It took a decade for the country’s justice system to arrive at some kind of closure to the gruesome murder of 58 civilians by a powerful political warlord family in Mindanao — the Ampatuans. This week, a Quezon City regional trial court judge convicted eight members of the powerful political family for the 2009 massacre of a civilian media convoy accompanying the clan’s rival family, the Mangudadato’s, on their way to file their election candidacy.
The length of the trial was perhaps too long for anyone to endure, specially for the family of the victims. It is merely a footnote to the story of tragedy that has befallen to the ideals of peace, tolerance and democracy in this country. The Ampatuan massacre portrays the violent nature of Philippine style politics. To a certain extent it is not even an act of violence directed against journalists per se or the press as an institution; in its wider context, the massacre was an underscoring of the overall climate of impunity that prevails in our society.
Impunity is an offspring of a whacked value system where democratic values and institutions are overcome by selfish interest and corruption, That many Filipino journalists, including Palawan’s Dr. Gerry Ortega and Dong Batul, are among its victims is mere proof that media is among the most vulnerable segments of society that has had to suffer from it.
The silver lining in the Ampatuan massacre decision was the integrity displayed by RTC judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in penning her 761-page decision. That she was able to usher the decision in a manner that shows how a proper judicial procedure ought to play out suggests there is still hope in our justice system.
It is unavoidable however not to gloss over the fact that the decision on the case still left many unanswered questions and continues to complicate the misery faced particularly by the family of the victims. Many of those convicted remain unaccounted for, thus posing grave security threats to witnesses during the trial. Even family members of the victims have expressed fears of retribution by those who were eventually acquitted on grounds of ‘reasonable doubt” but had to endure years of incarceration during the pendency of the trial.
The greater responsibility to fostering peace and tranquility falls on the shoulders of government. It is challenged by the peculiar situation on the country where intolerance is abetted by inaction, or worse encouraged by official policy and governance direction. Here, the government targeting of independent media organizations like Rappler and more recently ABS-CBN comes to mind. How this particular narrative plays out in the end is hard to predict, given the unpredictability of administration policy.
The present scenario does not bode well for society as a whole, not just to the mainstream media in particular. The country’s body politic, media including, will just have to ride out this storm, even as we get nourishment and strength from occasional success stories such as the conviction of the Ampatuans.