Saturday, July 22, 2006

Meanwhile: Burying two friends on Mindanao

Orlando de Guzman
International Herald Tribune
Published: July 20, 2006

COTABATO, the Philippines
As a Filipino who grew up on the northern island of Luzon, Mindanao, in the south, has always had a magical allure - the myth of the Promised Land, blessed and cursed and claimed by a volatile mix of Christian cults, Moro rebels and tribal groups.

In spite of its dangers, Mindanao has beckoned me back many times. I preferred to see beyond Mindanao's faults and focus on the amazing people it produced, many who've become good friends.

Last month Mindanao called me back once again. This time it was to bury two journalist friends who were gunned down in broad daylight in Cotabato province.

George and Maricel Vigo were the kind of journalists I always aspired to become but knew I never had the guts.

When I first met them in 2001, they were struggling to publish their weekly tabloid, called the Headliner. They reported fearlessly on police corruption and abuse of power. They were just recovering from an arson attack at their office - Cotabato's version of a letter to the editor. The fire destroyed everything, but they were determined to start over again.

Back then I was writing about the insidious growth of right-wing militias in Mindanao. They have been around since the early 1970s, when President Ferdinand Marcos used them to fight the growing Muslim insurgency. Then, in the 1980s, they were unleashed to deal with the Communist rebels, the New People's Army. These vigilantes did not hold back when they slaughtered human rights workers, priests, farmers and journalists.

On June 17, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced a new military campaign against the NPA. She instructed her generals to "bring home the bacon" - a choice of words that can have macabre interpretations among vigilante groups.

George and Maricel are not the only journalists and activists to fall this year. They are victims of a growing lawlessness that prevails when you declare open season on an amorphous enemy.

In 2001, I spent a drunken evening at a karaoke bar with one of the militia's self-confessed backers, Joselito Piñol, in a violent town called Mlang. I recall arriving at the pub with Joselito's entourage of men bristling with shotguns, automatic weapons and grenades.

The next day, Piñol, the vice mayor of the town, showed me a factory where they manufactured a whole assortment of illegal weapons, including a machine gun with an obscenely long clip. He fired it off, and smiling, said, "This is for the use of the Ilaga," referring to a local vigilante group that made its reputation in the 1980s chopping up its victims.

I remember interviewing an Ilaga member who coolly related how he cut ears off his Communist prisoners. Bring home the bacon.

The brutality of local politics in Mindanao made the courage of journalists like George and Maricel all the more remarkable. I took comfort in the idea that somehow they were invincible.

They were gunned down on June 19 while driving home on their motorcycle to their five children. Their assailants followed them on two motorcycles, and the killer, riding pillion, fired on them point blank.

Two days after the killings, the police declared they had "70 percent of the case solved." The couple were Communists, the national chief of the police concluded, and their killer was also a Communist whom the NPA sent to kill them for spying for the military.

The police then had Maricel's mother sign what they called a "routine affidavit." She was in fact giving her approval to go ahead with a lawsuit against the NPA. The document was in English, a language she neither reads nor speaks.

Weeks before his death, George told friends that he was being followed by military intelligence. George also told friends that he was on a military blacklist. He had mentioned that his troubles began after he showed local officials a propaganda video mailed to him by NPA.

So far, it seems, the police seem more concerned with smearing the Vigos as Communists than finding the real murderer - who, as other campaigning journalists and activists in Mindanao are painfully aware, is still at large, along with whoever hired him.

Orlando de Guzman is an Indonesia-based radio journalist working for the BBC and Public Radio International.

Read the article in IHT

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


A silent protest march for George and Maricel was held on 30 June 2006, followed by a mass and all-night vigil. They were buried the following day.

By Orlando de Guzman

Here are a few photos of the silent protest march on June 30. I must admit that its been hard to think about all this. It’s all a blur. The rain, our tears, the burial, the long and lonely trip home.

George and Maricel’s murder has knocked the wind out of many of us. And I, like the rest of you, can’t help but despair at times about their deaths.

