On Monday morning, the 23rd of November, unarmed civilians were onboard six vehicles making their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao. The group—composed of women, lawyers, and journalists—were supposed to witness the filing of candidacy in behalf of an aspiring governor at the local Commission on Elections (Comelec) office.
They never reached their destination alive.
Reports say that gunmen stopped the vehicles and directed them to an open pit where the victims were brutally murdered. To date, 57 bodies have been recovered from the massacre site in Barangay Saniag, Ampatuan town.
The aspiring governor is Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael Mangudadatu who was supposed to file his certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor at the local Comelec office. He was persuaded, however, not to personally go to the baluarte of the rival clan, which is why his wife Genalyn and his sisters Farina and Eden led the group in the belief that the women of the clan would be respected.
The delegation that fateful day included members of the media who were supposed to report on the filing of candidacy. Media practitioners from UNTV, DZRH, Bombo Radyo, the Manila Bulletin, and other Mindanao-based journalists became hapless victims of the clan war. GMA-7 reporter Jiggy Manicad was supposed to cover the filing of candidacy that day but he was forewarned about the imminent bloodbath.
A backhoe found in the killing field links the murders to incumbent Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. since the said digging equipment bore the name of Ampatuan. The patriarch of the Muslim clan has already been ousted from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's ruling coalition Lakas-Kampi-CMD.
The Ampatuan clan has not yet commented on the allegation.
In relation to this brutal killings, two of the country's largest networks have issued separate statements condemning the massacre.
Here is the official statement of ABS-CBN:
"Three days have passed since more than 50 people, including journalists, were brutally murdered in Maguindanao, and we have yet to see government take decisive action.
"This unprecedented scale of violence erodes our faith in the rule of law. It sends a chill through journalists who continue to shine the spotlight on these killing fields.
"We at ABS-CBN urge the authorities to hold the guilty parties accountable and show that justice is blind to politics."
GMA-7 's official statement:
"We are no longer who we were before Monday. Even in the annals of political violence in the Philippines, there have been no parallels to the slaughter that occurred on the lonely road to Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on November 23.
"52 unarmed civilians all, the majority of whom were media professionals, the victims were en route to perform basic functions in a civilized democracy: the Mangudadatu women were to file certificates of candidacy; the lawyers were to provide legal advice; and the journalists were to bear witness on behalf of the public and to report on an important event without fear or favor.
"All of these roles are essential for a political system where power is meant to be transferred without violence.
"What met them in a town recently renamed Ampatuan was the exact opposite: a force and mentality that invoked the barbarity of more primitive times.
"The crime that occurred in Ampatuan was uniquely savage, but it was also an extreme example of the violent tendency in our politics. At the other extreme are the many citizens who are bravely committed to the difficult and complex process of peacefully deciding who our leaders should be, such as those souls who perished on Monday.
"It is this tension between savagery and peaceful process that has marked our electoral history. Those are the most critical choices in 2010.
"Much will depend on how the government reacts in the coming days. For what is emerging is evidence that the assailants were not outside the law but part of the political machinery of local officials backed by the Arroyo administration.
"The President so far has ordered a thorough investigation and declared a state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City. Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa has relieved four PNP officials in Maguindanao.
"We trust that this is just the beginning of a series of actions that will bring all of the perpetrators to justice, including the warlords who orchestrated this bloodbath.
"If they are permitted to escape harsh punishment, it will clearly be a vote for barbarity and for the other savage armies prepared to assault our maiden automated elections.
"As we wait for action, we grieve. We grieve for the believers in a democratic system who paid with their lives. We grieve for the martyred journalists who believed the Constitutional protection of their rights was enough.
"By travelling without arms to perform their democratic duties in hostile territory, the 52 made their choice. We honor their example and sacrifice, as their fate continues to chill our bones. As fellow believers, we could have easily been them."