After Maguindanao: Do journalists need superheroes?

Jerald Uy

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I sometimes wish we have people who can shield media men from bullets

I saw it in the faces of veteran journalists—anguish, pain, vulnerability—as we met then Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs Jose Dureza in South Cotabato. All those years spent on telling the public that the country beats the war-torn Iraq as the dangerous place for journalists had come to this.

“Yes, we will assist reporters covering in Mindanao,” Dureza said and gave assurances about our safety. (Dureza had another mission at that time—meeting the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak.)

I thought, if my seniors in this field felt the massacre had shown the worst it could do to the messengers, I wondered what the future would be like for the younger journalists.

The digging site in the town of Ampatuan answered my question…horribly.

UNTV vehicle. The crushed UNTV vehicle is retrieved from the massacre sight. Photo by Jerald Uy

News Flash: Dead messengers 

We arrived as the authorities recovered a crushed TV news vehicle, buried deep in the ground. They also unearthed the body of UNTV assistant cameraman, Jolito Evardo.

In a few moments, 5 more bodies were laid beside Evardo, the foul stench barely filtered by the banana leaves that covered them. Among the victims is a couple who were on their way to the hospital when the reported gunmen blocked the road. Yes, these were people who were at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

I saw women with slashes on their faces, their bodies riddled with gunshots. A backhoe, with markings that say it is property of the provincial government of Maguindanao, was left behind.

VICTIM. The body of a massacre victim is retrieved from the site. Photo by Jerald Uy

Fifty-seven bodies had been rotting for 3 days when we arrived at the killing fields in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The body of the 58th victim, Reynaldo Momay, has yet to be found.

I did not have the luxury to bury myself in fear during my first plane flight from Manila to Mindanao. The dread that overpowered me came from the carnage.

It started when a group of women, lawyers, and journalists was en route to the Comelec in the province’s capital. They were accompanying the relatives of then incumbent Buluan vice mayor Ishmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who were submitting his certificate of candidacy for governor on Nov 23, 2009. Their trip was cut short in the town of Ampatuan by gunmen allegedly on orders of the political clan, the Ampatuans.

That was 3 years ago.

DEATH TRAIL. Investigators check the scene of the crime. Photo by Jerald Uy

The Muckraker

Today, journalists continue being killed, even after the gruesome events of Nov 23, 2009. A hundred suspects still roam free after the massacre.

For most people, I’m afraid, this is a recurring event. On my part, my artist-friends Jether Amar and Cristine Manasan, and I, thought of a superhero for mediamen. We called it the “Muckraker,” a person who could dodge and catch bullets. He is recruited by the call center “Segovia Solutions” to end attacks on journalists.

We wanted to reach a different group of people, mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings who may have been stereotyped for their fondness for wide-eyed characters and big-muscled heroes.

“Do journalists even need superheroes?” asked one of my friends who obtained a literature degree.

Literary-wise, I actually do not know. Some critics even saw some flaws in storytelling. I do sometimes pray, we have people who can shield media men from bullets. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines director Sonny Fernandez once told me, “Sana nga ganyan kadali no?” (We wish it were that easy, no?)

I just thought, we needed to do something. We should do something in our own ways—athletes run in marathons for a cause, spiritual people light candles for the victims. Artists draw. Writers tell stories.

Here is a free copy of the comic book story “Segovia Solutions.”

Turn to your craft to remember the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre. Never forget. –

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