I would like to share with you some thoughts about death that have helped hope beyond hopelessness.

I like to believe that this is George and Maricel’s destiny -- that they wouldn’t have chosen any other way to go. And that they wanted to go together. Their life-long struggle for justice, peace and non-violence challenged the status quo. And this brought them closer to their destiny. They acted like all heroes have done before them, which is to go ahead and initiate their actions without regard for what destiny will bring them.

All our lives have an ending -- a limitation that we will one day reach. George and Maricel pushed that limitation, and in doing so bought themselves closer to that ending.

A few days after George and Maricel were killed, I came across the courageous words of Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke these words a few days before he -- like the Vigos -- was assassinated:

“I know that in pressing on for this justice and this cause I am challenging death.”

George and Maricel challenged death many times. Each time they brought themselves closer to their destiny. But they carried on, believing in the truth of their mission.

They used everything at their disposal to carry out their work. They were journalists first. When words and stories weren’t enough, they acted and got involved in organizations that offered alternatives to the violent and corrupt politics of Cotabato.

How many of us can claim this kind of courage?

At the vigil on June 30th in Kidapawan, I met many of George and Maricel’s friends. We sat together, our clothes soaking from the afternoon rain. We traded stories, and little by little the Vigos came to life in our conversations.

I hadn’t realized, for example, that during the height of the madness of President Estrada’s “All Out War” against the MILF, George and Maricel went into Carmen to meet with terrified refugees and document the military abuses that were going on there. The 105mm Howitzer shells were screaming over them and landing nearby, but they carried on with their work.

I think what drives remarkable people to act in this way is that they have compassion -- the belief that other people’s suffering is your own. I saw that in both of them. They were moved by what they saw. They didn’t sleep over what they saw and forget about it. What they witnessed -- and felt -- inspired their actions.

I recall hiking for hours in darkness with George and a small platoon of MILF fighters in Maguindanao. We couldn’t use our flashlights. The military had began their nightly barrage of 105mm artillery shells on our side of the mountain. The shells made a deep thud and a bone chilling crack when they landed. I felt safe, because I was with George -- a man confident of his destiny. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps that’s why I felt safe with him.

Deep in the jungle the next morning, a battled-hardened MILF commander I was interviewing burst into tears when I asked him why he’d been fighting for the past 20 or so years. I hadn’t expected it, and neither did his men, who stood in disbelief as they watched their commander crumple.

I looked over my shoulder and saw George. He too was crying. He felt the pain too. It was the aching pain of a life-long struggle for dreams yet to be fulfilled. George understood this.

When I think about this now, I wonder what lessons are left for us who remain in this world.

When our friends die, so do we. But their deaths offer us a resurrection. They offer us a transformation that will give us strength to find more compassion and love.

George and Maricel, your work is over. Thank you for everything you've taught us. Trust that the rest of us will continue what you started. May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


On FRIDAY 30 JUNE 2006 at 3pm there will be a march from George & Maricel’s home to the Cathedral Gym in Kidapawan, North Cotobato. Friends, NGOs, schools, other churches, civil servants and all other well-wishers welcome. Afterwards there will be a mass and all-night vigil where everyone can share testimony and tributes.

On SATURDAY 1 JULY 2006 at 7am at the Cathedral there will be a funeral mass, followed by a march to the Memorial Park for burial.


[Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, is an Italian-American missionary who has worked in Mindanao since 1977. In 1985 Fr. Peter was targeted for assassination by right-wing vigilantes, who instead killed his friend Fr. Tulio Favali. Fr. Peter’s name appears on military blacklists now being circulated. So did George’s.]

George & Maricel Vigo: United in love, in commitments and in death.

George and Maricel Vigo came to visit me on June 19, 2006, just before being killed. Of course they didn’t envision a violent death on that day. They didn’t even mention threats or issues. They focused on their own personal and family concerns. It was a sort of renewal of their personal relationship and their deepest commitments.

After our long sharing they walked away holding hands like young lovers. They looked as if that was the happiest moments of their life, a peak experience. They poured out so much affection that I was amazed.

