We deplore and condemn the vicious killings in Maguindanao Province yesterday, Monday November 23. At least 46 people, including public servants, journalists, fathers and wives, were murdered while exercising their democratic rights to register an election candidate and serving as media practitioners providing the information and transparency that undergirds a healthy society. This incident is a serious blow to that crucial work in society and may be the largest killing of media personnel ever, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
In particular we mourn the loss of Jun Jun Legarta, a field reporter for Mindanao Bulletin, and Juvy Unto, a field reporter based in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat. They are the cousins of our Peacebuilders staff member Jester Valdez.
Peacebuilders Community Inc. has been doing peace education, advocacy and conflict transformation in Mindanao since 2006. We have seen over the years how easy it is for a localized incident to spark wider violence and how negative perceptions of conflict often reduce the capacity to address these flare-ups in creative non-violent ways.
We therefore decry the media using this incident to war-type the image of Mindanao. This is seen in today’s Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) headline picture showing a column of tanks in Datu Piang Maguindanao on May 26 in the offensive against the MILF, a war story and location of an unrelated image piggy-backed onto the current tragedy. This only cements that image of violence in the national consciousness and the idea that military action is the appropriate or only response.
We therefore call on the editors of the PDI to balance their reporting with the pictures and stories of the many peace workers, journalists and advocates struggling to birth a better reality in Mindanao. We are especially concerned about the following:
1. With the increased military and police presence in an already highly militarized and volatile area, we are concerned about a potential disintegration of the ceasefire between the army of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which was only reestablished this past July.
2. The government might take this as an opportunity to go after suspects accused of human rights violations in the recent hostilities between the MILF and GRP, which could lead to displacement of civilians in other communities.
3. Spillover of communal violence into surrounding communities and the escalation of a cycle of retaliation between involved individuals, families or communities, or the settling of unrelated grudges by unrelated parties through violent means.
PBCI has learned that within every painful situation such as this lay seeds of peace and hope that will grow when watered by justice and truth. While there is tragedy and danger in this reality, there is also an opportunity to transform this into something new and better.