*This article first appeared in the June 04 issue of the Northern Dispatch, a  weekly newspaper mainly circulated in Baguio City but also reaches other provinces in the Cordillera. Here is the link to its website.

**National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Last weekend, I was able to participate as a documentor in the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines’ Saranggola, an annual event that aims to gather the families of slain journalists all over the country. I have come to know that Saranggola has started on 2006 and has become a helpful venue for the families of killed journalists to cope with the same experience that binds them together while mingling and sharing their grief and cries for justice with the others.

Around 100 individuals – from mothers and fathers to their young and teenaged children – were present at the Maryknoll Sanctuary, the venue of the event, where they partook in team-building activities and sharing of personal experiences.

I had the chance to listen in the sharing activity among the children who are at least college levels and this allowed me to see how these young people negotiate the painful experience of losing a loved one. As they answer random but obviously purposeful questions, from the things that they do when they are sad, their relationship status to their happiest memory from the past year, I caught a glimpse of what are these people’s attitude in life, what are their fears and insecurities and what fuels them to keep on going despite them.

When asked when he is happy, one participant said, “Happiness is when I socialize with other people, when I’m with my family.” Another, asked about the things he does when he is sad said that he just thinks of the Lord and it is whenever he thanks the Lord that he feels its presence. Listening to the answers, and from my other observations, I have figured out that one thing which all of these young people implicitly hanker for – companionship. For at times as rough and trying as the ones they are all undergoing, it evidently pays to have someone who will share your grief and anxieties and whose mere presence will assure you that you are not the only one going through the tribulation.

During break time, I got to talk to Kelvin, one of the participants from the college students group. Almost as a matter of fact, he told me his particular experience as a son of a slain journalist. Without much emotion, as perhaps he was trying to show not too much of them, he said that he saw first-hand how both of his parents were gunned by the perpetrator. Right then, I did not only feel for him but also admired him and the mettle he was displaying, however strong are the elements that try to shake and discourage him. At such a young age, he had to deal with events like this – events that are so saddening it asks us, more than anything else, to continue with firmness and motivation and seek to change the way of things that ultimately causes these.

Danger, impunity and lack of justice looking straight in the eye

In her welcoming remarks, Rowena Paraan, national secretary of NUJP made a good point. The Saranggola event makes us see how concrete are the words “killing journalists,” “human rights violations” and “culture of impunity” we usually protest about on the streets or elsewhere. In events like this, we can see the material aftermath of the disastrous state most people hardly care about or just choose to ignore. In our country that has become notorious for being a hazardous place for journalists, and where those in power can kill them without fear of punishment, seeing the families of these journalists only remind us the bleakness of the situation. Ultimately, this can only serve as an eye-opener or further inspiration to keep on struggling against the general situation where these cases originate.

The need for organized action

In the end, all of the groups were shown the importance of an organized action that shall address their issues and raise their shared demands. Foremost of which is their call for justice for their slain loved ones and the governments support for the livelihood of the families. However, the participants realized that asking and demanding from the government can only do so much. For all they know, the state is one of the suspects being considered to be behind the killings. For these killings are not isolated cases; they can be seen as a systematic act done against those who works to expose the truth and write about the problem plaguing the society. With that, the participants all understood the important idea: they have to fight for what they demand, they have to earn the justice they are clamoring for, and they have to do that together. For in the face of those who are being fed by the existing system, the most feasible way to triumph is through collective action.

Here are some of the pictures taken during the event. Credits to Jesa for all these.

Manang Mae welcoming the participants in the annual event.
The groups during the workshop and sharing activity.
The group of mothers was one of the more enthusiastic. Here, they were busy with the tower-building activity.