As they rode home, they were shot down like birds flying in the sky.

A couple of days later I saw a picture on top of their coffin. They were standing together by Lake Agco, the magic lake near the peak of Mt. Apo. That’s where the tribal leaders held their ritual, the D’yandi or Blood Compact, vowing to defend the sacred mountain, which they call Apo Sandawa, “to the last drop of their blood." On that spot George and Macel made their own vow to one another and to the oppressed. When I saw that picture I could feel the vibration of their burning love for one another, for the oppressed, for nature, for the values of peace and justice.

Why didn’t the spirits of Nature warn them about the immediate danger to their life? Their 13-year-old son would ask, “Why were they sacrificed like innocent lambs?” I could not protect them; maybe I added to the risks they were facing. God certainly knew what was about to happen. They were chosen for the special privilege of becoming martyrs.

Those who plan to kill them knew what was happening. How many saw that horrible murder coming and did not stop it? How can they live with their conscience now? How can they look at their children and see the children of George and Macel, like shadows in the dark?


They showed they can kill even a women in a public place without any fear of being stopped, as if they have a license to kill. Some say this is a warning to all activists. It is the season for hunting down popular community leaders. They say it is a national campaign funded by the masterminds of the war on terrorism, or better, the war of terror.

This is the sickness of vigilantes and fanatical groups—like when Fr. Tulio Favali was killed during Martial Law. They think atrocities will make them more powerful. And they are masters of deceit. In fact, the official investigators deceived Macel's mother to sign a statement attributing the killing to New People's Army (NPA). They accused George and Macel of supporting the NPA, then they blame the rebels for their killing. They also blame the rebels for Favali's murder, but gradually the truth was revealed by witnesses who overcame fear and threats, sustained by solidarity of many supporters who took a stand—"tama na, sobra na."

George and Macel grew up during the last years of Martial Law. During their student years they joined our Task Force Apo Sandawa, an alliance of church groups, NGO’s, and Peoples Organization (PO) committed to protecting the environment of the Indigenous People (IP) and all the oppressed sectors. They both served in the Diocesan programs, Tribal Filipino Program (TFP), and Justice and Peace Integrity of Creation Program (JPIC). Then they found jobs in various NGOs to support their growing family.

Both of them joined the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE) and they struggled to launch a local paper called “Apo Sadawa”, then a second paper called “Headliner”. In 2001 the offices of Headliner was burned to the ground, suspected arson attack because of their reporting. George was also involved as a local producer for a number of BBC World Service radio and television documentaries and features. He also helped produce Islands Under Seige, which aired on America’s most respected documentary program, Frontline. George became a UCAN correspondent which stands for Catholic Asian News. Their voices became familiar to the public in the local radio stations and as a journalist they constantly projected the voice of the poor, oppressed, exploited and struggling masses.

Since the time of the All Out War in the year 2000, which raged around us here, they were among the most active Peace Advocates joining in human rights investigations, relief and rehabilitation missions, peace rallies, and so on. In particular they proposed and formed a group called Kids for Peace, bringing their own children together with others to express their expectations for peace.

They became very much involved in promoting pro-people politics through education and grassroots organizing. In 2004 they were among the conveners of KALAMPAG- Kotobatenyos for Good Government, an alliance of POs, NGOs, church-based and civic groups of concerned citizens who promote “a style of leadership respectful of all our people and to heal the wounds of the victims of abusives”.

We wonder if they became targets because of their participation in KALAMPAG or because of all their community involvements. They were considered moderate activists, journalists working within the system—young professionals who cared deeply for family and community values.

George often introduced himself as my ‘junior’, implying that he wanted to continue my way of serving the people around us. Macel always shared her deepest secrets. Now I feel their deaths are also my death, like when Fr. Favali was killed in my place.

They can kill people like George and Macel, like Favali and other martyrs, but they cannot kill our dreams and commitments. As it happened with Christ, he was condemned and crucified but he rose to new life and he promised that all those who follow his way of the cross will experience resurrection. Maybe we cannot yet see how our communities and our nation can develop the new life of the resurrection, but I believe it is being generated like a seed underground, watered by the blood of martyrs. Those who share their spirit and their passion for truth and justice, for peace and solidarity, will continue their struggle.


