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Remembering Ampatuan Massacre and the reigning impunity

By JOHN AARON MARK MACARAEG and ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA- Nonoy Espina and Jes Aznar could have been dead 10 years ago.

Espina, former director of National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) and now its chairperson, and Aznar, then a photojournalist of Agence France Press, were in Maguindanao covering the armed group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). While in the province, they heard from local reporters that Esmael Mangundadatu would file his certificate of candidacy against Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

Espina thought it worthy to write a story about the two big names in Maguindanao. He and Aznar decided to pursue it. Flu struck him the day before the filing however and the two decided to fly back to Manila.

“He couldn’t get up, literally,” Aznar told students of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication in a forum last month. They were not able to join the convoy led by Mangudadatu’s wife on Nov. 23, 2009.

When news came about the worst incident of electoral violence and single deadliest attack on the press—the Ampatuan Massacre — Aznar and Espina were shocked. “We could have been there. We escaped death,” Aznar said.

Espina recalled how he had felt his knees weaken at the news, as realization hit him all at once that he had avoided death. Thirty-two of the 58 victims were members of the media like Espina and Aznar.

“It was really a turning point in the history of Philippine media,” Aznar said.

Jes Aznar at the forum. (Photo by UJP- UP Diliman)

Horrors relived

Aznar and Espina immediately flew back to Mindanao and, along with Rowena Paraan, then NUJP secretary general, were among the first to go to the site of the tragedy.

“As soon as we get there, what greeted our NUJP team was a soldier shouting as he guided the backhoe operator scoop dirt, and as we look closer, along with it were dead bodies,” Espina recalled.

Until now, Espina confessed he could still visually imagine the looping image of the backhoe’s shovel diving then being lifted again.

“At the end of our first day at the scene, there were just 25 bodies excavated. Then they called off the excavation. As we left, I asked myself, ‘Putcha, when will the counting of bodies end?’”

For Paraan,the stench of decaying bodies lingered in her memory.

Under the scorching heat of noon, the NUJP team approached the rolling hills of sitio Malating, barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao and stepped on to the unpaved road.

“As we arrived, they were digging out the van of UNTV. It was flattened and despite of it being really hammered with the paint almost all scratched out, you can still make out the ‘tres’,” said Paraan.

As Paraan narrated the horrifying scene she witnessed, the crowd of young journalists listened intently, most of them barely out of elementary when the massacre happened.

Paraan at the forum. (Photo by UJP-UP Diliman)

Aznar described it as “a frightening scenario.”

He said he was more afraid to what would then become of his profession as a journalist if anyone could just kill a journalist. He couldn’t help but think that he was wearing the same press ID as those who were being dug out —a once powerful tool and protection for mediamen.

Reigning impunity

Remembering it ten years later, it pains Espina that until now, the case is still yet to conclude.

“The government and the state remain unbothered by the massacre, considering they were the victims of the agents of state itself,” Espina told Bulatlat in an online interview.

He added that with the current political climate, one cannot doubt that the culture of impunity continuously reigns, worsening by each killing perpetuated by those in power.

Just this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released the Global Impunity Index ranking the Philippines fifth as most dangerous country in the world. The Philippines has the highest number of unsolved journalists’ murders in the world, with 41 recorded killings in the past 12 years.

The attacks and harassments continue to persist.

“If justice cannot be found for the worst incident of electoral violence in the country and the single deadliest attack on the press ever recorded, you can be sure the killings will continue without letup,” said Espina. #

CEGP honors NUJP’s Espina with MH del Pilar Award

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) awarded National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) national chairperson Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina its highest honor to its alumni at the start of the World Press Freedom concert in Quezon City last Friday, May 3.

In a special ceremony, the CEGP finally handed the award to Espina who was supposed to receive it during the Guild’s 77th National Students Press Convention at the University of the Philippines—Visayas (UPV) in Cebu City last March 9.

The awardee failed to attend the convention due to a family emergency.

The award, named after the journalist, patriot and hero Del Pilar, was given to Espina for being “a pillar of press freedom.”

“On top of his distinguished journalism career, the awardee is, without doubt, a leading force in the defense of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country today,” the CEGP’s citation, read by its secretary general Paula Sabrine Janer, said.

“As a multi-term NUJP director and now its national chairperson, the awardee steadfastly stands for these rights and leads his organization to their defense. Whatever prestige that the NUJP enjoys as a media organization here and abroad, it is owed in great part to our awardee’s leadership,” the Guild’s citation added.

Espina was a high school campus journalist in his hometome Bacolod City before becoming the editor of Pagbutlak, UPV’s college student publication in Iloilo City.

He was a member of the community media group Correspondents, Broadcasters and Reporters Association—Action News Service or COBRA-ANS of Negros Occidental that was part of the “Mosquito Press” that fought the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. He also became a reporter and editor of various local and national media outifts.

“[I]n honoring our awardee’s progressive, patriotic and disinguished career in journalism and for his principled and brave defense of press freedom and human rights in the Philippines, the CEGP awards this year’s Gawad Marcelo H. Del Pilar Award to a journalist worth emulating by student journalists everywhere,” the CEGP added.

NUJP national chairperson Nonoy Espina with his Marcelo H. Del Pilar Award trophy and certificate from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. (Photo by Lito Ocampo)

In his acceptance speech, Espina said he is just a journalist who stands by his profession.

“I realized the importance of our profession in democracy, in society. I came to love this profession when I saw for myself the real situation of the people, especially the marginalized,” Espina said.

He added that he does not see journalism as the people’s voice but a platform so their stories are told.

“I have come to love journalism because, in my three decades of being a journalist, people sometimes come up to me to thank me for writing about their struggles,” Espina said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP condemns media threats and killings at United People’s SONA 2018

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemns the continuing threats against journalists and the media killings two years into the Rodrigo Duterte presidency.

Speaking before the massive United People’s SONA protests, NUJP chairperson Nonoy Espina said that with the help of the Filipino people, they will defeat threats against press freedom.