Thursday, November 26, 2009

26 journalists killed in Maguindanao massacre

A total of 26 journalists were among those killed in the 23 November massacre in Maguindanao province on the southern island of Mindanao by alleged supporters of the province’s governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr, according to journalists who have gone to the massacre site.

“This bloodbath is beyond human understanding,” a journalist from the nearby city of Koronadal told Reporters Without Borders, adding: “I have lost 12 of my colleagues in this massacre.”

“The toll from this massacre keeps rising but the governor’s son, the leading suspect, still has not been questioned by the police,” Reporters Without Borders said. “President Gloria Arroyo says those responsible will be arrested and tried but all the information coming from the field so far indicates the contrary.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Why have the governor’s son and the governor himself not been arrested? Are Mindanao Island’s power barons more powerful than the law itself? The Philippine government’s credibility is at stake.”

Nonoy Espina of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), who is in Mindanao, told Reporters Without Borders: “Tallying and identifying the bodies is slow, but it now seems that 26 journalists from several towns were killed (…) The government is not doing enough to arrest those responsible. How can the president’s adviser be pleased about obtaining undertakings from the governor when his son, the leading suspect, is still free? Settling for mere promises is unacceptable after this massacre.”

Information obtained by Reporters Without Borders

Victims: At least 57 civilians, including 26 reporters, who were mostly from General Santos and Koronadal (two cities in the nearby province of South Cotabato). The journalists worked for local or national newspapers, radio stations and TV stations.

The murdered journalists include Alejandro “Bong” Reblando of Manila Bulletin, Henry Araneta of radio DZRH, Bart Maravilla of Bombo Radyo Koronadal, Nap Salaysay of dzRO, Ian Subang of Pilipino Star Ngayon and Dadiangas Times, and freelance reporters Humberto Mumay, Ranie Razon, Noel Decena, John Caniba, Joel Parcon, Marife Montano, Art Belia and Jun Legarta.

The fatalities could include four UNTV reporters – Joy Duhay, Victor Nuñez, Macario Ariola and Jimmy Cabillo. Philippine news media have also named Leah Dalmacio of Mindanao Focus, Gina de la Cruz and Marites Cablitas of Today, Andy Teodoro of the Mindanao Inquirer, Bienvenido Lagarte of the Sierra News, Neneng Montaño of the weekly Saksi and Rey Merescon of MindaNews.

Suspects: A group of gunmen and policemen led by the governor’s son, Andal Ampatuan Jr, who is a mayor of Datu Unsay, a municipality in Maguindanao province, and a member of the ruling party. He has not been arrested and is believed to be at the family home in the provincial capital. According to witnesses and army officers, the governor gave the go-ahead for his leading rival’s supporters to be ambushed while traveling in convoy.

The attackers reportedly raped, tortured and beheaded some of the victims. Most of the bodies have been found in mass graves.

Where? The convoy’s members were ambushed and kidnapped at around 9 a.m. on the road to Shariff Aguak, one of the province’s main towns. The massacre took place near the villages of Salman and Malating, about 10 km from the main road.

Why did this massacre take place? To prevent Esmael Mangundadatu, a political rival of the Ampatuan clan, from running for governor in next year’s local elections. His wife, who was one of the victims, was leading a convoy that planned to register him at an electoral office.

Why were the journalists murdered? According to local reporters, about 30 journalists were accompanying the convoy in order to cover this political initiative. It is believed there were killed in order to eliminate all the witnesses of the massacre of Esmael Mangundadatu’s supporters. Lawyers and local officials were also among the victims.

Actions of police and army: Several members of Maguindanao police have been arrested and are being held in a barracks. The army has announced that the Ampatuan clan’s private militia will be disbanded.

After decreeing that tomorrow will be a day of national mourning, President Arroyo today said: “This is a supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation. The perpetrators will not escape justice. The law will hunt them until they are caught.”

Reporters Without Borders representatives visiting Mindanao Island (including the region where the massacre took place) in 2005 in order to investigate the murders of journalists:

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