Our tribe is decreasing. So many progressive leaders killed, others paralyzed by threats, particularly here in Kidapawan. The worst trend is the indifference of the majority—from the authorities to academics, even churches and NGOs—who appear to have lost their prophetic voices. The majority of the media are used by the masterminds of deception. Even the Department of Justice and the courts make a mockery of the system of justice.

As a result a new wave of vigilantism and fanaticism is sweeping the land, and true democracy is being suffocated under blood and fear. Some say that, because of the pervasive influence of consumerism, the culture of corruption promoted by the media and internet, the commercialization of vices and the make-belief world of entertainment, many people are prevented from facing reality. Thus many families break down, the young are alienated, and very few leaders can be credible to the masses of the oppressed. Maybe now the victims or the martyrs can become the new models for the counter culture that can heal the wounds of violence and generate new Peace Advocates like George and Macel.

Monday, June 26, 2006


[The following is written by a trusted reporter in the field. The name is withheld for security reasons.]

I’ve been watching the police investigation into the murder of journalists George and Maricel Vigo. It’s been a week since they’ve been killed and here are some interesting developments in the case . . . if you can call them developments:

A. Two days after George and Maricel were killed, the chief of police of Central Mindanao announced that they were murdered by the New People’s Army (NPA), the communist rebel group here. The police’s version of the story is that George was a communist who began sharing information with the military, and was thus killed by an NPA hitman.

B. This NPA hitman, according to the police, is Dionisio Madanggit. There are several arrest warrants out for Madanggit because he’s been linked to previous murders. Strangely, just two days after they were killed, the police identified him as the gunman. The police have brought forward no witnesses to support this claim, but records I’ve obtained today indicate that Madanggit has actually been working as a hitman for the military for some time. An investigation by a human rights groups has tagged Madanggit as a hired gun in the murder of several farm worker organizers here in Cotabato this year.

C. The NPA has come up with an official statement saying that Madanggit is not an NPA member and is in fact working for the military.

D. A witness I interviewed saw the killings from a distance of 7 to 10 meters. (This double murder was carried out in a busy street in broad daylight.) He says four men on two motorcycles drove up to George and Maricel, who were also riding tandem on a motorcycle. Without stopping, a gunman called out George’s name, then fired several rounds into him and Maricel. The assailants had their faces covered with baseball caps and handkerchiefs and were therefore not recognisable to this witness.

E. This witness has been visited a few times by police, who want him to sign an affadavit saying that the police’s suspect, Dionisio Madanggit, is indeed the killer. But the witness refuses because he says he could not see the faces of the gunmen. Today, June 26, the police took Maricel’s mother to the police station, saying they wanted to get some information from her. She went alone, as she knew some of the officers. The police said they just wanted to make a document saying that she is indeed the mother of Maricel, that she lived at such-and-such address, and that they needed just a little more personal information.

Maricel’s mother doesn’t read or speak English, and the police had her sign doucments that were in English. What the police failed to tell her was that she was in fact signing a criminal suit against Dionisio Madanggit, who the police have concluded to be the killer. So, in seven days, the police can now say they can close the investigation!

So, on paper, Maricel’s mother has now filed a case against Madanggit, the police’s own supsect, who they dubiously pulled out of a hat two days after the killings. The legal document that Maricel’s mother signed was in English, and no mention was made that she was in fact giving the final signature so that the case against Madanggit could go ahead.

G. From start to finish, there seems to be an organized whitewash of the killings. By focusing on the supsect Madanggit, the police can ignore other possible masterminds of this brutal killings.

H. A number of prominent attorneys here who have filed cases against the younger brothers of Emmanuel Piñol, a powerful politician here in North Cotabato, have been receiving death threats. They are being accused of being communists. A week before he died, George related to a few close friends that the military had given him death threats, and that he was afraid. But he took no other precautions, because he felt he had done no harm.

