Five years on: Filipino media and IFJ mission visit site of 2009 massacre

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) today led a 70-person mission of Australian and International journalists, local media, as well as victims’ families to the site of the Ampatuan Massacre to mark the fifth anniversary of the event on Sunday, November 23. The IFJ mission is in the Philippines to join national commemorations for the fifth anniversary of the massacre and call the Philippine Government and President Aquino III to account over the complete impunity record of the case.  

On November 23, 2009 58 people including 32 journalists were brutally murdered in Maguindanao in the south of the Philippines. It is the largest massacre of journalists in history. The victims were travelling in a political convoy when they were ambushed and murdered. Following the massacre in 2009, an international mission led by the IFJ visited the Philippines and the massacre site in Maguindanao. The mission found that the massacre could not have taken place without the existing culture of impunity in the Philippines, particularly regarding extrajudicial killings and attacks on the media.

Since 2009 there has been strong local and international condemnation of the slow pace of the investigation and criminal proceedings. Four witnesses have been murdered, including one, Denniz Sakal, who was murdered on Wednesday this week as he went to formalize his statement with lawyers in Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao. Disturbingly, the death of 32 journalists in one incident is not the only case of impunity in the Philippines, which is often described as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Since 1986, 171 journalists have been murdered and since June 2010, 33 journalists have lost their lives, with a majority of these deaths having a complete impunity record.

The International mission, led by the IFJ and NUJP includes Jane Worthington, acting director of the IFJ Asia Pacific, Mike Dobbie, returning expert from the 2009 mission, Philippa McDonald, Media Safety and Solidarity Fund representative and senior ABC journalist and Schave De Rozario, representative of the South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU).  They are with a number of NUJP representatives, including the President of the NUJP Rowena C. Paraan.

During the visit to the massacre site, a mass was held to commemorate the killings and call for justice. The IFJ mission also laid a wreath and lit candles along with the family members of the murdered.

Jane Worthington said: “The fact that we are two days away from commemorating five years since the worst massacre of journalists in history and still no one has been found guilty of this heinous crime speaks volumes. Such is the culture of impunity that continues to stifle true press freedom in the Philippines.”

“The atmosphere among the media and families here is somber but determined. This is a journey that no-one wants to take – but we must. It is clear that media and families will never forget and never give up – even though it appears that governments and corrupt powers around them are doing all they can to thwart and delay the passage to justice that the Ampatuan Massacre victims deserve.”  

The international mission will now return to Manilla to continue their mission. Tomorrow they will meet with the Justice Secretary Leila De Lima who has been with the Department of Justice since 2010, prior to that she was the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines from 2008 to 2010. On Sunday they will meet the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines Maria Lourdes Sereno and on Monday they will meet with Colonel Henry Libay, head of Task Force USig, which was created in 2004 to handle the killings of media practitioners.

On Sunday, the mission will attend the million candles vigil at the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City, Manilla at 5pm. The vigil is an annual event marks the anniversary of the massacre and commemorates the deaths of the 32 journalists.

Jane Worthington will be available for interviews from 3pm AEDT. For more information please call Alexandra Hearne on 0423680555. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find the IFJ on Facebook: