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Maguindanao Massacre

Worst loss of life in one day 'in the history of journalism'

November 24, 2009 12:49pm

An international press freedom organization tracking the violent deaths of journalists worldwide called the Maguindanao killings on Monday the bloodiest day in the history of journalism.

"The frenzied violence of thugs working for corrupt politicians has resulted in an incomprehensible bloodbath," said Reporters Without Borders on its web site.

“Never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day," Reporters Without Borders said. “We convey our condolences and sympathy to all journalists in the Philippines, who are in state of shock after this appalling massacre."

At a media forum Tuesday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that the incident was easily the biggest tragedy that Philippine journalism has ever suffered. Twelve journalists have been verified as dead, but the NUJP said as many as 34 could be the final tally.

NUJP's vice chair Nonoy Espina said that unlike multiple deaths of journalists elsewhere, the Maguindanao massacre was a "deliberate killing, they were not just caught in the crossfire." The NUJP will be sending a fact-finding team on Wednesday to Cotabato City, the nearest urban center to the massacre site.

In a statement, a group of US-based journalists also condemned the incident and said: “The Philippine government must act swiftly and decisively to bring all the perpetrators to justice, irrespective of their positions or political affiliations."

The bloodbath

On Monday morning, over 30 journalists from various parts of South Cotabato province accompanied members of the Mangudadatu clan and their lawyers in a convoy as they traveled from Buluan town towards the Maguindanao capital of Shariff Aguak to file the certificate of candidacy of Datu Ismail "Toto" Mangudadatu, who was not in the convoy.

The regional Comelec office had recently been transferred to Shariff Aguak from Cotabato City, which is considered more neutral ground.

Bodies of victims of the 'Maguindanao massacre' were recovered inside and near their abandoned vans in Ampatuan town. courtesy of Supt. Siegfredo Ramos of the ARMM-PRO
In Ampatuan, the town right before Shariff Aguak, the Mangudadatu women and their companions were reportedly abducted by about 100 armed men allied with the Ampatuan clan. Of the 45 or so individuals in the group, only four reportedly survived, according to Toto Mangudadatu.

The four survivors reportedly pointed to senior members of the Ampatuan clan as the brains behind the killings, having overheard Andal Ampatuan Jr., allegedly the leader of the armed men, say that he was acting on the orders of his father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his older brother, Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The bloodbath occurred soon afterwards, according to Mangudadatu, in what can only be described as cold-blooded brutality, with some of the women sexually molested before they were shot and others beheaded.

Of the 21 confirmed killed, 12 are known to be journalists, according to the NUJP, which is still compiling information about the number and identities of the victims at the time of this posting.

The names of some of the dead journalists were furnished GMANews.TV but the names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

If none of the journalists accompanying the group survived the murderous orgy, the deaths of media professionals could number as many as 34, which would further cement the Philippines' status as among the deadliest countries in the world to be a journalist.

Based mostly in General Santos City and Koronadal, the journalists in the convoy were eager to cover a big story - the electoral challenge posed by the Mangudadatu clan to the hegemony of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao.

Aside from killing their 'hostages,' the assailants behind the gruesome massacre in Maguindanao also reportedly sped off with their victims' belongings. courtesy of Supt. Siegfredo Ramos of the ARMM-PRO

Another group of journalists from Cotabato City who were supposed to cover the event decided to head straight to Shariff Aguak that same morning, but were stopped by a military checkpoint before they could reach their destination. That was where they learned about their colleagues' abduction. They would only find out later about their tragic fate.

The root of one of the worst mass murders in the nation's history was political rivalry. Toto Mangudadatu wanted to run for governor against Andal Ampatuan Jr., currently mayor of Datu Unsay municipality in Maguindanao.

Fearing that he would lose his life if he tried to file his certificate of candidacy in Shariff Aguak, a known bailiwick of the Ampatuans, Toto Mangudadatu sent his wife Genalyn and two sisters instead, accompanied by two lawyers with the National Union of People's Lawyers and the group of journalists. Their belief was that fellow Muslims would not harm the Mangudadatu women.

They underestimated the ruthlessness of the killers. - GMANews.TV