MANILA (Mabuhay) – Senator Grace Poe has filed a bill seeking to declare November 23 Philippine Press Freedom Day.
On that day in 2009, around a hundred gunmen stopped a convoy in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao that was on its way to file the certificate of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who intended to run for governor against then Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., scion of the clan that enjoyed almost absolute rule over the central Mindanao province for a decade.
The convoy’s passengers and those in a number of vehicles that happened to pass by at the time were taken to a hilltop in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman and slaughtered.
The Ampatuan massacre claimed 58 lives in all, including those of 32 media workers, making it the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the deadliest single attack on the press ever.
Yet, more than four years later, none of the more than 190 persons accused of the carnage, including key members of the Ampatuan clan, has yet to be convicted.
Although May 3 is officially recognized as World Press Freedom Day since the UNESCO General Conference adopted a recommendation in 1991, Poe said locally commemorating November 23 would be a fitting reminder of the sacrifices journalists make in the practice of their profession.
“While we are considered to have the freest press in Asia, we are also bombarded with numbers of murdered and disappeared journalists. Remembered as the single deadliest event for journalists in recent history, the Maguindanao massacre is and continues to be a symbol of the fight for press freedom and (journalists’) rights in the practice of their profession,” she said.
“Certainly, the Maguindanao massacre is a wanton violation or their rights, and the day that such an abuse of power and machinery happened at the expense or innocent truth seekers must be a day to commemorate and honor their sacrifices to prevent another ignominy in the history of the Philippine press,” she added.
The senator stressed that, “Freedom of the press not only includes the rights to speech and write but also includes the right to be respected and protected from threats, intimidation and harm to their lives and property while in the pursuit of their profession.”
Philippine Press Freedom Day, she said, “seeks to promote and uphold freedom and heighten awareness on press freedom, so that journalists may freely and securely report the truth no matter who gets hurt by it.”
Poe said a similar bill had been filed during the 15th Congress but had stalled at the committee level for lack of time to pass the measure.
“In the light of all these circumstances, the swift passage of this bill is earnestly sought,” she said. (MNS)