Justice in the Philippines?

By Spielmann, Peter James | Harvard International Review, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Justice in the Philippines?


Spielmann, Peter James, Harvard International Review


Frank Smyth's survey of the appalling annual toll of journalists killed on the job is especially timely now, as the latest year's tally includes one event that grotesquely inflated the total--the massacre of 32 journalists in the Philippines. Fortunately, there are signs that the perpetrators of this atrocity will not escape with impunity.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been counting and verifying the deaths of journalists since 1992, when the end of the Cold War unleashed chaotic rebel and separatist groups and political factions that were no longer under the nominal discipline of one of the superpowers. Their first tally was 44 deaths in 1992, which is close to the average yearly toll. But the single massacre in the Philippines's Maguindanao province in November 2009 pushed usual expectations off the scale, resulting in the deadliest year since CPJ began record-keeping: 72 killings in one year.

The Maguindanao massacre was so singular that we can hope that we will not see similar events again, and the typical annual death toll compiled by CPJ will drop back into the more "normal" average of about 45 killings a year.

At Maguindanao, 32 reporters were among 57 people killed as they went to file an opposition candidacy against the locally powerful Ampatuan clan.

Impunity appears unlikely in this case; not only was the motive for the killings obvious, but a murder trial has begun and one of the Ampatuan's servants has testified that the family planned the massacre at a dinner six days in advance.

"If they come here, just kill them all," Andal Ampatuan Jr., the leader of the clan, was quoted as telling his family by the witness.

President Benigno Aquino has correctly read the intense international scrutiny by local and international press groups and by human rights organizations as a litmus test of the rule of law in Maguindanao Province and the Philippines as a whole. …

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