10 years ago to this day, the Ampatuan massacre took place in the Philippines to become the single deadliest attack against journalists. Ranga Kalansooriya explains how the killings changed the global protocols for safety of journalists.

The massacre that changed the protocols for the safety of journalists

10 years ago to this day, the Ampatuan massacre took place in the Philippines to become the single deadliest attack against journalists.

By Ranga Kalansooriya: Regional Advisor in Asia at IMS

It was November 23rd 2009, during the election time in the Philipines, when this massive massacre took place. On the island of Mindanao in an area called Maguindanao 59 people were killed including 32 journalists.

This massacre changed the entire landscape of safety for journalists. All the existing protocols that had been built in regards to safety for journalists were challenged because the actions of the killers were so strange and unexpected.

Working for IMS I took part in the first fact finding mission after the massacre. I went to Manila where we got a briefing and then we flew to Mindanao. Here we met the families for the first time. I remember the first meeting we had with the families along with the National Union of Journalist in the Philipines (NUJP) who organised the mission. We had a full day with the families to try and figure out what had happened. It was an extremely emotional and highly tensed situation. During the meetings with the families I remember highly emotional incidents, where the chairman of the union broke down in between meetings, and at least three or four times we had to adjourn the meetings because it was so emotional.

This was out of the usual safety protocols, so it opened up new questions for us: What should we do if we are in a situation of danger of that sort? Because the perpetrators were uniformed police who are supposed to protect journalists. But instead the local police were assigned by local politicians to carry out the killings. You could see the massacre had been planned and organised, because the graveyards had been dugged three days before the killings.

Journalists were pre warned, but they still took part in the convoy. In fact the strategic decision to include journalists and women in the convoy was to avoid that such as massacre would take place, because they thought that the perpertrators would not touch journalists and women. But the killings still took place, and both women and journalists were massacred.

With the support of the European Union IMS has now developed a plan of action for journalists in the Philipines which will be the first of its nature in the world. This will be a new chapter for the safety of journalists because we’re brining all stakeholders into the same platform: State, non-state, human rights commission, civil society organisations, even the labor department of the Philippine government. Hopefully by bringing together all stakeholders to agree on a plan we will take an important step to ensure the safety of journalists in the future.