On November 23, 2009, 58 people were murdered by a local warlord from Maguindanao in the worst case of election violence in Philippine history. Police have charged members of members of the powerful and wealthy Ampatuan clan for the murder of the 58, who were in a convoy to the local election office to file the candidacy papers of a challenger to the incumbent political family.
Among the victims were 32 journalists, mostly from Central Mindanao. The incident marks the largest number of journalists killed in a single incident in the world, making the Philippines the most dangerous place for journalists in 2009. A year later, hope still flickers for the families of the victims, but the path to justice has been unbearably slow.
RANGER STATION, TUBBATAHA REEFS – At around noon each day, eight strapping young men wait for Valerie to make her appearance. Her daily entrance, coming almost like clockwork, is what makes their day.
“That’s Valerie, sir,” Navy PO2 Jonathan Lobo says proudly as a dark shadow swims underneath the posts that hold up this ranger station. Even at some distance, her large disk-like shape, with the four flippers where arms and legs should be, is unmistakable.
Valerie is certainly no mermaid, but she is the only four-limbed female (and even the gender is an assumption, but it seemed impolite to point that out) within miles around that the men ever get to interact with.
She is, in fact, a Hawksbill sea turtle – hardly the stuff of any man’s fantasy, but then here everything else has fins, feathers, or gills.
MOUNT KITANGLAD, BUKIDNON – A peso coin drenched in chicken blood is the welcome offered to visitors to this mountain, which soars 2,899 meters over the city of Malaybalay, and the towns of Lantapan, Libona, Impasug-ong, and Sumilao.
“This will serve as your identification,” says Bae Inatlawan as she hands over the bloody coin, “so that the spirits will allow you to enter.”
The PCIJ talked to regular people on the street and asked them about their knowledge about the government’s budget processes.
IN A FIELD of restored and restricted democracies, and repressive regimes, the Philippines’ so-so score in the 2010 Open Budget Survey is cause enough to celebrate. One of Southeast Asia’s economic laggards, the Philippines did one better: it tops 10 other countries in the region in terms of budget transparency.
This is even as the Philippines scored a measly 55 out of a possible 100.
IT ALL started late night of April 9, 2008 when Christian M. Kalaw was arrested by the police for alleged illegal parking and driving without license in Manila.
Two years and four months later, on August 23, 2010 one of those Christian accused of robbery, extortion, grave threats, and physical injuries commandeered a tourist bus and proceeded to hold its occupants hostage.
The hostage-taker would have an 11-hour standoff with the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team of the Manila Police District (MPD). When it ended, nine people lay dead inside the Hong-Thai tourist bus, which was parked at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila: the hostage taker himself, Senior Inspector (Captain) Rolando Mendoza, and eight Hong Kong nationals.
When the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) on the August 23 Quirino Grandstand hostage incident finally uses the word “extort,” it almost seems like an afterthought. The word is buried in the second to the last paragraph of the last page of the report it submitted a month ago to President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.
“This is our society,” the report concludes. “It drives otherwise ordinary and simple men to turn into murdering monsters at a snap. Because they feel oppressed and need justice but are asked for money. They ask for redemption but are faced with extortion. Officials without shame, policemen without competence, politicians without care, reporters without conscience, a nation without luck. Mendoza was only the instrument in the murder of eight innocent human beings.”
ON THE day he received the 82-page report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) about the Rizal Park Hostage-taking Incident – and without even a full reading of its contents – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III had blurted out: “Napatapang ‘ata masyado ah. Bakit kasama pa sila Puno, Lim, at Verzosa?” [It’s too strongly worded. Why are we implicating Puno, Lim and Verzosa?]
This is according to some of those present at the IIRC’s meeting with Aquino last Sept. 17. The president was, of course, referring to Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Interior and Local Government Secretary Rico E. Puno, and then Philippine National Police Director General Jesus A. Verzosa, who are among his closest personal and political allies.