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The future of journalism in the world's most dangerous place for journalists:

December 8th, 2009
03:05 PM ET
A citizen journalist called “patroller” - believed to be one of the first people at the scene of the Maguindanao massacre – sent this photo to the media.
A citizen journalist called “patroller” - believed to be one of the first people at the scene of the Maguindanao massacre – sent this photo to the media.

By Maria A. Ressa
Head, ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs
Former CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief

57 people killed in broad daylight, 30 of them journalists.  It was premeditated murder because even before they were ambushed, their graves were dug.  It was the worst election-related violence we have ever seen and the deadliest single attack on journalists anywhere around the world.

This is a story about the courage of one anonymous Filipino – a citizen journalist – who risked his life three times on Monday, November 23 to tell the world about the massacre in the southern Philippines.  His courage gave the world the first photograph of the carnage released to the public.  It also shows how professional journalists and citizen journalists can work together to circumvent fear, prevent a whitewash and get the Truth out.

ABS-CBN’s citizen journalism program began during our 2007 elections.  We called it “Boto Mo, I-Patrol Mo.” Translated it means, “Patrol Your Votes.”  It was the first time globally that a broadcast media organization used the power of mass media and combined it with mobile phone technology and new media for a political purpose: to help ensure elections are free and fair.

It’s important in the Philippines because our elections have always been plagued by rampant cheating and violence.  The Philippine National Police declared the 2007 elections the most peaceful in our history – with only about 130 people killed in 217 incidents of poll-related violence.

It’s all relative isn’t it?  But this is what we live with.

Our culture in the Philippines is more passive than our western counterparts because of a history of feudalism and patronage politics.  It’s left most of our people believing they have little power to effect change.  So for 2010, we pushed to encourage personal empowerment and responsibility – “BOTO MO, I-PATROL MO: AKO ANG SIMULA” (Patrol Your Votes: Change Begins With Me).

Our May 2010 elections are particularly important.  It’s the first time ever that this country will try automated elections.  It’s historic, yes, but it also means that those who are used to cheating in elections will now have to find new ways of manipulating the ballots.

That uncertainty along with a culture of impunity in parts of the Philippines where political warlords command private armies created a combustible mixture that led to the massacre – in broad daylight – of nearly 60 people, including 30 journalists.  All sparked by one man, Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who decided – for the first time ever – to challenge an Ampatuan for the office of governor.  The Ampatuans have held power in Maguindanao since 2001 and have run unchallenged in every election since then.

Mangudadatu was warned that if he filed his certificate of candidacy, he would be killed.  So he sent his wife and two sisters, along with female lawyers and 30 journalists.  He believed his rival would not attack women.  He believed journalists would be safe.  He was wrong.

As we journalists were confirming exactly what happened that dreadful Monday, a citizen journalist – whom we call a patroller – emailed us three times, first at 3:47 pm, again at 3:58 pm and finally at 8:48 pm.

Based on what we received, we believe this patroller was a member of the security forces, probably the military because soldiers were first on the scene, or a member of the Mangudadatu family.  At the time the picture was sent at 8:48 pm, they were the only two groups to have visited the site.

We believe this man (at this point only men had been allowed at the site) wanted to make sure there was no whitewash.  So he emailed us, hoping we would tell the world about it.  We did.

His first post said, “Maguindanao gubernatorial aspirant Toto Mangudadatu’s wife was kidnapped together with two sisters of Mangudadatu and media men as well as legal counsels.”

He then wrote that the security forces charged with maintaining law and order – the Philippine National Police or the PNP and the military (in this case, the 6th Infantry Division) – actually allowed this to happen.  He told us why, and he told us who was behind the kidnapping.  He wrote: “The PNP were immobile because they were under the command/control of the incumbent Maguindanao government – Ampatuan family.  The 6th ID army have played dumb and blind despite heightened reports that there is a plot against Toto Mangudadatu.”

He emailed again eleven minutes later, this time asking for an impartial investigation because “the atrocities of Ampatuan family in Maguindanao is a secret public knowledge.  All are immobile for their fear of life.  These people are playing gods here.”

Nearly five hours later, he emailed a photograph – the first of the gruesome crime scene.  The photo seemed hastily taken because it was a badly framed picture of bodies in front of a white van – the kind of photo you could discreetly take from a cellphone camera held below the waist.  Two soldiers are at the periphery of the shot.  At that point, professional journalists had been prevented from visiting the site.  In fact, our reporter, Lerio Bompat, would be the first journalist to arrive at the scene and send a photo – more than twelve hours later.

On that first day, no one knew what would happen nor the extent of the crime.  Shortly before we received the photograph from our patroller, the military said it recovered 21 bodies from the site.  The military spokesman confirmed what our patroller wrote us hours earlier –  that members of the police as well as local government officials, including Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. were allegedly part of the group which carried out the massacre.

