Strong commitment, thirst for justice, indignation, powerful words from my favorite source of news…
WE WILL BE their witness.
We will retrace their steps, those early hours before their shocking extinction, when they, at least 27 journalists, set out for a day’s work. We will piece together the bloody shards of the crime—the point in the highway in Ampatuan country where the convoy in which they were part was waylaid, the guns that snuffed them out, the grassy field where they, along with the rest of the unfortunate lot, breathed their last.
We will approximate the horror, mindful of the limitations of words but galvanized by the same calling that ultimately led them to their doom.
We will keep asking the terrible question: How could this have happened?
The mass murder in Maguindanáo on Nov. 23 has come to define our generation as journalists. Nowhere in our history as an endangered breed has a similar occurrence approached such a degree of enormity or the body count been so outrageously high. Yet a more significant aspect casts a large shadow on the crime—the climate of impunity that served as fertile ground for it to happen. Let not the staggering dimensions of the killings take the edge off that fact.
We will be their witness. Removed as we are from the arena of their toil, we will acknowledge the peculiar nature of their daily terrain as shaped by the unbridled, unabashed power that holds sway. We will presume that getting into the vehicles that made up the convoy heading to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak, thence to witness and record a process that would have made official Esmael Mangudadatu’s gubernatorial candidacy, they pushed trepidation aside and sought comfort in the idea, hitherto unshakable, that journalism is a power unto itself, sufficient to stand up to fear itself.
That they are dead now is heart-wrenching, and we will mourn their—our—having been proven wrong. Yet, despite having been crudely disabused of the idea that reporting on an event, for the benefit of the public that we are sworn to inform, is no longer a guarantee of even safe passage, we will persevere. For too long have we lived gripped by a particular tension as Gordimer had defined it: that of being participant and recorder of events—a necessary burden of writers and, by extension, journalists. And we will continue to record our times and the evil that men and women do even as we rail at oppression and injustice.
We will not lose sight of the fact that as many as 68 journalists, not counting the 27 murdered in Maguindanáo, have been killed since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took power. (Once upon a time, her husband, addressing a group of journalists in Negros, said no journalist on the island had been killed because “journalists here are responsible reporters.”) To Camus’ requirements of “courage in one’s life and talent in one’s work” we will add strength and commitment.
There will be justice for the 27 journalists (and the women and other civilians) who perished in the badlands of Maguindanáo.
We will be their witness. Though we may be under the gun, we will endure.