Q&A: Journalist who
escaped 'Maguindanao massacre' tells stories of survival
Asian Human Rights Commission
HONG KONG Ė The
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is publishing below the full text
of the interview made by a radio host with one of the three
journalists who had escaped from the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao
In December 2009, the
AHRC has invited the person (name withheld for security reasons) for a
meeting in Hong Kong to discuss matters regarding cooperation on
monitoring and documenting the progress of the case in court to ensure
that those responsible are held to account in court.
During his stay, we
have also organized several meeting for him with several individual
journalists and group of journalists based in
The interview below
conducted by Ms. Serenade Woo, host of the radio programme "Yun Liu
Chat Room" of the Radio Free Asia (RFA). Only spelling mistakes and
few grammatical errors were corrected but the rest were restored in
its full sense during the transcription of the interview.
The AHRC hopes this
could give the public an idea as to how community journalists in the
Philippines struggle and survive daily in their journalism profession.
**FULL TEXT OF THE
Q: First of all, can
you tell what was happened in
Mindanao? Because, I believe so all our audience know nothing what was happened
A: Particularly the
massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao province in the island of
Mindanao on November 23, wherein among those killed were 30 journalist
those slain journalist where suppose to cover the filing of candidacy
of a candidate for governor of the province of Maguindanao together
with the women members of the clan of Mangudadatu because one of the
members of his family is running, the vice mayor of the small town in
Maguindanao, which is Buluan is running for Governor of the province.
While along their way, going to the Office of the Provincial Election
officer, they were abducted by at least 100 armed militia men led by
the Mayor of a certain town in Maguindanao, identified as Mayor Andal
Ampatuan Jr., who led this suspects in executing the victims. After
their execution they were buried in shallow mass graves, in an
outskirt village in Ampatuan town also in Maguindanao. They use a
backhoe equipment to dig up the graves they buried all those victims
together with their vehicles. But unfortunately, because of the
immediate response from the military and the family of Mangudadatus
not all the victims were buried and the vehicles and they were
immediately located by the authorities. And the suspects especially
Mayor Ampatuan was arrested after 3 days. They was charged for 25
counts of murder and some of the members of Ampatuan clan were also
charged and arrested after the government declared State of Emergency
in the province and subsequently Martial Law was declared.
Q: Why do you think
the suspect, the culprit is the Mayor of that province?
A: It's because, it
was for the first time that somebody challenge the Ampatuans in the
forth coming gubernatorial elections in the province. The election as
dated on May next year, but the filing of candidacy was done in
November, so somebody from their rival political clan had challenge
the Ampatuans who are considered political kingpins of the area. And
sad to say, those suspects armed men, who participated in the killing
are members of the militia forces in the area and they served as
private armed groups of the Ampatuans. They used these militia forces
to kill political rival who belongs to the Mangudadatu family.
Q: Is that mean that
you believe that there are some linkage between the provincial
government and central government, Arroyo government?
A: I donít think so,
in that way that the National government specially President Arroyo
was in the cahoots with the Ampatuan in that massacre but, the
national government could partly be blame on the incident because it
tolerated the permission of the private armies in the area, specially
serving as private armies for the Ampatuans and the government has
been tolerant of the presence of these militia forces being use as
private armies of the Ampatuans, its because the Ampatuans use to be
close political allies of the president. Thatís why in the past this
private armed groups in the area, are not being checked shall we say
it was been tolerated
Q: I've been heard
many people were killed in
since the former president of Philippines. What was happened in the
Philippines, why many people were killed?
A: I would say in that
particular province in Maguindanao, a lot of stories about summary
execution, summary killings perpetrated by this Ampatuans in the past.
Even before November 23 massacre, but sad to say because they have
established Ampatuans were able establish a reign of terror in their
place and everybody was afraid to challenge them or to exposed these
incidents otherwise they were get killed so until this incident on
November 23 that the public knew and proved that there is really such
gruesome activities, killings perpetrated of this Ampatuans in that
Maguindanao province. Because, maybe they had able to established that
culture of impunity, because in the past nobody checked had them.
Nobody had investigated them. Of all this killings they had done in
Q: Why was that nobody
investigated the case? Are you suggesting the central government are
not doing their job?
A: Yeah, especially
the authorities have been remised on their job. It is maybe because of
the strong political connections of the Ampatuans before with the
president and thatís why authorities become tolerant of all these
things, of all these abuses, all these excesses, all of these wrong
doings committed by the Ampatuans, they are considered as political
warlords in that province of Maguindanao.
Q: I was told actually
there is kind of witness protection in order to help the people to
bring the culprit to the court to be prosecuted but the witness
protection seems useless is that true?
A: In this case the
Maguindanao massacre they were some witnesses overtaken to the custody
of the witness protection program and so far the case is not yet on
its trial so, we donít know yet what gonna happen on the witnesses
during the trial but we learned that there are some witnesses who are
in the custody of the witness protection right now,
Because in the early
stage of the filing of the case many witnesses are afraid to come in
the open because they are still afraid of the vengeance of the
Ampatuans only the, several members of the Ampatuan clans have been
arrested, have been jailed, have been detained there are some willing
witnesses who came out and testify and give their statements to the
Q: Did they were
A: I hope it will not
happen because a lot of witnesses as what Iíve learned a lot of
witnesses who are considered as vital in the prosecution of the case
because there are some witnesses who belong to the armed groups who
kidnapped but they were not part of the another group who executed,
they served as look outs during the execution of all the victims, so
they are very vital in the prosecution.
