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Davao City, Philippines

Tough row to hoe

November 22, 2019 - Friday 4:11 AM by Jimmy Laking

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When news of the Maguindanao massacre gripped the headlines in 2009, my first impulse was to go over the list of victims.

As it turned out, the name of Alejandro “Bong” Reblando trailed the list. He was what one would call a contemporary, alongside the durable Joseph Jubelag and Manuel Baliao who are still around in General Santos City.

Reblando covered the SOCCSKARGEN  area or generally much of Region 12 for the Manila Bulletin. He was 53 year old at that time and the most senior of the 34 journalists who were herded like animals, slaughtered like pigs, and then buried in that mass grave in Ampatuan town.

The massacre constituted the single most deadly attack ever perpetrated against media practitioners.

How could this happen? What sort of men would commit this wanton killing of journalists?

Any chance the perpetrators will be made to pay for their dastardly deeds?

These were the questions I was asked by members of the Baguio City media community where and whenever the event was discussed and remembered. I had no ready answers then but opined that the occasional killings that time and again placed the Northern Luzon province of Abra into the limelight would pale in comparison to what occurred in Ampatuan town.

In Abra, it was selective killing with gunmen doing the task, and gunmen returning the favor.

In Maguindanao, the killings were wholesale. Nothing is left to chance.

All eyes were on then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and how she would react.

To her credit, GMA responded by declaring the province of Maguindanao under a state of Martial Law and ordered an investigation that led to the arrest of the primary suspects and the filing of charges against more than 200 individuals linked to the killings.

Whoever masterminded the killings had no qualms about wasting lives. Nothing is left to chance.  

How could it happen? Then as now, I think it has to do with the fact that for all the strides that Davao City and other cities have accomplished, we still live in an interestingly tough time.

It manifested itself in 2015 in Mamasapano, broke into the open in Marawi City in 2017 and it is still playing itself out in the Sulu archipelago.

Like the 1800s of the American West, Mindanao circa 2009 onwards has not been exactly tamed. The Bangsa Moro Organic Law may have bought peace for now but it does not sit well for a segment of the Muslim population that would not settle for less than federalism or outright secession. It is a tough row to hoe.

As in the American West, tough times need tough men. Methinks this interplay has not played itself out to everybody’s satisfaction, not anyway as to suggest a common vision and a happy ending. It is its aftershocks that jolts us time and again, reminding us that after all has been said and done, we still have what amounts to an unfinished business.