Friday, December 4, 2009

The Maguindanao Massacre--hell on earth

Tonight, I join other journalists in the Philippines in lighting a candle for the 57 Filipino women and men massacred on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao Province, which is located in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. More than 20 of the victims were media people who joined a convoy that was going to a local office of the country’s Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The media people, from different organizations, were supposed to cover the filing of candidacy for governor by the leader of the convoy on behalf of her husband. The national elections in the country are to be held next year. The husband, a vice mayor of a Maguindanao town, sent his wife and relatives to the election office in his stead amid threats to his life supposedly from his bitterest political rival. The wife, relatives, and media people never reached their destination as their vehicles were held may armed people along their way. All 57 people in the convoy were mowed down by gunfire, some women even raped, and all were eventually hastily buried by their killers right after they were shot (maybe even buried barely alive) in diggings already prepared for them in a killing site. The mass graves waiting for them were earlier dug by a backhoe (with markings that it belonged to the government) that was still found on the site by the authorities hours after the carnage. Some of those killed and buried weren’t even part of the convoy, but their vehicles just happened to be traveling quite near it since they were going to the same place where the convoy was going or somewhere near that place.

The killing, at the onset, appears to be a politically motivated scheme, thought to be inspired by the bitter rivalry between influential and powerful families in Maguindanao province, especially with the coming elections. But in this battle for supremacy for power, so many lives were lost in a single swoop, including those of many media people who were just doing their job of bringing the news to the outside world, and whose presence in that convoy and in supposedly the election office they were going to was hoped to be an aid to the security or protection of the main personalities in that convoy. But hunger for power and lawlessness—barbarism, in fact—doesn’t respect anyone, be it political rivals, or members of the media armed only with their pens, papers, recorders, mobile phones, radios, cameras, and laptops, ready to bring the news to the people. Now, these media people and the others who died with them are the news.

The investigations are till now ongoing—amid public shock, grief and uproar, and the pleas for justice by the victims' families—with the results threatening to open up a Pandora’s Box of even more shocking revelations about the breadth and depth of the suspected killer(s)’ influence and connections that enabled the carnage to be carried out. As though it could have only happened in hell.

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