George and Maricel’s murder happened only two days after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced a major military campaign to crush the communist insurgency. People here believe that by targeting prominent journalists and community workers like the Vigos, they can send a chilling message to the rest of the people doing similar work.

Watch this space for more updates. Meanwhile, I welcome all comments and suggestions.


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I have created an emergency fund to help George and Maricel’s children through this difficult time. They are: Jesa Marie, 16; Dennis Rev, 13; Karl Rev, 9; Arriane Joy, 6; and John Rev, 3 (all pictured above).

I urge anyone who would like to donate or pledge funds to contact me directly by email or my Philippines cellphone (+63 92141 14038).

Many thanks, Orlando de Guzman



[This tribute was written by a fellow journalist who considers George and Macel as among his mentors. He is former staff member of the Headliner and a distant relative of Macel. He is now working for a non-government organization based in Davao City."]

“Struggling journalists”: this was how George and Maricel "Macel" Alave-Vigo described themselves during their stint as regular staff for a weekly newspaper. "The Headliner," published in Cotabato City and circulated in Southwestern Mindanao from 1998 until the paper folded up in 2003.

George and Macel were members of the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE), an organization of journalists that ran and managed the defunct Headliner.

For them, being "struggling journalists" meant writing and advocating for a cause, with bias for the rights of the Lumads (indigenous peoples), war evacuees, women, and exposing irregularities in government.

As "struggling journalists," they did not write for a living but "write to serve the voiceless." They would tell young writers and campus reporters not to write merely to inform but to educate.

While doing media work, the two continued helping advocacy works of the Diocese of Kidapawan. Macel was then working for the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) in Kidapawan City.

A feminist, Macel maintained a column in the "Headliner" titled "Feminist Expressions." It tackled mostly issues on the rights of women and children. This issue stirred controversy in the province and alarmed concerned sectors, including the church.

George regularly wrote about the rights of the indigenous peoples particularly on the encroaching of banana plantations around Mt. Apo, which is considered sacred by the Lumads. George also served as bureau chief of Headliner after Carlos Bautista, who was then with Catholic-run radio station dxND, resigned from his post.

For being so critical of officials in the province, a politician offered George to be his "ghost writer," presumably to silence him. But George turned down the offer.

George, who also studied for three years at the Notre Dame Seminary in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, also served as secretary of the Task Force Apo Sandawa under the Diocese of Kidapawan, that advocated for the environmental protection on Mount Apo.

In the early 2000s, the group fought to prevent the Philippine National Oil Corporation's geothermal project from expanding in tribal ancestral land around Mt. Apo. The group also staged rallies to stop arsenic poisoning allegedly caused by the geothermal plant.

The couple wrote about the church and communities' peace initiatives in different areas of the region and conducted trainings for campus journalists in Kidapawan City colleges and high schools where they also shared the idea of public and peace journalism.

While covering the 2000 war, George also worked for Tabang Mindanaw, which extended assistance to the internally displaced persons. He was also one of 17 journalists who visited different war-torn villages across Mindanao during the period of the "all-out war" of then President Joseph Estrada.

In college, both were members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and League of Filipino Students (LFS).

George, a native of Magpet North Cotabato, served president of the student council of Notre Dame of Kidapawan College and finished Political Science. He was also a member of an international fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi.

Macel took up BS Chemistry at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato but stopped schooling. In April, she graduated from BS Development Communication through the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency Accreditation Program (ETEEAP).

Macel, 38, was part-time media relations officer of Rep. Lala Talino and was area coordinator of SPOTS (Solar Power Technology System) of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), a project funded by the British Petroleum, to distribute solar power to agrarian reform communities without access to electricity.

Before joining SPOTS, Mazel was also executive dirctor of the Peoples' Kauyahan Foundation, Inc. which was active in peace-building projects.

George hosted Tingog sa Kabatan-unan (Voice of the Youth), a 30-minute radio program of the CFSI aired every Monday noon while Mazel hosted Kalihukan sa Kongreso (Congress Affairs) aired over DXND every Sunday noon.



