The Maguindanao Massacre For justice, silence is not golden by Michelle Baltazar

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. – I am in my office cubicle typing away like I would any ordinary day as part of my job. My business card states I am an editor of a finance publication, a title I earned after working as a finance journalist for more than six years. I’ve been in the media industry for more than 12 years, a service badge I wear proudly on my arm. I love my job and thank God every day for it.

But just below my ‘editor’ title, written in invisible ink, is the reason why I’m where I am today. I’ve been a writer since I first picked up a pen. As a young child of four or five years, I remember scribbling my name several times on a paper pad. Again and again until I could write my name in my sleep. It turned out that the first test of being a writer was that I mastered my byline.

You don’t need a degree to be a writer, or a journalist, or an editor. All you need is persistence – that drive to keep writing even as pages and pages of drafts lay in a crumpled heap under the desk.

Or in this age of computers, you often lose the evidence, my body of errors backspaced to oblivion. I’ve lost count of the words I’ve written on the back of an envelope, or on a notebook, or on my laptop. I figured if I’ve written at least 2,000 articles of roughly 1,000 words each, I would have published more than two million words so far – and that’s a conservative estimate.

Rallying for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre (Source: IFJ Asia-Pacific)

But this group of words I’m writing now is different. I have never before written anything remotely close to begging for something. But today, I plead. I plead to the universe to answer my call. I ask that more people know about, and care about, what happened one fateful day in an island south of the Philippines.

It happened a year ago to this day. On November 23 last year, 32 journalists and media workers were killed on their way to cover an election event. They were just doing their jobs and, for that, they lost their lives.

It’s frustrating that this tragedy received barely any press outside the Philippines and I don’t understand why. Is it because they were local journalists and weren’t members of international media? Is it because no one cares about what happened in a small town somewhere in Asia? What was it?

As I search for answers I give thanks to those who are trying to help, including the collective efforts of the members and supporters of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Today, as an entire nation mourns the death of the slain journalists, I offer my prayers and condolences.

And I ask the world to listen. Four syllables. Pronounced as they sound: Am-pa-tu-an. Say them together as a word then add ‘massacre’ after it. The ‘Ampatuan Massacre’ was the single deadliest attack on the press ever recorded in history and must not be forgotten.

Finally, I ask the newly-elected Philippine Government to do what’s right. I am immensely proud of my peers in the Filipino press and amazed at how they get on with their jobs despite death threats. They deserve their Government’s support to make sure the Ampatuan Massacre never happens again and that the harshest penalties are levelled against the perpetrators.

As a writer, my heart bleeds when I think about what happened that day. I can see myself among them, once young kids who loved writing so much it became an obsession and, later, a career. But the press freedom I enjoy in Australia is so precious and fragile in the Philippines.

If it takes me a year, 10 years or 20 years to tell this story, over and over again, until the world knows about the Ampatuan massacre, I will do it. I [feel] the need to.

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Updated: 2010-12-11 — 03:12:05