My photo
ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, November 27, 2009



Updating the Massacre of 57 (as of this count) Filipino journalists and civilians in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, Southern Philippines, Juan L. Mercado, (inset) veteran and award-winning Filipino journalist, looks at this “Neanderthal brutality” no longer from an angry stance but through a moving sublimation of this tragedy in the Mystery of the Christian Advent and other Holy Muslim Eid ul Adha.

From a journalist hardened by the prevalence of human violence, this column is an anguished but by no means resigned account of what all humanity must learn to forgive. Mercado’s take is a lesson for all working journalists.

Also included is a Canadian association of Human Rights Lawyers reaction, asking the Canadian Government to help install a witness protection programme -- through the United Nations-- that could protect the witnesses to the massacre.

(The column and the Canadian reaction were forwarded to this blog by Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano, OSB, seminary rector in Northern Philippines and himself a human rights monitor, and Lingling Claver who sent the Human Rights Lawyers Association letter to her online network.)


by Juan L. Mercado
(Sun Star & other community papers 29 Nov )

“Voodoo? Drugs? Or what?” asked our daughter, a United Nations communication officer in Jerusalem. She read dispatches on the Maguindanao massacre and phoned just before Advent. “Murdering 42 civilians -- including women and journalists, -- is ‘Neanderthal brutality’ indeed.”

“No. Fifty seven bodies were recovered,” we updated her. “And 27 were journalists. The five-man staff of the weekly Periodico Ini was wiped out. Two newsmen are still missing,”

Salvaging journalists hits this girl hard. She grew up in a newspaper-cluttered home. Her schedules partly hewed to deadlines and the old man’s reporting trips. After graduating from Boston College, she signed up as a reporter for Gannet newspapers in New York. Her husband is an Agence France Presse staffer.

Successive governments’ tolerance for rubout contracts on journalists spawned a culture of impunity. Inevitably, that metastasized into the Ampatuan town bloodbath. “This is the single deadliest event for journalists in history” notes the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Under the Marcos dictatorship, no one dared expose killing of journalists. Primitivo Mijares of the Manila Chronicle testified before the US Congress on “New Society abuses. Tibo was salvaged in Guam. So was his son.

Corazon Aquino restored freedom of the press with People Power. “Counting from the 1986 post-Marcos era, a total of 60 journalists had been killed in the line of duty,” the Center for Media Freedom reports. “Of these 48 percent were killed under the Arroyo administration”.

After 2006, the total bolted to over 70 today. No mastermind has been convicted, despite Ms Arroyo’s pledges or ex-Speaker Jose de Venecia’s offer of bounty.

Victims were individual reporters, usually exposing sleaze. These include, among others: Edgar Dalamerio of Zamboanga Scribe, Marlene Esperat of Midland Review in Tacurong, Roger Mariano of dzJC Aksyon Radyo in Laoag.

“When journalists get killed, the citizen’s right to to freedom of information is threatened,” notes the CMFR study: “Journalist Killings Under the Arroyo Administration ( 2001-2006 ).

The result is a cruel paradox, “A country, which was once perceived as having the freest media in Asia, had become the ‘world’s most dangerous place for journalists’ outside a war zone,” CMFR adds.

Individual killings here clone the murder, in Moscow, of the prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The 48-year old Novaya Gazeta reporter documented, in Chechnya, torture, mass executions and kidnapping, she exposed the sale by, Russian soldiers of Chechen, corpses to their families for proper Islamic burial.

She was gunned down in an elevator in 2006. A Makarov 9-mm pistol had been dumped at her side. Like murders of Filipino journalists, no one has been held accountable for Ms. Politkovskaya slaying. That sends a very clear message: You can kill – and get away with it.

In Russia, 16 journalists have been rubbed out because of their work since 2000, the Committee to Protect Journalists reveals. Only one has been convicted, and none of those who organized the killings has been nailed. Just like the Philippines.

“There can be no free speech in a country where the best journalists are afraid for their lives for doing their jobs,” says a European Union official.

TV network Al Jazeera, meanwhile, aired an interview with a witness who claimed: Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. “ordered that reporters accompanying the convoy also be killed. That would cover-up what happened.”

That’s crass but standard covering of the ass. But do political warlords here understand the press’ role in a free society. “There are Three Estates in Parliament;” Edmund Burke once said. “But, in the Reporters' gallery yonder, sits a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Death tolls, in other massacres, have been higher. In 2008, for example, terrorists slaughtered 173 hotel guests in Mumbai and wounded 308. Massacres, within Kosovo, in 1999, saw Serb police and military murder Albanians. Death tolls ranged from 206 males killed at Velika Krisav and 70 at Dubrava prison. But in none of these were journalists singled out.

