gross injustice to the victims’ families and an indictment of our still badly damaged justice system.
We also cannot overlook the fact that many of the close to 200 accused remain at large after all these years and may ultimately evade the accounting they deserve.
And, as several kin of our fallen colleagues themselves have said before, while resolving the Ampatuan massacre may bring relief, it will not even begin to solve the festering culture of impunity that encourages not only the murder of journalists – we have thus far lost 186 since 1986, 13 under the current administration – but also the resort to violence for everything, from shortcutting the judicial processes, to the suppression of legitimate criticism and dissent, to the settling of personal scores because so many more killings remain unresolved, so many cries for justice unanswered.
The quest for real justice and democracy in our country remains a long, hard struggle but it is one we cannot afford to lose.
Let us all remain firm in defending our rights and liberties. Let us not be cowed into silence but continue to speak truth to power.
(Statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on the 117th month since the Ampatuan Massacre, 23 August 2019)