A year ago today, 58 people were massacred in Maguindanao, Philippines. The murder was heartlessly committed by a political family- the Ampatuan Family- closely allied with then Unelected President Gloria Arroyo. The very perverse crime was committed under the cover of impunity that the Ampatuans enjoyed as factotums of the Arroyo regime.

The following is the Statement I delivered today on behalf of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers during the Baguio City commemoration of the massacre.

by Cheryl L. Daytec

When Gloria Arroyo rose to power in 2001, she assumed the throne with the burning desire to sit there forever. But she knew that she would be stopped by the guardians of democracy. She would be stopped by the journalists whose pen was always thought to be mightier than the sword- these watchdogs of society who can bring a totalitarian regime down to its knees, who could set a nation free from the yoke of oppression with just one weapon: the truth. She knew she would be stopped by the lawyers who have sworn to uphold the rule of law that frowns upon tyranny. She knew she would be stopped by the defenders of justice and human rights, the inherent rights of human beings and peoples against the arbitrary and capricious exercise of state power.

So Arroyo had to stop them first before they would stop her. She targeted them: the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights defenders. She put them on military surveillance. They were threatened. Their offices were ransacked and raided. They were tagged as communists. They were arrested without warrant. Their names were put on the military Order of Battle. And she went on killing and kidnapping sprees assisted by her sycophants among the state security forces who thought that their allegiance was to her greed for power and not to the Filipino people. One by one, the lawyers, the journalists, the human rights defenders, were disappearing. One by one, they were dying in the most inhumane and horrendous of circumstances. Nobody was paying for the senseless shedding of their blood, for the enforced disappearances. Cases against perpetrators were being dismissed by a corrupt justice system.

Witnesses were being harassed. In an outright mockery of democracy, the Butcher General Jovito Palparan, perhaps the most blood-thirsty and ruthless general to walk the face of the earth, was extolled by the State as its guardian. The atmosphere of impunity was not only alarming; it was shocking. It was shocking the Filipino people. It was shocking the world.

In 2005, this country was named the most deadly place for journalists by Reporter Without Borders. The Committee to protect Journalists was kinder: it named the Philippines the second most dangerous place after Iraq which was mired in a war that time. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the International Association of Peoples Lawyers denounced the Philippines for the extrajudicial killings of lawyers and judges calling it one of the most dangerous places for the legal profession.

We knew then that democracy in this country was an illusion. The message of the killings was clear: In the words of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists: "Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. One reporter is killed, and hundreds are sent a message that certain topics are too dangerous to be discussed." It was a time of living most dangerously. But we did not stop. We knew then that our pens and the truth they wrote, our microphones and the truth they spoke, our courage and the justice and human rights advocacies it championed, our law books and the rule of law they enshrined – these were needed more than ever. As guardians of democracy we rose above our personal considerations, our fears for our own security safety. We founded the National Union of Lawyers in 2007. We founded the National Union of Journalists. The impunity had to be stopped. But it did not.

Last year, 58 people were massacred, 32 of them journalists. Two of them were co-founders of NUPL: Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo who used their profession fighting for the oppressed, the marginalized, the disadvantaged.

To date, no one has been made accountable for the massacre. No one has been made accountable for the disappearances and the killings of other lawyers, journalists and activists. According to the human rights group Karapatan, from the time Arroyo came into power in 2001 to the year 2009, 1118 were extrajudicial murdered, 204 were disappeared, 1,026 were tortured and 1,932 were illegally arrested. But as Prof Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions said: "(N)umbers are not what count. The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country.

The killings have not stopped. Palparan is still calling the shots. And nobody has yet to be punished by our justice system for the crimes committed on the guardians of democracy. We honor the memory of the 58 who perished in the massacre last year by demanding that the Aquino government speed up the investigation and indict those who are responsible especially the Ampatuans who used their privileged position in the Arroyo administration to commit one of the most perverse crimes in Philippine history. We urge the Aquino government to block the dilatory tactics of the Ampatuans. A government on the straight path understands that justice delayed is justice denied and will not sleep until justice is served. We urge the government to investigate the other murders and disappearances and to release all political prisoners who were persecuted simply on account of their support for powerful expressions of dissent to tyranny. We urge the government to dismantle all private armies and paramilitary groups that have been instruments to commit political killings with impunity. The non-action of this present dispensation will make it complicit in the crimes, in the travesty of justice, rule of law and truth, and in the attack on democracy.

Someone said that “whoever thinks that the pen is mightier than the sword has never encountered automatic weapons." The enemies of truth, rule of law and justice may believe this. They do not realize that the blood of martyrs nourishes the heroism of resistance. For today, we honor the 58 who perished in last year’s massacre by renewing our commitment to democracy, truth, rule of law and justice. We honor our fallen comrades,Connie and Cynthia. We will continue the struggle. They did not die in vain.

On behalf of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, I thank you./