x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

21 journalists killed in Philippines massacre

The Philippines now surpasses Iraq as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. While 74 journalists have been killed over the last eight years, there have been only four convictions for crimes against media workers. A massacre in which at least 57 people were killed, including 21 journalists, was unprecedented even by Philippine standards where political rivalry is so often dealt with through violence.

In the Philippines, a massacre in which at least 57 people were killed, including 21 journalists, was unprecedented even by Philippine standards of political violence, as Karl Wilson noted in The National. "From Abra in the far north to Mindanao in the south, the political landscape of the Philippines is dominated by family dynasties that have ruled their particular area of influence for decades like feudal landlords through violence, fear and intimidation. They rule with impunity, knowing national political leaders rely on them for support and votes. Political rivals are usually dealt with through the barrel of a gun rather than the election box. "The political dynasties have amassed vast wealth, businesses and influence in a country of 90 million people where more than half live on less than US$2 (Dh7.3) a day." Roy Greenslade said: "It is now reported that 21 journalists were killed in the massacre that took place in the Philippines' southern province of Maguindanao on Monday. "The Manila-based Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) told the International Press Institute that a total of 34 journalists are believed to have been part of a convoy that was ambushed by over 100 gunmen at a police checkpoint. "The convoy was travelling to file candidacy papers for gubernatorial candidate and local mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. He was not on board the convoy." The Christian Science Monitor reported: "Nothing is yet proven, but survivors of the attack, national politicians, and police officials all say the likely perpetrators were loyalists of Andal Ampatuan, a former provincial governor who has used his private army to control politics in the province for a decade. Mr Ampatuan was term-limited out of the governorship this year. In his three election campaigns, no local politician dared to run against him. "His son, Andal Jr, was gearing up for a similarly unopposed run to replace his father. But Ismael Mangudadatu, a former ally of the Ampatuans, had other ideas. On Monday morning, he dispatched a convoy of cars (mostly women and journalists, on the theory that would afford some protection against attack) to file papers in the provincial capital Shariff Aguak to run against the younger Ampatuan. Mr Mangudadatu remained at home. "The people in the convoy never made it. Instead, they were waylaid when they came to Ampatuan (the clan's stronghold), dragged from their cars, and summarily executed." The Telegraph said: "Mangudadatu said on Wednesday that he had sent his wife, two sisters and aunt, along with other women, to register his nomination because he had been given warning that it was too dangerous for him to do it himself. " 'We sent women because in the Muslim culture you don't hurt women,' he said. " 'My youngest sister was five months' pregnant, while my aunt was into her sixth month of pregnancy.' "All of his relatives in the convoy were killed, along with two female lawyers and at least 13 journalists, according to police. "Mangudadatu gave a sickening description of his wife's fate." The New York Times reported: "Using a backhoe, the authorities on Wednesday unearthed two vehicles they said had been crushed and torn apart by a bulldozer found on the site, which the police said belonged to the government of Maguindanao Province here... "One of the crumpled vehicles belonged to UNTV, a Philippine television network whose crew members were among the journalists killed. Pages of blood-smeared newspapers swirled around the recovery site Wednesday, some becoming stuck in the grass. Victims' belongings were scattered on the ground - sandals, a purse, a wristwatch, a shawl, a coin purse, press cards. " 'They planned this very well,' said a police superintendent, Felicisimo Khu, who was overseeing the retrieval operations Wednesday. He said the victims were stopped along the highway in Ampatuan and driven toward the hilltop along a rough dirt road. The men were then separated from the women, and the victims were all shot at point-blank range. He said the vehicles were buried on one side of the hill, the bodies on the other." Virginia M Moncrieff wrote in The Huffington Post: "Members of the Ampatuan clan - political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) - were seen and readily identified as being in the gang that hijacked the Mangudadatus convoy. The son of the governor was in the attack gang, as was the local mayor. "Pushing aside her allegiance to the Ampatuan clan, President Arroyo has ordered the 'immediate, relentless pursuit' of the killers. "The deadly rivalry of the Mangudadatu and Ampatuan clans may overshadow another shocking aspect of this Shakespearian tale. The Philippines is one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a journalist - and certainly the most unsafe country that's not embroiled in an all out war." According to the International Federation of Journalists, the Philippines now surpasses Iraq as being the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. While 74 journalists have been killed over the last eight years, there have been only four convictions for crimes against media workers. Ramon Tulfo, writing for the Philippine Daily Inquirer said: "A Malacañang [presidential palace] insider told me that President Gloria hemmed and hawed hours after she was informed about the massacre in Maguindanao, instead of ordering the arrest of the Ampatuans. "As a result, the Ampatuans - Zaldy, governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and his father, Maguindanao Gov Andal Sr - the alleged masterminds in the dastardly massacre can no longer be arrested without a court warrant since the prescribed 24-hour period had lapsed. "The President was told the Ampatuans could have been responsible for the massacre by one of the Mangudadatus, their political enemies, according to my Palace informant. "After receiving the information about the massacre, GMA talked with Gov Andal Ampatuan Sr, who denied masterminding the massacre. "The President, according to the Malacañang insider, told Ampatuan she was sending investigators to Maguindanao. "She could have told Ampatuan that he would have to surrender because there were witnesses linking him and his relatives to the dastardly act. "But GMA didn't do that because the Ampatuans are her very close political allies in Maguindanao."

pwoodward@thenational.ae