CMFR/PHILIPPINES – Armed men believed to be followers of a provincial warlord killed at least 12 local journalists who were accompanying the wife, relatives and lawyers of the vice mayor of a town in Maguindanao provincee last November 23. Maguindanao is a province in Mindanao approximately 950 kms from Manila.
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao—which includes Maguindanao province—is a hotbed of violence especially during elections.
But the massacre was described as unparalleled, and raised the number of journalists killed in the line of duty in the Philippines this year from three to 15. The killing of the journalists was itself unprecedented, and the worst of its kind since 1946 when the Philippines regained its independence.
Genalyn, wife of Buluan town vice mayor Ibrahim Mangudadatu, was about to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for provincial governor at the provincial Commission on Elections office at the municipality of Shariff Aguak when around 100 armed men stopped the convoy composed of lawyers, relatives, journalists and media practitioners. Genalyn was among those killed. The armed men were allegedly relatives and political allies of the Ampatuan clan, which is currently in control of the provinces.
The online news site GMANews.TV quoted Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner as saying that: “Away pulitika po ito dahil ‘yung nangyari pong pagdukot sa mga kamag-anak ni (Mangudadatu) by the elements of Mayor (Andal Jr.) Ampatuan, sa ngayon po tinitingnan natin itong anggulo na ito (We are looking at the angle of political rivalry as the abduction was done by the relatives of of Mayor Ampatuan).”
Reports said that tension between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus had intensified in the past few months after Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu announced his intention to run against the Ampatuans in the gubernatorial race. The Ampatuans are political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
John Paul Jubelag of the Publishers Association of General Santos & South Cotabato said Genalyn had alerted local media practitioners to cover the filing of the COC of her husband.
Jubelag said six of the almost 50 people who joined the convoy had been beheaded by 11:30 a.m.
As of 5 p.m., November 23, all of the members of the convoy had been killed, including the journalists and media practitioners. Among the journalists killed were: Bart Maravilla of Bombo Radyo Koronadal, Bong Reblando of Manila Bulletin, Neneng Montano of dxCP, Henry Araneta, dzRH Cotabato, Victor Nuñez of UNTV and his cameraman Mac-Mac Areola, and Andy Teodoro.
However the military has only recovered 21 bodies, reports said. Brawner said that 13 of the 21 so far found were women. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and other journalist and press freedom groups have condemned the massacre, and have called for immediate government action to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. Otherwise, said CMFR, the incident will further strengthen the culture of impunity which has allowed extra judicial killings to continue.
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