The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia is sending our deepest regrets over the killing our two colleagues Filipino journalists, George Vigo and Macel, who were shot dead in Mindanau Province on June 19th, 2006. The couple's murder had add up the number of Filipino journalists whose deaths are connected to their work.

George and Macel are brave journalists who were not afraid to speak the truth even though they were oftenly facing dangers in their work. Both were co-founders of a local journalist group, the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality and they published a weekly tabloid that has in the past earned the anger of local politicians.

AJI found an indication that the murder of George Vigo and Macel is caused by local elite conflict and the murder was possibly involving military officer. AJI Indonesia strongly condemns the murder, at the same time we are demanding the Philippines authorities to investigate the case, arrest the murderer, and bring them into trial.

Heru Hendratmoko, Chairman of AJI
Eko Maryadi, Advocacy Division Coordinator
Jakarta, 22 June 2006


PHILIPPINES: Husband and wife radio broadcasters gunned down

New York, June 20, 2006—Two unidentified gunmen shot and killed part-time radio broadcaster George Vigo and his wife Mazel on the island of Mindanao on June 19. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating the motives behind the attack.

The two were walking home from a public market when they were shot by men on a motorcycle, according to media reports. They died on the way to the hospital, according to Reuters, which quoted local police.

George Vigo was a contributor to the Bangkok-based, church news agency, Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), and was also active in a local nongovernmental organization that helped rehabilitate internally displaced people. Mazel Vigo hosted a radio program on local station DXND.

The two had previously been active in left-wing student groups, according to The Associated Press. Activists, as well as journalists, have been the frequent targets of murder in the Philippines.

In 2005, four journalists were killed in the Philippines, more than in any other country except Iraq. Twenty-three journalists have been killed for their work there since 2000. In a May 15 letter to Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, CPJ noted that there has been just one conviction in these murders. READ THE LETTER

“We call on authorities to conduct a full investigation into the circumstances of the death of George and Mazel Vigo,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Until there is justice for the many Philippine journalists who have been killed for their work, the murders are sure to continue.”

George Vigo with his colleagues

George Vigo with his colleagues


Dear friends and fellow journalists,

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the murder of two great journalists, George Vigo and his wife Macel. They were gunned down near their home in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, in Mindanao, the Philippines on June 19. Both were very good friends and they will be dearly missed.

The moment I met them back in 2001 I was impressed by the courage and vigor in which they reported local news. In my first trip to Mindanao they helped me uncover the truth behind the formation of right-wing Christian militias that were responsible for so much violence in their province. In subsequent trips back to Mindanao the couple helped me report the plight of refugees and villagers caught in military operations against Muslim rebels. George also connected me with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front back in 2003, which led to a PBS Frontline/World documentary about the rebel movement. In 2004 he helped me produce a BBC documentary about another insurgency in Mindanao, the New People's Army.

George and Macel were co-founders of a local journalist group, the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality. Together they published a weekly tabloid that has in the past earned the anger of local politicians.

George and Macel's no-nonsense approach to their work won them many friends. They were never afraid to speak the truth, even though they were clearly aware of the dangers they faced. I took comfort in the idea that they were perhaps invincible. They were activists as much as they were journalists. Their concern for the people around them led them not just to write stories, but also be deeply involved in the struggle for justice and peace in their war-torn community. George and Macel were true heroes for me.

Over the years we developed a wonderful friendship. Last time I was with them was during their youngest child's christening, where I had the honor to be his godfather. They left behind 4 children.

Please join us in condemning the politically-motivated killings that have claimed the lives of so many Filipino journalists. At the same time my immediate concern is for their four surviving children.

I hope to create an emergency fund to help their children get through this difficult time. Those who are willing to help with a financial donation can contact me directly via this email account (donate AT

Thank you and may the peaceful struggle that George and Macel started continue.

George & Maricel at Lake Agko

George and Maricel at Lake Agko, at the spot where they fell in love in 1991