At that point, everyone in Maguindanao was shocked and frightened.  It would be days before others would voice what our patroller had written.  On the day of the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists, we have a picture of our future with citizen journalists – people who are no longer disinterested nor objective but who have everything at stake.

The reality is that if this patroller had been caught by Ampatuan’s men he would have been killed.  Yet, he took the risk and told a compelling story about the breakdown of law and order in a community ruled by fear.

A week after the massacre, our citizen journalists – our patrollers – remain unusually agitated and uncharacteristically angry.  The call for justice is palpable.  On phone, via text messages and on email, they sent dozens of tips.  Hundreds clamored for retribution, and demanded death for the killers "by firing squad," "by electric chair," "by hanging."  One patroller was unusually cruel: "we want to chop him up alive into 57 pieces to be given to the families of his 57 victims."

As we condemn and mourn the deaths of our colleagues, we know the Truth will emerge.  Now we journalists have help.


Filed under:  1
soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Fernando F.

    Let's hope Justice is done.
    This has to be done as soon as possible.
    Justice delay, is Justice deny.

    December 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  2. Election2010

    What an expicable crime committed by the same people that should be protecting there citizens. Election time again, there will be more deaths before election is over....and the sad thing about it, the same people who are running for high political positions are the ones whose committing these crimes. By the time they're in power, they will continue to do unjust things including killing to protect there own not the people, and the cyle of CORRUPT POLITICIANS begins again. NO WONDER WHY Philippines is such a corrupt country. Fifty Seven deaths and counting.....

    December 8, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  3. vicente cruz

    it seems we are(Phils) heading into the abyss esp gma is running for seat in congress.kawawa talaga!!!

    December 8, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  4. Barbara Among

    Sad, sad,sad, that is the much i can say now, am in shock at the level of ruthlessness and inhuman acts.
    Journalist, Uganda.

    December 8, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  5. joe

    some want to win at any price.. hats off to them...

    December 8, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  6. junespine

    philippine government should do its very best to punish these who have committed this brutal crime.

    December 8, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  7. eric b.

    philippines is now a country without future because of gloria arroyo's ambition,it ruins the country itself for such selfish,traditional politicians!!!!!!!!!!!!!!sad sad sad story but i am sure that there will be no punishment for the perpetrators because that is usual and normal to country with political cancer in their blood!(killers)!watch out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 8, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  8. earle,florida

    It' s been going on nearly ten years. The United States #4 on the list of Military (2006) Aid,...go figure? The government has evolved into a Marxist political system, by tribal "Fascist Terrorist"! The Phillipines is a geographically srategic elongated island next door to Guam ,..which happens to base our "Stealth Military Airforce Theatre" for the Indian,and S. Pacific Oceans. It basically is the concentric-hub for anti-american countries pow-wows. Why it is coming to the forefront now is a surprise indeed,...but once again America is spread so thin just about anyone can glide-in-below the radar,...? Thanks for the article Amanpour,...time for reiterate what you've already have said.

    December 8, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  9. Lala Fayre

    Philippines has been in spotlight for the past few months. The recent victory of Manny Pacquio as the world's pound per pound champion has brought back pride and hope for the Filipinos. Efren Penaflorida, the winner of CNN Heroes by educating impoverish children by using push cart schools is really heart-moving act. And then there's the series of storms, Ondoy and Pepeng that again tested the nation in which Filipinos came out stronger from these experience. Series of good publicities have placed Philippines in spotlight but certainly even the bad ones. This brutal and inhuman act is beyond comprehension and conscience. No human in their sane mind will do such act like this. Sad to say, this publicity has cancelled all the good ones. I declare (with conviction) that justice will prevail, that the victims will receive the justice and peace and the people who did this will pay what they have done. As for the journalists, I salute your bravery and commitment to your field.

    Lala Fayre ( Manila, Philippines)

    December 8, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  10. Theresa Marquez

    The future of journalism in the world's most dangerous place for journalists:

    Don't foresee the future.

    This happened because our president allowed it to happen. In exchange of her sure victory in the ARMM, she gave the Ampatuan's power to rule over that province. If she were in the right mind, she could have prevented it by not allowing private armies as stated in the constitution.

    But then again, why would she contradict that family? It was them who delivered a 12-0 win for her.

    Now she is running for congress in my hometown.. Have she done anything to improve that province? She couldnt develop or implement any laws that protect this country's citizens in her hometown, what more the whole country?

    Jueteng is still imminent in Pampanga, and the Pinedas are the ones who is supporting it..

