Report compiled by Mazhar Iqbal
Press for Peace urges an Emergency Response over massive slaughter of journalists in the Philippines. The brutal killing of over 57 people including 30 journalists is the most heinous crime against journalist community in the history of media atrocities.
Though, prosecutors in the Philippines have filed 25 counts of murder against the heir to a political clan accused of leading the election-related massacre of 57 people, the area is still under the serious threat of violence against journalist community.
There is no access for media workers to independently cover the incidents in violence-hit province of the Philippines.
Press for Peace seeks urgent action by journalists’ forums, associations and groups working for the welfare of media workers. It also demands the Philippines government to take stern actions against perpetrators of the dreadful crime.
Andal Ampatuan Jr, the prime suspect, is a member of the family said to control Maguindanao, the province in the southern Philippines where the massacre occurred.
Ampatuan, who is a mayor, is a supporter of President Gloria Arroyo, who has declared a state of emergency in the province.
It is thought that the killings were linked to his hostility to another mayor, Ismael Mangudadatu, who is to stand for the governorship of the province in opposition to Ampatuan's father.
Mangudadatu's wife and sisters were killed in the massacre. Yesterday he filed his nomination papers to run as governor. It was the task his relatives were on their way to completing on Monday when they were ambushed by more than 100 gunmen.
Philippine elections are often marred by bloodshed. About 126 candidates and supporters were killed in the months leading to the 2007 elections and 186 in 2004.
More than 30 journalists were killed in a massacre of more than 52 people after being abducted by armed men in the Philippines this week, the Manila-based Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) confirmed on Tuesday. This is the largest group of journalists killed in a single incident in the world. Many of the victims were beheaded and mutilated; some of the women were raped.
The journalists were part of a convoy of relatives and supporters on their way to file candidacy papers for a candidate and local mayor Ismael Mangudadatu in the province of Maguindanao, on Mindanao Island. The group included Mangudadatu’s wife, Genalyn, and other relatives.
About 100 gunmen seized the convoy in the morning and slaughtered the group in order to prevent them from reaching the electoral bureau.
Their bodies were found at different sites later in the day. News reports say at least 13 of the dead were women. The massacre will likely trigger reprisal and extra-judicial killings, says CMFR, increasing the level of violence in Maguindanao and throughout the Philippines
According to the International Press Institute (IPI), several local politicians and warlords are believed to operate armed militias of their own, and fighting between factions is common in Maguindanao.
The gunmen were alleged to be relatives and political allies of the Ampatuan clan, currently in control of the area, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). Mangudadatu intended to challenge local political leader Datu Andal Ampatuan for the provincial governor’s office.
Cycles of revenge between the Mangudadatus and the Ampatuans are linked to a culture of impunity fostered by national leaders.
The gunmen included two policemen connected to the province’s governor, a supporter of President Gloria Arroyo, alleges Reporters without Borders (RSF).
Arroyo has declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City, reports CMFR. This declaration will provide legal cover for the police and military, known for being impartial to different factions, to prevent the media from covering political rivalries, exacerbating the culture of impunity that is behind the current tragedy.
The massacre has had an instant chilling effect on the media.
Some journalists have refused to travel to the area to report on the incident, fearing further violence. “Free and fair elections cannot take place when the right to free expression is seriously threatened. This includes the right of everyone to express their political viewpoints and of journalists to report on political activities without intimidation.”
The 23 November killings have increased the number of Filipino journalists slain in the line of duty this year from 3 to 24, according to IFEX members.