Private militias, Philippines

More than 50 people, including 32 journalists, were killed by militiamen working for the Ampatuan family on 23 November 2009 in Maguindanao province, on the southern island of Mindanao. It was the biggest massacre in the history of journalism and shocked public opinion, but it changed little in the Philippines. Militiamen and hit-men can take out journalists at any time with impunity. Militiamen have been implicated in most of the hundred or so murders of journalists since democracy was restored in 1986. Thugs employed by corrupt politicians or contract killers hired for a few thousand dollars, they usually target a local radio presenter who upset the people they are working for. The same modus operandi is nearly always used: the journalist is gunned down by two masked men on a motorcycle, often in broad daylight and with people looking on.

Aside from a few isolated attempts to render justice, for example, in the fatal shooting of Radio Mindanao Network commentator Gerardo Ortega on 24 January 2011, the culture of impunity prevails. A Manila court acquitted radio host Roger Mariano's presumed killers in August 2010. The way the Maguindanao massacre trial is proceeding suggests that no improvement is in sight, despite the justice minister's recent announcement of a new body to bolster efforts to combat violence against the media. The formation of ad hoc special units has so far has little impact on violence by private militias, who have turned the Philippines, and especially the island of Mindanao, into one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.


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