Twelve journalists in the southern Philippines have been slaughtered, in what will surely be remembered as the worst single day in the history of journalism.
The journalists were accompanying a local political family -- the Mangudadatus -- on their way to file candidacy papers for gubernatorial elections on the island of Mindanao. After a vicious hold up 46 people in the travelling group were massacred, in what has now emerged as political clan warfare.
The murderers are hiding in plain sight. Members of the Ampatuan clan -- political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo -- were seen and readily identified as being in the gang that hijacked the Mangudadatus convoy. The son of the governor was in the attack gang, as was the local mayor.
Pushing aside her allegiance to the Ampatuan clan, President Arroyo has ordered the "immediate, relentless pursuit" of the killers.
The deadly rivalry of the Mangudadatu and Ampatuan clans may overshadow another shocking aspect of this Shakespearian tale. The Philippines is one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a journalist -- and certainly the most unsafe country that's not embroiled in an all out war. The statistics are staggering. With more than 60 journalists murdered in the past 20 years, the Philippines flounders around at the bottom of the Reporters Sans Frontieres world index of press freedom, chumming it up with Iran, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. In this allegedly robust democracy, the violence against journalists, which continues unabated with very few arrests or prosecutions, raises questions about the very basis of its democratic credentials.
"A culture of impunity makes the Philippines one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist," Sheila Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, told the Huffington Post. Coronel, a founder of Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, agrees that the lack of pursuit of journalists' killers continue to make the reporters fair game, pushing the death statistics even higher.
"In only three or four instances have the murderers been prosecuted. A compromised justice system and the rule of unaccountable local bosses, especially in places faraway from Manila, have made it possible to kill journalists and get away with it," she says.
President Arroyo's promise to "hunt down" the easily identifiable perpetrators of the Mindanao massacre ("no effort will be spared") may sound credible. In the Philippines, many are waiting to be convinced.