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Urgent ‘to do’ list

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“PINABILI LANG ng suka sa kanto, pagbalik journalist na” (Told to buy vinegar at the corner store, he trotted back a journalist).

That snappy put-down sums up the key concern of “Crimes and Unpunishment: The Killing of Filipino Journalists.” Copublished by Unesco and the Asian Institute of Journalism, this book will be launched Dec. 7.

It commemorates the third anniversary of the single worst attack on the press worldwide which happened on Nov. 23, 2009. At grassy knolls bordering Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, 32 media workers were mowed down by cops and bodyguards led by political warlords. Then, the victims’ shattered bodies were backhoed into a common unmarked grave.

Nobody tallied the number of journalists slain during Marcos’ dictatorship. But since the 1986 People Power revolt restored a free press, 125 journalists were cut down. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s continuing head count reveals: “The Philippines is the second most dangerous country in the world—after Iraq.”

Co-editors Florangel Rosario-Braid, Crispin Maslog and Ramon Tuazon stitch, into one volume, research papers and case studies, alongside workshop inputs on those 125 slain—plus  future victims likely to be, given the hidebound impunity here.

Is a vinegar shopper a journalist? In 1693, the dictionary logged in the word “journalist” for the first time. This meant “a writer or editor for a news medium.” Or “a writer who aims at a mass audience.” Since then radio and TV came on stream. The Internet burst into the scene in the mid-1980s. The “[a]dvent of the new and social media adds confusion with the emergence of the so-called citizen journalists.”

A journalist is committed to professional standards, including a code of ethics. That “includes multi-sourcing, verification of fact, and fair, balanced and objective reporting,” this new book asserts. The 2007 Medellin Declaration on Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity indicates a growing “more inclusive stance.”

Jostling within the Manila Customs beat, for example, are over “400 media representatives” from no identifiable paper or station. That’s seven times the foreign and local reporters accredited to Malacañang. “Are they journalists,” columnist Boo Chanco asked. Or are they fixers? “Indeed, our membership lists remain porous,” observed a Cebu Press Freedom Week editorial. “We’ve still to flush out the hao-shiaos (fake journalists) who flaunt oversized press cards or block-time microphones.”

The book presents six prisms which refract insights from various academic disciplines. UP and Inquirer’s Michael Tan sketches the “Making and Unmasking A Culture of Impunity:  Anthropological Perspectives”: “Instances of impunity (here) are so pervasive… that no term has been coined for it…. After the initial grief subsides, people turn away in collective amnesia…”

Clinical psychologist Ma. Lourdes Carandang examines, among other constructs, “the bully, the bullied and the bystander…. In the case of the Ampatuans, the government and civil society were the bystanders.”

“Democratic deficits are gaps between promises and fulfillment,” notes UP political science professor Clarita Carlos. Killings with impunity are the result. Journalist Marlene Esperat was killed in 2005. “Her relatives have yet to see the criminals punished. (This) illustrates those democratic deficits.”

“Impunity is the dark side of accountability,” De La Salle University’s Dean Jose Manuel Diokno notes in his analysis from structural-legal perspectives. It cannot exist without (co-opting) three institutions: the police, prosecutors and judges. Structural violence results when privileged individuals “influence judicial processes which are slow and often inaccessible to many.”

Murder as an “economic activity” was analyzed by Amado Mendoza of UP’s Political Science Department. “A more complex anatomy involves a middle layer.” It insulates the mastermind from the trigger man. Lookouts join the killer in the bottom layer, as shown in the slaying of Dr. Gerard Ortega and Herson “Bombo Boy” Hinolan.

Colloquial words demonstrate that the culture of impunity has impinged on the daily lives of people, notes UP Mass Communications dean Roland Tolentino. Among these are: drakula (corrupt official), doktor (document falsifier), consuholtant (expert in sleaze). Public affair shows have corroded into “infotainment” which spawns “docile bodies” or absence of critical citizenship. Balance sheet management spawns “envelopmental journalism” which turns a blind eye to crime.

Worth reading through also are case studies, namely: “(a) “Antonio Abad Tomis of Cebu as protomartyr”; (b) “Marlene Garcia-Esperat: The Accidental Journalist”; (c) “Crime of the Century: Maguindanao Massacare”; and (d) “Lives and Deaths of  Four Provincial Journalists.” Insights from the boondocks were gathered and synthesized from fora in the cities of San Juan, Cebu and General Santos.

“This ‘investigative report’ is a report in progress.” Nonetheless, in its final chapter, “The Way  Forward,” the study presents a compelling list of “immediate doable actions” and “those that require “medium to long term interventions.

The “To Do List,” which includes suggestions for Congress,  makes for a compelling case. For example: Provide a way for perpetuating the testimonies of witnesses. Too many have been silenced by a bullet. Or “amend the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (Republic Act 6981) to cover whistle-blowers and other witnesses in danger.”

Unesco director general Irina Bokova summed it well: “Every journalist killed deprives us all of an observer of the human condition. Every attack that goes unpunished adds to a vicious  cycle of impunity…”

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)


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