Log 1, Live from Maguindanao v.2
BULUAN, MAGUINDANAO–Going back seemed too abrupt. Our team of six was up all night to prep for a 7 a.m. flight.
We only got the assignment just days before. Our daily duties could only allow us so much time to pack, rest, and prepare.
As my teammates loaded our equipment to cargo, I struggled to load my hard drive with converted file video clips that would come in handy for this next big coverage.
I dozed the entire two-hour flight, and woke up to say hello again to Mindanao.
Most of us return to a challenge faced time and again. My first and previous stint here–during the 2010 elections–was my breaking in to the fly away and hostile area coverage.
Others in my team have seen longer and more difficult stories here. For one, it’s his first visit to Mindanao.
The election posters are gone, and so are visual references to the province’s former powers that be–changes since we camped out the hot May afternoons at the army-stationed capitol in Shariff Aguak.
Our day coverages have moved us to Buluan, more than an hour’s trip away, the road piercing through another province.
Here the former local executive and now governor Esmael Mangudadatu assumes his duties at a satellite office perched atop water.
The base hasn’t left Mangudadatu’s hometown ever since he won. After all, the real capitol is neighbor to the mansions of his political rivals, the Ampatuans. The travel to and fro can also be a daily security nightmare.
The only constant has been our hotel base in Koronadal, South Cotabato. Even then we had to lodge elsewhere for a day since it was fully booked.
More so, justice remains unserved for the families of the 58 killed in the massacre at Ampatuan town.
Mangudadatu and his brothers have their own painful return to make: back to the secluded hilltop where they discovered the governor’s wife and other relatives murdered and desecrated.
A few days before the anniversary, the hill has been less desolate. With ever-present security, workers had toiled to put up a shed and a marker where the lifeless bodies were thrown.
Greenery has since grown over the previously dug-up earth. It still hasn’t erased the dread the Mangudadatus feel, much more as they again stood overlooking the grassland.
From there, Jorge Cariño and his team drove back to our Buluan set up to produce his first report for TV Patrol on the anniversary.
His is a return to what could have been. His crew and those of two other ABS-CBN reporters were among the journalists invited to join the fated convoy. Two declined, and one was held off on the road.
Sir Jorge had me juxtapose their shots of the massacre site in split screens with the file video I brought.
Another little change–I’ve learned more about the digital editing system we first used here last May.
A more uncertain return welcomes the families of the 32 media practitioners killed. At least the Mangudadatus now hold more power.
Writers, photographers, newspaper heads, and a broadcast crew, the dead show how community journalism currently fares–neglected, underpaid, and subject to the whims of authorities.
“Nearly an entire generation” of the area’s journalists claimed, said the media fact-finding team that trailed the investigation last year.
The void is worse for Reynafe Castillo, daughter of slain Tacurong City lensman Reynaldo Momay.
She has no body to mourn or to file a charge over. Yet she attends the hearings in Manila, fighting to make her voice heard and keep her father’s memory alive.
She cried her heart out at a media forum in my UP college the week before. Then she messaged Sir Jorge in Facebook before he left for Mindanao.
“I have to do it,” Reynafe told him. “Because if I don’t, I’m sure my father will be forgotten.”
Somehow, like the many tragedies that have visited the Philippines, the one dubbed the “Maguindanao massacre” has again forced us to confront our country’s problems.
The unsolved circumstances a year after justifies the return we all need to take.