The Maguindanao massacre occurred just before Muslim and Christian festivals: Muslims around the world celebrated, starting Thursday, the Eid ul Adha. This 'Festival of Sacrifice' commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God.

Christians marked Sunday as the start of Advent. The Latin word “adventus” – coming -- is the translation of the Greek parousia, It is a season of expectant joy for Nativity, overhang this year by self-made hell that is the Ampatuan bloodletting.

At Advent, “come, we say, and rescue us from all the harm and ruin of our own making” –or Neanderthal brutality’, theologian Catalino Arevalo wrote. We believe that He comes in answer to our asking. Yet (as Maguindanao shows) it seems things have become worse.

But He has come…to be Emmanuel: God with us. He wants to be with us, no matter what, no matter where. To all our perplexity, despair and fears, there is a God who loves us, and gives only one answer. One only. Look. “Behold my Son is born.”


JUAN L. MERCADO started his journalistic career as a reporter for one of the community papers in Cebu. He then joined the staff of Evening News, serving first as a Senate reporter, then later as associate editor. Mercado was the first director of the Philippine Press Institute (1965-1972). He instituted PPI's first training programs as well as hands-on courses that helped facilitate coverage of sensitive beats like street demonstrations, the stock exchanges, the police and military.

He continued writing exposes on graft and corruption in government using the Philippine News Service as outlet, while still PPI director. Among the more notable stories he wrote were: the plight of sacada workers in Visayan sugar fields; customs corruption and widespread leakage of questions in a (nationwide) civil service examination for professionals.

He joined the Press Foundation of Asia as its Joint Chief Executive and started (DEPTHnews), an experiment in developmental journalism. He worked as editorial director of the service.
Mercado also served as correspondent for the Financial Times of London; the Honolulu Star Bulletin as well as The Bulletin of Sydney in Australia.

He was among the 22 journalists detained in the first wave of arrests by the martial law regime. Upon his release, he became communication officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Bangkok, Thailand. Thereafter, he was posted in FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy as Attaché d' Cabinet.

Juan L. Mercado graduated from the University of San Carlos, Cebu City. He also took special courses at the American Press Institute in Columbia University in 1964 and at Henry Kissinger's foreign policy seminar at Harvard University.

He was named Journalist of the Year by Manila Rotary Club and received an Outstanding Alumnus Award at the University of San Carlos in 1970.

Source: Press Club Golden Jubilarians (thesis prepared by students of Miriam College) with revisions by. J.L. Mercado



Subject: Massacre in the Philippines: Call on Canada to provide witness protection
Received: Thursday, November 26, 2009, 7:06 PM

Dear Ambassador Desjardins:

Re: Massacre of 57 people in Philippines on November 23 2009.

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) understands that there are 3 or 4 witnesses who survived this massacre. We are writing to ask the Canadian government to act immediately to ensure the safety of these witnesses.

As you are no doubt aware, recommendations made in 2007 to the Philippine government by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, regarding the creation of a witness protection programme have not been implemented. These recommendations were made to encourage witnesses to extrajudicial executions to come forward and to ensure their safety. Witnesses to such killings were seen as being at heightened risk because of allegations of complicity by government agents in the killings.

Professor Alston made four recommendations, none of which have been implemented. His recommendations were:

“The witness protection programme should be reformed and fully implemented:
a) It should be proactively administered by an office independent of the NPS;
b) Witness protection should be unstintingly provided to all those who will be put at risk by an individual's testimony;
c) Individuals should be permitted to remain in the witness protection system for as long as they are at risk, even if a case stalls;
d) Housing and other benefits provided under the witness protection programme should ensure the security and comfort of those protected.”
LRWC and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) have called for an independent international inquiry into the massacre of these 57 people.

LRWC calls on the government of Canada to immediately provide protective measures for the witnesses to the massacre. It is necessary that adequate security be provided immediately to these witnesses who are clearly at great risk: only one of the estimated 100 gunmen involved in the actual executions has been taken into custody. In addition immediate adequate protection is absolutely necessary as a preliminary step to ensuring that the perpetrators—including those who authored, planned and executed these terrible crimes--are properly identified and punished through investigations, prosecutions and trials.

We hope that Canada will be part of the solution. I look forward to receiving a prompt reply indicating what assistance Canada will provide.

Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

Gail Davidson
Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada - LRWC
3220 West 13th Avenue
Vancouver, BC CANADA, V6K 2V5
Tel: +1-604 738-0338
Fax: +1-604 736-1175
Skype: gail.davidson.lrwc

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by protecting advocacy rights. LRWC campaigns for advocates in danger because of their human rights advocacy, engages in research and education and works in cooperation with other human rights organizations. LRWC has Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

(Source: Email from Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano, OSB, of Isabela, Northern Philippines, forwarding a pooled email from Lingling Claver to Human Rights Monitors.)

No comments: