The brazen murder last Monday of former Inquirer correspondent Melinda “Mei” Magsino seals the Philippines’ dubious reputation as the third most dangerous country for working journalists, next to Iraq and Syria, where extremist groups are waging a protracted war.
Mei, 40, was shot in the head at noon in Barangay Balagtas in Batangas, shortly after stepping out of her rented apartment. The killer, by all indications a hired gun, had apparently waited for her and had fled with a cohort on a motorcycle waiting nearby.
Like others before it, the murder is a direct assault on democracy and one that, according to the International Federation of Journalists, “highlights the challenges facing journalists across the Philippines.” Indeed, the close-range shooting amounts to a message against conscientious journalists who, in doing their jobs, expose anomalies and speak out against the abuses of those in power.
Described as gutsy, Mei had riled politicians whom she linked to illegal gambling, rigged bidding in public works projects and the fatal ambush of a Batangas ombudsman whom she was about to interview on more corrupt dealings. Her newspaper reports, radio commentaries and, later, social media postings, earned her a lawsuit and a number of death threats, with a tip from police sources forcing her to flee Batangas in the middle of the night.
In fact, shortly before she was killed, she posted on her Facebook page that she had managed to trace to a Batangas councilor the series of obscene messages and threats she had been receiving.
Mei’s family members firmly believe that it was her work that led to her murder, as indeed a chilling pattern seems to surround the spate of recent killings of outspoken journalists under the Aquino administration.
For all the economic gains trumpeted by this administration, it has yet to fully address the thriving culture of impunity that makes crusading journalists fair game for unscrupulous overlords and politicians. As the Global Impunity Index indicates, the Philippines is among the top countries where the murder of a journalist is most likely to go unpunished.
Indeed, six years after the Maguindanao massacre, otherwise known as “the deadliest single-day attack on journalists anywhere in the world,” when 58 people, including 32 media workers, were unceremoniously gunned down, not a single court judgment has been delivered even as one by one, prosecution witnesses ominously fall by the wayside.
Mei herself perceived this pattern and, in 2005, expressed the hope of surviving it instead of becoming “another statistic” in the long list of journalist killings.
The statistics are truly disheartening: The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the former Inquirer correspondent as the 27th journalist killed under the present administration (other sources counted her as the 26th or the 32nd). In its statement, the NUJP said Mei’s murder has brought to 173 the total number of media workers killed since 1986, when democracy and freedom of expression were supposedly restored.
According to investigators, a CCTV monitor caught Mei’s killing on tape, stirring the faint hope that her killers would be identified, their motives known, and justice served.
We must continue to hope even as justice continues to elude other journalists whose murders briefly made headlines before being archived for lack of new information, witnesses, or evidence.
Even as we express outrage and demand justice for Mei Magsino, and because we must never forget, never allow death to silence the defiant voices of those who paid the ultimate price for witnessing the truth, let us also shine a light on those who have been shunted to the dark: tabloid reporter Nerlita Ledesma, 47, shot four times in the chest while waiting for a ride in Bataan last January; radioman Maurito Lim, shot dead last Feb. 14 by a lone assailant in front of the dyRD radio station in Tagbilaran City, Bohol; radio host Sammy Oliverio of Digos, Davao del Sur, shot on May 23, 2014, by two men riding tandem on a motorcycle; broadcaster Richard Nadjid of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, who was killed on May 4, 2014; Rubylita Garcia, a correspondent of the tabloid Remate, who died five hours after being shot in front of her 10-year-old granddaughter in Bacoor City on April 6, 2014; and scores of others.
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