CPJ extends aid to families of slain Philippine journalists

New York, November 24, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists is working with local and international media support groups to extend assistance to the families of the numerous journalists killed Monday in a brutal election-related massacre in the Philippine province of Maguindanao. 

Most news reports today put the death toll at 46, with at least 12 of the victims preliminarily identified as journalists. Among the press corps victims, most appeared to be reporters for local media or stringers for national outlets.

CPJ is heartened by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s strong response, which included pledges for full investigation and prosecution of the apparently politically motivated killings. But CPJ also said that the state of emergency declared in the province must not interfere with journalists seeking access and information to report on the killings.

“The Philippines has a long history of impunity in the case of the deaths of journalists — a history it had started to work to reverse in recent years. Now the country needs its press corps to fully cover this story of wanton political violence, which took so many lives, including those of journalists,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. 

“The president might not be able to reverse the culture of violence that surrounds so much of political life in the Philippines, but she can certainly use this terrible incident to fight the impunity that surrounds journalists’ deaths,” he said.

Details of the massacre, including the precise death toll and the identities of the dead, were still emerging today as teams continued to search the countryside in Maguindanao province, on the island of Mindanao.

The massacre is among the deadliest events for the press in recent history, according to CPJ research. In Iraq, on October 12, 2006, eleven employees of Al-Shaabiya television were killed in an attack at the station’s Baghdad studios. Five of the victims were journalists, and six were media support workers.

In Maguindanao, the journalists were covering relatives and supporters of a local politician who was about to file paperwork for his gubernatorial candidacy in the May 2010 election. More than 100 armed men attacked the convoy, which included relatives and allies of a local vice mayor, Ismael Mangudadatu. The vice mayor’s wife, Genalyn Mangudadatu, was among those in the convoy.

Some officials blamed the slaughter on a bitter rivalry between local political clans, according to news reports. Ismael Mangudadatu, who was not with the convoy, attributed the attack to his decision to seek the governorship of Maguindanao. The current Maguindanao governor, Andal Ampatuan, did not immediately issue a statement.

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, with 38 killed for their work since 1992. The figure does not include those slain on Monday.