"Darkest hour in Philippine journalism"
Harry Roque: The Maguindanao massacre was a violation of the elementary rules of humanity
24 Nov 09

Originally posted by Harry Roque

Manila, Philippines – The Center for International Law (CENTERLAW) condemns in the strongest possible terms the alleged abduction and execution of 40 people in Maguindanao, including 20 local journalists, in what is reported to be an election-related violence.
“We join all sectors in denouncing this vicious violation of the elementary rules of humanity,” said lawyer Harry Roque, chair of the Manila-based non-profit with a broad advocacy to promote the rule of law in the Philippines and the Asian region through the promotion of international legal norms.

He said what is especially heinous about the carnage is that even journalists were not spared from the violence. Fresh reports say 21 persons, who were among a group of local politicians and journalists abducted in the southern Philippines on Monday have been found dead.

“Over the last ten or so years, the press in the Philippines has come under attack,” said Roque, “and yet this is Philippine journalism’s darkest hour – if reports are true that every one in the group abducted by gunmen had been executed, some of them by beheading.”

He called on authorities to immediately dispatch investigators to the scene of the crime to gather evidence and file the appropriate charges against those responsible.

He said CenterLaw is fielding its Executive Director, lawyer Romel Regalado Bagares, to the region to assess the situation and see what legal remedies are available to the families of the journalists who were reported to have been killed in the attack.

CenterLaw, the group that Roque heads, is a member of the Southeast Asia Media Defense Network.

The gunmen responsible for the carnage are allegedly in the employ of a powerful politician in the region.

The Philippines has been on the list of declared hotspots in the world for working journalists. A supposedly peaceful democracy, it has been lumped with the world’s conflict zones because of the unabated extrajudicial killings in the country targeting many journalists.

“This is a horrendous crime,” said Roque. “The killings must end.” He said the Philippine government has continually failed to abide with its obligations under international law to protect its own citizens, let alone journalists, from unabated criminality.

Among those abducted were the wife of a mayor in Maguindanao province, Esmael Mangundadatu, his aides and supporters.

The journalists were invited by Mangundadatu’s group to a local elections office to where he was set to file his candidacy for governorship of the predominantly Muslim Maguindanao province in the May 2010.

The Mangundadatu clan has a long-running feud with the family of Maguindanao’s incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan, a local warlord and military officials say the latter has in his control about 100 gunmen, most of whom were militiamen he had deputised as security men for his family, according to a news report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a Manila-based English-language daily.