"It is important that journalists around the world express their support not only to their colleagues in the Philippines, but to the families, who will bear the brunt of grief in the days and years to come,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Such killings are made worse by the fact that the country has a miserable record of impunity, allowing those who kill journalists to do so with little fear of ever being brought to justice.”
Relying on the research done by a consortium of Philippine press freedom groups, CPJ has thus far determined that 29 journalists and one media worker were killed in the massacre. Armed men seized a convoy carrying journalists and political allies of a local vice mayor, Ismael Mangudadatu. Mangudadatu was reportedly planning to challenge local political leader Datu Andal Ampatuan for the provincial governor’s office. According to The Associated Press, witnesses have identified Andal Ampatuan Jr., a relation of the governor, as the leader of a group of government militiamen who attacked the convoy.
The Philippines ranks as the sixth worst country in which journalists’ killers are brought to justice, according to CPJ’s global Impunity Index. It falls only behind Iraq in the total number of journalists killed since 1992, CPJ research shows.
The call for solidarity was made by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which is concluding an international mission, in which CPJ took part, to bring support to the victims’ families and investigate the circumstances of the massacre. The mission’s preliminary report stressed several important points:
- There is legitimate concern over the commitment and capacity of Philippine authorities to guarantee a full and independent prosecution of the killers of the journalists and media workers and at least 26 other victims of the massacre.
- There is an urgent need for counseling and humanitarian support for the families of the victims. At least 75 children have lost a parent in the attack. In many cases the victim was the sole breadwinner for families now facing an uncertain future.
- Witnesses must be protected if and when the killers are brought to trial, and there should be a comprehensive safety program for journalists in Mindanao as national elections approach in May 2010.
The preliminary mission report was written after four days of meetings with the families of those killed, witnesses to the killings, the local media community, lawyers, and government officials in Manila and General Santos City.
In addition to CPJ, the IFJ’s mission’s team members included the Southeast Asia Press Alliance, Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists, Australia’s Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the Thai Journalists’ Association, International News Safety Institute, International Media Support, the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information, and Union Network International.