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Fil-Am Journalists Honor Slain Philippine Media Professionals

New America Media, News Report & Video, Reporter: Odette Keeley/ Video: Jacob Simas Posted: Dec 08, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- As Martial Law took effect on Dec. 5 in Maguindanao province in Mindanao, site of a gruesome political massacre where 58 Filipinos, including 27 civilians and 31 media professionals were brutally murdered, some Filipino-American activist groups in the United States and other groups in the Philippines are asking the Philippines Supreme Court to revoke President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyos presidential order.

According to the website of major Philippine broadcasting network ABS-CBN News.com, Pres. Arroyo stated that the declaration of martial law in the embattled province aimed to expedite the arrests of suspects linked to the political carnage there. And in her report to the Philippine Congress yesterday on the Martial Law declaration President Arroyo further pointed to the existence of armed public uprising as the basis for the martial rule declaration and the suspension of habeas corpus in Maguindanao.

BAYAN USA is one of the Fil-Am activist groups protesting the military rule, and its Philippine chapter filed a petition on Monday with the Philippine Supreme Court to declare the Presidential Proclamation as unconstitutional.

The main suspects in the massacre are members and gunmen connected to the political clan, the Ampatuans. Their patriarch is the current governor of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan Sr. His son, Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., planned to contest Ismael Mangudadatus gubernatorial bid. Ampatuan Jr. has been charged with 25 counts of murder and is being held by Manilas National Bureau of Investigation.

Ampatuan Sr. and other members of his clan have also been indicted for the killings.

In San Francisco, Filipino-American media professionals and concerned community members recently gathered to honor the slain media professionals and send a message that they may have been killed, but their legacy and sacrifice will never be forgotten.




The Philippine-American Press Club USA [PAPC] held a memorial mass on Dec. 2 at St. Patrick Church to pay tribute to the 31 media martyrs as well as the 27 civilians, pray for the eternal repose of their souls, offer sympathies to their families, and seek justice for their senseless killings.

PAPC President & Inquirer.net U.S. Director Esther Chavez believed it was incumbent upon them to hold this event, to raise our voices in indignation, to speak up, to stop these political warlords from believing that they have absolute power.

In her welcome remarks, she reiterated the groups position in condemning the atrocious and cowardly massacreof innocent people, particularly those engaged in strengthening the democratic process and striving to make it work in their politically challenged land.

Jun Ilagan, editor-in-chief of FilAm Star, a member of PAPC, said that he came, to express sympathy, horror and also a desire that the Philippine government acts decisively and swiftly to resolve these horrific crimes, and especially before Phil. Pres. Arroyo steps down from office.

Inquirer.net and Philippine News columnist Emil Guillermo emceed the program and noted that here [in the United States], journalists lose their jobs, in the Philippines, they lose their lives.

Many of the speakers reflected on the dire statistics showing that violence against journalists in the Philippines is nothing new. According to the press advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the incident is the single deadliest mass killing of journalists in history.

Bob Dietz, CPJs Asia program coordinator recently confirmed with CNN that with this attack, the Philippines is now even more hazardous than Iraq for journalists. Both Guillermo and Phil Bronstein, editor-at-large of Hearst Newspapers and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, expounded on this data and cited that even more disturbing is the Philippines long history of impunity when it comes to journalists deaths. So far, 134 journalists in the Philippines have been killed since 1986.

At the San Francisco memorial, Phil Bronstein paid tribute to the outstanding heroism of Filipino journalists, some of whom he personally met and worked with while covering Philippine politics during the Marcos years. But he stressed that no amount of killing the messenger will silence their message.

Greg Macabenta, publisher of Filipinas Magazine and national chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations [NaFFAA] emphatically reminded the crowd that, what should truly enrage us about these heinous crimes is the socio-political system that abets them. He adds, From North to South, we are a nation of warlords, powerful families with monopolies of businesses and private armies tolerated by local officials.

Currently in Mindanao, Yolanda Ortega Stern, president of One World Institute echoed this analysis in a message, read by close friend Jossie Allegre. She criticized the Philippines Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for deciding to move its local office to a bailiwick area of the Ampatuan clan, despite threats received by their political opponent Ismael Mangudadatu if he was to run against them for public office. Ortega Stern proposed to lobby that (COMELEC) should disallow multiple family members to occupy positions that would control entire areas as these political warlord clans are doing.

Philippine Consul General Marciano Paynor, Jr. based in San Francisco, agreed with Ortega Stern that the time to act is now, especially with regard to next years Philippine presidential elections. Paynor called on the crowd, to get involved. Paynor read the statement of Philippine President Arroyo to the audience as regards the tragedy and reiterated that, the government has instructed all agencies of government including law enforcement and the military to immediately resolve this problem.

Macabenta told his media colleagues, the only option left to us as journalists is to let the whole world know of their brutality and hold national officials accountable for tolerating them. We need to cast a spotlight on these political warlords and their patrons, so we can excise this cancer from our beloved motherland. Macabenta ended with an impassioned plea, Let us not fight alone. Let us call on the fraternity of journalists all over the world who should be as outraged as we Filipinos should be.

Annabelle Udo-OMalley, from the Asian American Journalists Association, said that her organization is in solidarity with the Philippine people in mourning the slayings.

To the Philippine government, AAJA urges all steps be taken to bring to justice those responsible for the killings , said Udo-OMalley. And to the Filipino journalism community at large, we offer our encouragement. We look to them to reveal what happened in Maguindanao this week and to continue the important journalistic role of pursuing truth and reporting without fear.

Emcee Emil Guillermo echoed that sentiment that the murders will not have a chilling effect, and that all Filipino journalists, wherever they may be will continue to have the resolve to report the news and speak the truth.

George Nervez, publisher of the Filipino Guardian, answered that call: We will continue to cover this story, to hold the national leaders accountable in order to stop this culture of impunity, until the perpetrators are brought to justice.

California State Senator Leland Yee expressed prayers and sympathies for the families of the victims and asked for continued support from the world community to continue supporting the Philippines so it can move forward from this senseless slaughter.

One form of concrete support for journalists was outlined by Yolanda Ortega Stern in Mindanao. She urged the creation of a media insurance fund, which could help pay for death benefits to family members of murdered media professionals.

PAPC has started that move, with the establishment of the groups Justice Fund for Journalists. Esther Chavez said it aims to help the families of media professionals killed in the line of duty, and also give shelter to those whose lives are being threatened.

To them and to all her fellow Filipino media colleagues gathered that evening, Ortega Stern had a personal entreaty to tirelessly report on the massacre:
...You are the future my friends. You can be the voice of change.


PAPC Memorial Mass Poster Graphics Credits: Al Perez




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