The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre after the town where the mass graves were found, occurred on the morning of Nov. 23, 2009, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, on the island of Mindanao. While the victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, they were kidnapped and brutally killed.

BAGUIO CITY — The world marks the second anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre as International Day to End Impunity (IDEI).

Though it is disheartening especially to Filipinos, the event recalls the single deadliest attack on the press ever, said Rowena Paraan, executive director of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Media Safety Office in the Philippines.

At least 58 were killed including 32 members of the media on Nov. 23, 2009 when around a hundred gunmen stopped a convoy on its way to file the candidacy of now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

The victims were systematically murdered and buried in shallow pits or dumped in grasslands near a remote highway in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town.

Groups around the world espousing free expression and press organizations will mark the first International Day to End Impunity, a global call to demand justice for those persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“It is just unfortunate that that day is marked as such as if the Philippines is the center of impunity (a negative tag) worldwide,” Paraan told a forum of journalism students and media practitioners here.

The Toronto-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a network of 95 free expression and free press organizations worldwide, is lead organizer of the IDEI.

The Maguindanao massacre is considered the worst single incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack on the press ever.

IFEX said from Mexico to Russia, Iraq to Somalia, “journalists, media workers, writers and others who speak truth to power continue to be murdered with impunity.”

The Philippines was earlier tagged as one of the deadliest countries for journalists.

Citing figures from the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), Paraan said 146 journalists have been killed in the country since 1986 when democracy was restored.

But it was lamentable that there were only 10 cases where convictions have been successful, though not one among the masterminds was convicted.

Already, there were five work-related killings of journalists under President Benigno Aquino III and 15 active media court cases, including the Maguindanao massacre where 196 are suspects, but only 93 are in jail and 103 remain at large.

Of the 196 suspects, 28 bore Ampatuan as their surnames including Andal Sr., Andal Jr. Akmad, Zaldy, Sajid and Anwar, who are all in jail.

Also lamentable, Paraan said, only two Ampatuans have so far been arraigned.

Only 55 witnesses have been presented as of Oct. 10, while there are 300 prosecution witnesses and 320 more witnesses on the Ampatuans’ side.

Already, there were 104 motions filed by the Ampatuans and eight motions for the judge to inhibit in court, Paraan further said seeing a protracted prosecution process on the thrice a week schedule.

“One day is however dedicated in hearing motions, so practically, there are only two days set for the actual prosecution,” she said.

“Do the math and will tell you that with the motions for bail filed by the Ampatuans still being heard, the case will take very long and bumpy.”

So, there is a need to link up all the more, Paraan said, “as we need to continue documenting harassments, attacks while we hone skills on safeguarding ourselves while following safety protocols.”

Pressure from the international community to the government to act against impunity is also important, Paraan said.

While Filipino journalists are engaging these immediate woes, “we must fight impunity, promote media literacy among our ranks as we also launch comprehensive media literacy and comprehensive ethics programs and campaigns,” Paraan explained.

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