    This massacre could have been prevented if the President and her administration werent busy enough corrupting the Philippines.

    To GMA: your husband is fat enough and rich enough, your son displays immorality as he married his cousin.. and you are a puppet of all evil.

    December 8, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  11. Rob Crotty

    This is one of the most succinct summaries of the current situation in the Philippines. It was personal, focused, and provided context, the latter of which is almost always lacking in today's news. Thanks.

    December 8, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  12. H. B.

    The national government should round up ALL the political leaders, ALL the police, and ALL military people serving in that region, and lock them up until after the election – along with known supporters. To secure law and order, police and military from other parts of the Philippines should be sent there. They should seek out the candidate who was trying to register and register him.

    They should take great care to insure safety and security at the polls.

    Let the people know they can vote their preference, rather than their fear, this time.

    Then let the chips fall as they may in the election.

    Then prosecute as vigorously as they can, those who did this.

    ANYTHING less would constitute malfeasance by the national government.

    December 8, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  13. George

    CNN should put this image everywhere, for everybody to see, for everybody to absorb into their consciouses. because the dark evil forces are spreading and viciously killing everybody that makes note of the evil plot itself. journalists are in the middle, in between those already being massacred, and those next: us, me, you. these type of killings have been going on forever, just imagine how many killings would have been unheard of, were it not for investigative reporters to report about, or citizens taking pictures.

    December 8, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  14. Ngipingrabbit

    I wish to enjoin all the world's journalists to expose what's happening in the Philippines. Now the stupid, evil, bitch has declared martial law, and all the more that the facts about the Ampatuan genocide will be made scarce. Filipinos are scattered to the four winds on account of the lack of opportunities back home. So it is just as well that the world, i.e. the journalists whose ranks were dissipated in one sweep, should keep the pressure on the evil queen of Manila.

    December 8, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  15. Eneimi

    I was almost in tears after seeing that picture. Utter depravity. Fellow human beings, flesh and blood, did this?
    I doubt that any true justice can be meted by the systems in our societies.
    Yet, let the citizenry and authorities do their bit; let God be the final arbiter.

    December 8, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  16. gold

    I pray peace to the souls of this horrible massacre. Its a thing of joy that the whole world can witness what was has been done to innocent people and I hope that justice would be brought down on whomever is responsible. My spirit is so heavy with sadness.

    December 8, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  17. Don Baker

    The recent events that so called "Shocked" the Philippines and the World.. is the Mindanao killings....with Family Warlord Armies dictating and trying to politically control their 'empires.'
    What should shock the entire world is the fact that these "Goon Squads" are typical & common through out the entire Philippines...and to just nail/focus on 'Moslems in Mindanao' is absurd! Warlord mentality even exists in Manila..and Luzon. Its their way of life and such.
    War Lord mentality will never be eliminated in Luzon, Cebu, or Mindanao...its the "Philippine MOperandi." Without a strong central Govmt...nada will happen ...and "guns & ammo" will continue to be sold to "Anyone!"


    December 8, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  18. Stephen Grumman

    More power to the citizen journalists of the Philippines – and indeed of the world. It is perhaps their risks and sacrifice that will break the grip of passiveness and feudalism that still controls the Philippines and helps keep the majority of its people in poverty and subjected to violence. While we mourn the death of these honest citizens, we pray that their lives are not given in vain.

    December 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  19. Petey Kay

    Thank you patroller for getting the truth out.

    December 9, 2009 at 12:06 am | Reply
  20. Peewee Borja

    Yes this is the future of journalism. But to avoid these incidents, we must cooperate to each other. Democracy is being blocked by somebody who doesn't want a good and peaceful land to live with. That you can sleep at night and do the simple kind of living. I am hoping this crisis will end and the victims shall given justice. And we that they are now in peace with the God.

    December 9, 2009 at 12:47 am | Reply
  21. bill

    who will step in to be the New war lord now after the Mindanao killings.... some other Clan want that power and Money!

    December 9, 2009 at 1:07 am | Reply
  22. Klaris Chua

    This kind of feudalism and warlordism has plagued the Philippines for ages, and it makes me sad that a record-breaking 57 lives had to be spared before anyone took notice. We need to stop tolerating the powers that be who seem to always get away by playing god.

    December 9, 2009 at 1:31 am | Reply
  23. GreyLion

    I think we should send more journalists to the Phillipines, I'm sure there are a lot of stories going unreported. We could start with ABC, NBC, CBS and MSNBC.

    December 9, 2009 at 3:02 am | Reply
  24. mong

    the place tend to be dangerous because of the governments lack of respect for the freedom of journalism or the people for that matter.

    the government, tends to look at the other direction if such atrocities occur, especially if the culprits are from their own ranks.

    there is no democracy here in the Philippines.

    if they can kill journalist, what more are the local citizens.