Q: But the government
offer that kind of that protection to the witness because some
witnesses were threatened, harass or even killed in the previous time,
its that correct?
A: Yeah, in this case
they really know that the authorities, the prosecutors now influence
clout of the suspects specially the Ampatuans they have to be more
cautious in the prosecution of the case and to secure all the
witnesses and the evidence.
Q: I know that you are
so lucky to escape from that massacre in November, Can you tell
something more what happen on that day, why suddenly you did not
proceed to your interview on that day?
A: Actually, I was
supposed to be part of the group of journalist, who will cover the
filing of candidacy of that candidate for governor. But I had decided
to back off thinking that my life would be in danger if I would
proceed to Maguindanao. Because in the past we had differences of the
Ampatuans and the security arrangement for us going there was very
uncertain, because the military and the police did not provide for the
group of Mangudadatus and group of journalist who will covering that
event and that gave me some reservations about my safety if I would go
to Maguindanao with the group.
Q: If you are saying
that you found your safety protection offer by the military, by the
government or by the police was not enough why do you think they need
to offer that kind of protection for the journalist? Was it because
they were number of cases or incidents were happened in the past?
A: We see a conspiracy
of among the local military and police authorities in this case
because you know some of those suspects, who flagged down who stopped
the convoy of the victims were police officials. They were present
when Mayor Ampatuan sees the vehicle and herded to an outskirt village
where they are executed so we presumed that they had conspired with
the Ampatuans in the killing of the victims.
Q: Right now how many
people were killed in November massacre?
A: All in all 57
bodies were recovered among those killed were more than 30 journalists
Q: So far how many
people were killed since the former president of the Philippines?
A: Do you mean the
incumbent president? I would say specifically from the case of media
killings all in all more than 100 journalist have been killed since
2000 that is according to the official record of the national union of
journalist including the recent murdered journalist.
Q: Can you share some
of your experience to our audience because I knew that you also under
threat because you think your job to report the news?
A: Yeah, because I
worked as a journalist in our community. In
Mindanao, we shall call our self community journalist we are more
prone to harassment, vulnerable to threats. It's because those people
we expose of their involvement in illegal activities, wrongdoings in
government are coming also from our place. We concentrate in that
small place in our community where we meet each other maybe some other
day so the threats and risk are there maybe because maybe we have an
immediate contacts those we hit on the paper or those we hit on the
Q: Can you
specifically let our audience to understand what kind of harassment
that you received previously?
A: There are a lot of
threats I experienced but the greater risk I received when I exposed
the unexplained wealth of this Ampatuans in 2004, wherein I wrote
about their huge mansions worth millions and star contrast their
constituents are living in small shanties in front of their huge
mansions. And it's very fortunate that the province of Maguindanao is
considered the second poorest province in the
And those local officials are living in luxurious life. So, they have
all these big mansions, luxury cars, and it seems that they are doing
nothing to improve the living condition of their people.
Q: But what kind of
threats did you receive? Threatening you, kill you.
A: They plan to
liquidate me. But, it so happen that many of my friends had caution me
and informed me about their plan and they warned me to take extra
precaution, they even advice me to lie low from my work as a
Q: But you are still
working in the media industry, why?
A: Maybe, because of
my calling. In the
shall we say, it's like a challenging task if you are a community
journalist. I've been in this work for about 20 years now.
Q: Do you have to
worry about your family members? Are do they worried? Do they pursue
you to leave this industry?
A: Yeah, they are
worried than me. I'm quite worried but they are more worried than me
family, most specially my mother. But you know if it's your time to
die it's your time you can't go away with it.
Q: So, right now how
you are going to protect yourself?
A: You know I just
maintain a low profile status in our community. I have a lot of
friends from the military, from police, from other law enforcement
agencies, who are helping me.
Q: I was told a lot of
journalist because of they are working in a dangerous zone or
dangerous area so most of them they were armed when they go out to do
their job. Is that true?
A: Itís a common
practice in our place in Mindanao for local journalist to arm
themselves. Because they think that their personal safety could not
be100 percent entrusted to the authorities and the only way to protect
themselves is to armed is to carry firearms and at the same time to
deter any would be assassin to kill them.
Q: Do you have any
friends that, they were assassinate because they did their job?
A: I have some
colleagues who were murdered in the past because of their hard
commentaries against the local officials in our place so there are a
lot of my colleagues some of them are my personal friends who have
been killed while in the line in pursuit of their journalistic work.
Q: To be honest I
think you are very brave because you had some of your friends,
personal friends they were killed but because they did they job but it
not make you live that industry, you are very brave. I was shocked
because I believe most of the journalist will not do the same thing if
they are situated in that situation.
A: I'm not really that
brave maybe I just know how to secure myself and how protect myself
against any threats.
Q: And what kind of
armed you protect yourself, that kind what kind the weapon you protect
A: Although carry all
the time my two .45 caliber pistols but it's not enough to be
confident or to be complacent you must also assess the real situation,
if there is an eminent danger. So, thatís not an excuse if you have
firearm. In our case we trained ourselves about marksmanship, in
combat pistol handling. Local journalist they are being trained.
impressive. Please take care of yourself. Thank you so much!
The interview was
done by Ms Serenade Woo, host of the programme called "Yun Liu Chat
Room" of the Radio Free Asia (RFA). Ms Woo is also a staff member of
the International Federation of Journalist (IFJ) in Asia Pacific and
member of the board member of Amnesty International - Hong Kong