Stop the killings
The killing of Digos, Davao del Sur radio journalist Sammy Oliverio last Friday, by unknown gunmen, is another brutal reminder that journalism in the Philippines remains a very risky trade—and that the Aquino administration has failed to stop the national catastrophe of media killings.
Oliverio, who was riding his motorcycle on his way home, died the instant he was shot in the head. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, he was the 28th journalist or media worker killed during the Aquino presidency; the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s tally lists him as the 24th.
Even the CMFR’s lower number clocks the pace of media killings in the four years of the Aquino administration at a chilling rate: one death every two months. Last year, Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) included the Philippines among the five most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, together with the likes of war-torn Syria and Somalia. (The RSF report went to press before the Dec. 11, 2013 killing of radio journalist Tata Butalid from Tagum, Davao del Norte; in other words, dire as it already was, it did not capture the complete picture.)
By the CMFR’s count, Oliverio became the third journalist to be killed this year; the attack happened a mere three days after the Senate committee on public information and mass media held a hearing on the very subject of unsolved media killings. The first attack of the year claimed the life of Ruby Garcia of Bacoor, Cavite last April 6; the second killed Richard Nadjid of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi on May 4. Two killings within less than a month must have given additional impetus to the Senate committee’s work; a third death so soon after the hearing should impress upon the Senate itself, and its allies in the Aquino administration, the urgent necessity to act immediately.
In the first place, the Philippine National Police is wasting both resource and goodwill by insisting on its own definition of what constitutes a media killing. By the PNP’s count, there were only 11 such work-related cases since June 30, 2010. The police do not seem to understand that a driver or assistant is actually an essential part of the media operation; hence the generally accepted tally of 32 journalists and media workers killed in the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre in 2009. The PNP also does not seem to appreciate the nature of work in radio stations, where disk jockeys also serve as news readers or anchors. Besides, the police define a case as solved once jurisdiction has been transferred to government prosecutors. This is wrong on many levels—exactly like the PNP’s insistence on its own media killing definition.
Secondly, the Department of Interior and Local Government and the PNP should act immediately on Sen. Grace Poe’s sensible suggestion that they set up a hotline for the use of journalists and media workers under threat, to contact national-level officials. The suggestion is based on the reality that in too many cases, policemen or government officials at the local level are suspect, as either perpetrator or mastermind. A journalist receiving a death threat can then immediately use the hotline to inform perhaps the PNP chief or the interior secretary; the assumption that these officials will then put the local police and LGU executives on notice is not a guarantee of protection, but it is at least a step forward.
Thirdly, the administration must put more resources into the hunt for the perpetrators. We ask for this, not because journalists are a special kind of citizen, deserving of greater attention from the government, but because of a simple application of the “broken windows theory.” When the killing of a person whose job description entails reaching out to many goes unsolved, the many will see their lives as even more at risk, their chances of getting justice even more rare, their place in the democratic project even more insecure. Indeed, whenever a journalist’s blood is spilled, we should ask ourselves about the health of that project itself. How can we realize the full potential of democracy when those who air or print critical information are gunned down in our streets?
Stop the media killings now.
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