    December 9, 2009 at 9:00 am | Reply
  25. michael

    im addressing all the journalist, governments, international community to look into this problem seriously.. this is not only about profession or whatsoever, this is a clear human right violation that should be protected not only by the government only but everyone.. let justice be given to the victims of this carnage.. TO THE CNN, THESE ARE YOUR COMRADES, do something about it.. keep pressuring the Government of the Philippines to resolve this inhumane acts.. to the families of the victims, my prayer is with you.

    December 9, 2009 at 9:50 am | Reply
  26. Aurora N

    This is the legacy our dearest president – Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – has left. Though this extremely evil act can never be considered a blessing in disguise, it highlighted our dear president's hidden talents.

    Now she has the audacity of running for Congresswoman!!! What a shame!!!

    SHe is so far the worst president the country has ever had!!!

    December 9, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  27. Aurora N

    Go on Ate Glo....don't ever let go of the rope...never.....until you bleed every one of us dry....

    SHe is so far the most "talented" president the country has ever had!!! I bet your father is turning over in his grave right now.

    Shame on you!

    December 9, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  28. johnlee

    It is horrible!! 57 people massacred and the government is still slowly taking up the issue. Justice delayed is justice denied...Crime is a crime no matter how big a clan you come from. Crime is a crime, no matter the geography of the happenstance, weather it is in Afgahnistan or Iraq or say here it is Philippines..the family of those deceased must be given justice....

    Why is the world still so quite about it?

    December 9, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  29. Dixie Meyers

    May the Journalist's Souls, and All the Faithful Departed, Through the Mercy of God, Rest In Peace.

    Lord, have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy, on their Murderer's Souls. Grant, Dear Dear God, THEIR ASSASSIN'S TRUE CONTRITION FOR THESE CRIMES, AND FIRM PURPOSE OF AMENDMENT OF THEIR LIVES, BEFITTING REPENTENCE.





    December 9, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  30. kay atalig

    i sincerely hope they apply true justice and stand up to violence.
    My sympathy to the families.

    December 10, 2009 at 12:16 am | Reply
  31. Guada Torrevillas

    My heartfelt condolence to the family of the Mindanao massacre who are grieving for their loss.
    This news shocked the entire world . I hope justice will soon prevail.

    December 10, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  32. Rodrigo Lopes

    After I started to access the CNN site, in particular the reports made by Christiane Amanpor, I came to admire and respect more the work of journalists.

    I had no idea of how journalism can be a way to improve the world. I've never seen reports made this way. The truth, the facts and the news.

    Rodrigo Lopes, from Brazil.

    December 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  33. antonine marie

    the future of journalism is in the hands of the journalists the case of the maguindanao massacre the poor victims seemed to me as a collateral days passed the chance of getting justice is slipping away. to the writer of this blog you can do much as a journalist of ABS-CBN,the Philippines' top broadcasting network.u must push more coverage for the investigation of the Ampatuan clan instead of keeping on the headlines politicians debating the legality of the martial law.Gloria Arroyo has majority of the congress and she is well connected in the Supreme Court,it's useless for the opposition to deliver rhetoric on the podium. instead focus story on what is the effect of martial law on the ongoing(but obviously on a snail pace) investigation now that it is implemented in the region. i understand the accused have a private army that includes government soldiers,would this mean that they get extra protection from our government? and what can be done so effect of martial law will not expand/extend? like i said the future of journalism is in your hands.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:23 am | Reply
  34. Ritche Palmares from mindanao Phil.

    Sad to see and hear that news but for the people in that area its just an ordinary days to us. After what the phillippine Govt. is doing now for us removing of one that was there with gun is just replaced with another.

    condolence to the victims family.

    Now it is open to the world what really happening there,
    but it cost 57 lives.

    December 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  35. elms

    What do you expect from corrupt people and failed society run by
    religious fanatics?

    December 15, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  36. elms

    There is no Justice in the Philippines per se' it's all nothing but
    Kabuki Dance

    December 15, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  37. Jasper Magbanua

    this is all about money, connections & polical power.

    part of this is graft & corruption in my beloved country ,
    with warloads, landlords ,druglords & traditional politics.

    money is very much evil in here, it can buy everything,
    even country elections & anywhere else countrywide.

    if your bright enough you will go out the country to survive,
    as an overseas filipino worker.

    gov't. funds &
    middle east aids is definitely involve in here guys.

    wake up , let international police & justice intervene,
    somebody must be hanged, brought to justice

    this will not happen again if military and police do thier
    respective duties.

    good luck to us , may god heal our land

    December 21, 2009 at 1:05 am | Reply
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