Time to account for the money

November 22, 2018

AS you are reading this, dear readers, the entire media community here and beyond our shores would be commemorating the 9th year of the truly horrific, ‘Ampatuan Massacre,’ where of the 58 victims, 32 were members of the press.

It was, then and now, still the “deadliest single day attack” against journalists anywhere and rightfully deserves the global condemnation that followed it.

Looking back, the NPC is glad that its effort in calling justice for all the victims since then is finally bearing fruit under the Duterte administration -- regardless of what other media groups are claiming that today, under the present dispensation, our press freedom is under “threat” compared to its predecessors.

Anyway, looking back, it was the NPC that held the first protest action composed mostly of members of the press, on the night of November 24, 2009, when most of the details of the immensity of that monstrosity were finally known.

With yours truly holding the bullhorn (that was hastily bought by the NPC for the purpose) to act as the “agitator,” we held a “torch parade” from the Kamuning Police Station along EDSA (where the QCPD Press Corps was based) to Camp Crame, a distance of several kilometers, together with NPC lifetime member, Satur Ocampo and then Bayan Muna official (and former CEGP chair), Teddy Casiño.

Unknown to many, it was that protest march by the NPC that helped the PNP convince then Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to relent and approve the arrest of the Ampatuan clan who were responsible for the massacre, as “recommended” to her by then Chief PNP Jesus Verzosa.

(Verzosa hurriedly went to the Palace that night to confer with Mrs. Arroyo about the development even as we were talking with PNP officials, headed by then PNP spokesman, Col. Leonardo ‘Dindo’ Espina, who invited us inside Camp Crame for a “dialogue”).

Days after that, on November 28, a Saturday, then NPC president, Benny Antiporda, asked me to accompany him to a meeting with an “emissary” of the Ampatuans, a lawyer assigned at the Bureau of Immigration, at a restaurant in Quezon City “for a talk.”

I have written it before but just to refresh everybody’s memory, we were invited for a talk and in the course of the discussion, was offered an outright bribe of P20 million, cash (the money was inside a black traveling bag), in exchange for the NPC “toning down” its rhetoric against the Ampatuans.

Benny, who was doing most of the talking flatly refused, telling the lawyer, “Atorni, kahit si Satanas mahihiya sa ginawa ng mga amo mo!”

But we parted in good terms, somehow, with Benny telling the lawyer that the Ampatuans could somehow “atone” for what they did by giving the money to the families of the victim.

And the NPC, since then, would spend its own fund -- not solicited money from abroad -- every November 23 to cover the expenses of all its initiated protest activities in remembrance of the massacre.

In the week following this meeting, the NPC would manage to raise about P300,000 to help the victims’ families with then NPC auditor, Lakay Gonzalo and Joe Torres, who hails from Mindanao, tasked to personally give this financial assistance to them.

The task proved arduous. In the end however, they reported that most -- not all -- of the target beneficiaries received the NPC assistance in view of the difficulties involved, mainly the distance they have to cover and in locating the houses of the victims.

And committed to help the victims in any way the NPC can, the NPC decided to “adopt” Adrian Teodoro, the son of newsman Andres Teodoro, who was among those killed by supporting his education, a “self-imposed” responsibility that the Club has been fulfilling up to now -- despite Teodoro not being a member of the NPC.

(Adrian was a sixth grader when his father was killed and is now a first-year engineering student at the University of Mindanao).

Now this brings me to the question, dear readers, as to where did those hundreds, if not millions, in “Euros” and “Dollars” solicited by other media organizations went?

Given the difficulty experienced by Lakay and Joe during their stay in Mindanao searching for the victims, did the other media groups somehow managed to avoid this and actually turned over the entire donation to them together with the other “donations” that followed?

Or was the situation the same as what happened when Yolanda struck in 2013 where millions in donated money, especially those from abroad, ended up in the pockets of the corrupt and the unscrupulous?

Now, we are no moral crusaders here, dear readers, but what the NPC has never done is to profit from the tragedy suffered by other people, one way or another.

If we raised P300,000 to support any good cause, rest assured the entire money would be spent for that good cause.

In short, when the NPC tasked Lakay and Joe to go to Maguindanao in 2009, with the P300,000 assistance, they were given separate traveling and living expenses.

Kasi nga, hindi dapat “kinakaltasan” ang ayuda dahil isa na itong “pagsasamantala!”

‘Yung iba kasi, sa naipong donasyon “binabawas” ang kanilang mga gastusin para madala ang nasabing tulong sa mga biktima, tsk, tsk,tsk!

Now, pray, dear readers, as this malpractice of “shaving” the money meant for victims has been going on for the longest time already especially in the media sector, is this not tantamount to theft and lack of moral scruples?

As part of the process of giving justice to the Ampatuan Massacre victims, I think it is about time that an accounting of all the donated money collected by all media groups to help the families of the victims should be conducted.

The NPC is ready, any time. Are the other media groups also ready and willing too?