Andal Ampatuan Jr. is escorted to his trial. (Reuters)
Andal Ampatuan Jr. is escorted to his trial. (Reuters)

Journalist death toll rises in Philippines massacre

The identification this week of photographer Jepon Cadagdagon as another victim in the Nov. 23 Maguindanao massacre has raised the death toll of journalists and media workers to 32. Even before accounting for Cadagdagon, CPJ had characterized the massacre, allegedly carried out by a ruling political clan in the area, as the deadliest event for the press in recent memory.    

Cadagdagon had in previous reports been identified as a driver in the ambushed caravan. But the victim’s mother, Remia Cadagdagon, recently told local press groups that her son had been hired as a photographer at the General Santos City-based Saksi News (Witness News) community newspaper just weeks before the massacre.  

She shared a copy of the newspaper that included for the first time in mid-November her son’s name in the publication’s editorial staff box while attending a counseling session for massacre victims’ family members conducted last week by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

The revelation of yet another journalist’s death in the massacre comes as arraignment proceedings resume this week in the multiple murder trial against Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the crime’s alleged mastermind and reputedly one of its triggermen. According to news reports, state prosecutors played in court on Wednesday two graphic 90-minute videotapes of the 57 victims’ bullet-ridden bodies as they were excavated from three mass graves.

The footage was intended to corroborate testimony made last week by Ampatuan township Vice Mayor Rasul Sangki, who claimed that he witnessed the mayor and his gunmen shoot many of the victims at point blank range. Ampatuan has denied the charges, claiming that they are politically motivated by his Mangudadatu clan rivals. His lawyers have requested and are pursuing his release on bail. According to an Associated Press report, Ampatuan watched passively and yawned during the prosecution’s video presentation.

More information of the circumstances surrounding the crime and its aftermath will be made public when the joint solidarity mission that CPJ was a participant to in December releases its assessment report at a press conference in Manila on January 23. The report will include a list of recommendations to the government to ensure that justice is served and the cycle of impunity that culminated in the massacre is finally broken.

(Reporting from Bangkok)