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Peacebuilders call for hope after Maguindanao massacre


Two of the reported 57 bodies found at the massacre site.

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The perpetrators of the massacre reportedly crushed vehicles with people still inside them using large earth moving equipment. This media vehicle and the bodies inside were exhumed by police investigators. “This massacre must have been well-planned. Heavy equipment like this did not just happen to be in this site by coincidence,” writes Daniel Pantoja, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker in Mindanao, Philippines.

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November 27, 2009
-Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Daniel Pantoja, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker to the Philippines and a leader of Peacebuilders Community in Mindanao, reports that on Monday, Nov. 23 2009, at least 57 people were killed in Maguindanao Province while either attempting to register a candidate for an upcoming 2010 election, or covering the event for media purposes.

According to the Paris-based agency Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) 29 journalists were counted among the dead as of Nov. 26 – the heaviest loss ever of media personnel in a single incident.

Jun Jun Legarta, a field reporter for Mindanao Bulletin, and Juvy Unto, a field reporter based in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, both cousins of Peacebuilders staff member, Jester Valdez, were killed in the incident.

Pantoja criticized local reporting on the tragedy, which connected it visually with unrelated photos of tanks, further exacerbating tension in the area.

Pantoja and Peacebuilders Community coworkers have been engaged in peace education, advocacy and conflict transformation in the Mindanao region since 2006. In a message to supporters, he wrote; “We have seen over the years how easy it is for a localized incident to spark wider violence and how negative perceptions of conflict often reduce the capacity to address these flare-ups in creative non-violent ways… This [connection to the military] only cements that image of violence in the national consciousness and the idea that military action is the appropriate or only response.”

Through Peacebuilders, Pantoja called upon the offending media to “balance their reporting with the pictures and stories of the many peace workers, journalists and advocates struggling to birth a better reality in Mindanao.”

Among other things, he cited concern over increased military and police presence in an already highly militarized and volatile area, the risk for spill over of communal violence into surrounding communities and further displacement of civilians.

To counter these concerns, Peacebuilders Community proposed a 30 day cooling-off period to permit impartial investigation into the incident, examination of the broader scope of national justice practices, the development of a Reconciling and Truth-telling Commission, and coordination between national agencies for violence prevention.

Pantoja invited prayer “that out of this tragedy, God will create an opportunity to transform the collective national consciousness from its acceptance of violence to the pursuit of non-violent peace building.”