Out of Sight.


I talked at the time about the massacre that claimed dozens of lives in the southern Philippines in November. One of the inevitable consequences of the 24-hour news cycle is that once the horrific pictures have been screened and the death toll finalized, reporters inevitably move on to the next news flashpoint.

But what about the longer-term repercussions of these events? I asked Luke Hunt, one of our Southeast Asia correspondents who is putting together a piece for us on the aftermath of the massacre, for his take on exactly this issue. He told me:

‘By any measurement the War Lords of Mindanao outdid themselves on November 23. The sheer callousness of the massacre that left 57 people dead and half-buried in mass graves managed to get their bloody local differences back into the foreign pages of the world’s newspapers.

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‘For years, foreign editors have preferred to ignore the civil conflict that has dominated the Southern Philippines since the 1970s. The fact is life on the west coast of Mindanao is just as dangerous as the southern provinces of Afghanistan or the hinterland of Iraq.

‘But a combination of fatigue and a lack of relevance to the outside world firmly pushed the insurgencies and the tragedies of life among the militias towards the bottom of the news agenda.

‘There were exceptions. Initially, when local bandits masquerading as freedom fighters crossed the sea border into Malaysia, began kidnapping Western tourists and ransoming them off.

‘That group was the Abu Sayyaf who, along with the regional terrorists outfit Jemaah Islamiyah, gained in notoriety once their ties to Islamic independence groups in Mindanao were laid bare in the aftermath of the 2001 strikes against New York and Washington.

‘The United States declared the Philippines the second front and poured millions of dollars into the country’s south.

‘However, the massacre has highlighted the double standards between Manila and the powerful family militias, particularly in light of upcoming elections, and raised serious doubts about American efforts to combat insurgencies and secure the area.’

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