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"Lest we forget" - Joint CMFR and SEAPA statement on the 100th day of the Ampatuan massacre

(CMFR/SEAPA/IFEX) - 3 March 2010 - A hundred days have passed since the massacre of 32 journalists and media workers in Maguindanao, Southern Philippines, together with 26 others. The principal suspect has been indicted. But the petition for bail by the alleged mastermind has been the subject of several postponements, in a portent of things to come that's not encouraging for the demand for justice for the victims.

The urgent demand for justice is in danger of foundering on the shoals of the technicalities that - together with police collusion at the local level in the killing of journalists, overworked prosecutors who fear for their safety, and the involvement of local officials and warlords - constitute the many weaknesses of the Philippine justice system. Equally distressing is the information, relayed by one of the private lawyers helping prosecute the case, that witnesses are being bought if not threatened, and that relatives are being offered amounts that few mortals in the Philippine community setting can refuse in exchange for withdrawing their complaints.

Add public indifference and resignation, and the mass media's own short attention span and susceptibility to the lure of reporting those events that help boost ratings and circulations, and we have the potential for the massacre not only going unpunished, but even forgotten.

Forgetfulness is among the worst vices of a people whom the media have failed to provide information crucial to their lives. And yet, forgetfulness is the sure guarantee for the repetition of such atrocities as the Ampatuan massacre, the human rights violations that continue to haunt this country, and the constant peril of authoritarian rule. Only by remembering the past can we prevent its repetition.

The media are among the institutions crucial to the fostering of the imperative of keeping in the public mind the need for justice in the Ampatuan massacre and for the making of a culture of remembrance. But the public as a whole needs to support the campaign to keep the Ampatuan massacre on the national agenda as an issue that needs resolution. As we enter the fourth month since that atrocity, the undersigned media and journalists' organizations renew their pledge never to forget and to continue to remind the Philippine public and the international community that the pro-active engagement of a militant people and a truly free and responsible press can prevent the many crimes and atrocities that haunt this country, among them the killing of journalists, from going unpunished and even repeated.

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