THE National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has set up a Justice Fund for families of Maguindanao massacre victims.

Some 30 journalists were killed in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao last November 23 when they accompanied members of the Mangudadatu clan in filing the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

For updates from around the country, follow Sun.Star on Twitter

Ismael is running for governor in Maguindanao and he will be pitted against the son of incumbent Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., whose term ends in 2010.

The Mangudadatus believe the Ampatuans, their rival political clan, are behind the massacre, which put the country as the most unsafe place to practice journalism in the world.

In a statement, NUJP Chair Nestor Burgos Jr. said the fund "seeks to raise the necessary finances that will help address the needs of the families of the victims of the massacre, including a trauma counseling program, the implementation of a training program for the local media community, and support for the legal and advocacy efforts to seek justice for the victims."

The NUJP identified five target areas for the Justice Fund as follows:

* a trauma counseling program for the families and members of local media community;

* enhancement of the capabilities of media practitioners in Mindanao through a series of training on risk awareness and safety, election reporting, and reporting on culturally and politically sensitive places such as Mindanao;

* litigation support;

* public awareness campaigns; and

* the documentation of other incidents of harassment and attacks on the press in Mindanao.

The NUJP said interested parties can send in their donations, which will be deposited in an account to be opened specifically for this purpose.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde earlier said the government welcomes all recommendations and support to promote the protection of journalists in the Philippines.

According to Burgos, the Maguindanao massacre has brought attention to the plight of Filipino journalists who are suffering from dismal working conditions like low pay, long working hours, and lack of job security and benefits.

The November 23 massacre left 57 people dead, including lawyers, journalists, and family members of the Mangudadatu. They were in a six-vehicle convoy when attacked by a private army, purportedly of the Ampatuans.

The killings made the Philippines as the most dangerous place for journalists in 2009 based on the tally of Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released last December 31, alongside Mexico and Somalia.

The full federation report on 2009 media deaths will be published in mid-January.

Malacañang said the IFJ finding did not come as a surprise.

In a radio report, the Arroyo administration maintained that it continues to uphold press freedom and attributed the dangers faced by journalists to the country’s long history of political violence and numerous insurgencies. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)