Somewhere between the long road to Shariff Aguak and the heart of darkness, at least 57 people breathed their last. They were brutally murdered, in broad day light, in an island they call home.
Theirs is a story so brutal, so senseless and so evil.
There's nothing like it I've seen in my years as a journalist. The November 23 carnage in Maguindanao has come to define this period in Philippine journalism. Our generation. My generation.
I can't fathom what happened. Yes, it was the first time I ever encountered such evil.
I weep for all the victims, the men, women and children left behind. I weep for a nation who continues to have a government that is as evil as the atrocities that it allows.
I weep for the women, the mothers and the female lawyers killed in the massacre. I weep for the women including the pregnant ones, who were, witnesses say, were raped before they were killed.
But most of all, I weep for the death of at least 27 journalists. They set out that early morning of November 23 thinking they would, like any other day, come home to their loved ones after a day's work. They just wanted to get the story. They, like all of us in this profession we dearly love, just wanted to tell the truth. They just wanted to be there. They just wanted to tell the world what is happening in a place they call the Promised Land.
They weren't able to tell their story. But the world knows about it now.
It is a story of courage and hope.
Let us not forget their names.
Benjie Adolfo, Gold Star Daily.
Henry Araneta, Radio dzRH.
Mark Gilbert “Mac-Mac” Arriola, UNTV.
Rubello Bataluna, Gold Star Daily.
Arturo Betia, Periodico Ini.
Romeo Jimmy Cabillo, Midland Review.
Marites Cablitas, News Focus.
Hannibal Cachuela, Punto News.
John Caniban, Periodico Ini.
Lea Dalmacio, Socsargen News.
Noel Decina, Periodico Ini.
Gina Dela Cruz, Saksi News, General Santos City.
Eugene Dohillo, UNTV.
Jhoy Duhay, Gold Star Daily.
Santos Gatchalian, dxGO.
Bienvenido Legarte Jr., Prontiera News.
Lindo Lupogan, Mindanao Daily Gazette.
Ernesto “Bart” Maravilla, Bombo Radyo.
Rey Merisco, Periodico Ini, Koronadal City.
Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, Midland Review.
Marife “Neneng” Montaño, Saksi News.
Rosell Morales, News Focus.
Victor Nuñez, UNTV.
Ronnie Perante, Gold Star Daily.
Joel Parcon, Prontiera News.
Fernando “Rani” Razon, Periodico Ini.
Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, Manila Bulletin.
Napoleon Salaysay, Mindanao Gazette.
Ian Subang, Socsargen Today.
Andres “Andy” Teodoro, Central Mindanao Inquirer.
There is no writing 30 for these people. Their story will continue. Each and every journalist in the Philippines today is outraged. I salute all of my colleagues in this beloved profession who in spite of their grief, continue to endure and tell the story of the evil that happened in the early morning of November 23 so that the perpetrators be brought to justice.
As Inquirer columnist Patricia Evangelista said, there is no journalist today who will not stand up for those who were lost.
(Thank you to Romel Bagares of CenterLaw for the list)