Still under attack
Three more journalists have been gunned down just this August, bringing the total of media people killed to 171 since 1986—29 of these during the present Aquino administration.
Why begin the counting from 1986? Because that’s the year the Marcos dictatorship was toppled by the People Power Revolt, and democracy, including freedom of speech and of the press, supposedly restored to this country. The years since, however, have belied that idea. By international consensus, the Philippines has become one of the most dangerous places in the world to function as a journalist, next only to the war-torn countries of Iraq and Syria.
The numbers have gotten worse and worse from Cory Aquino’s time to the present dispensation under her son, who had promised in his first State of the Nation Address to check the tide of media killings with “swift justice” and the zealous prosecution of their perpetrators. Under the first Aquino, 21 journalists were killed. That would go down to 11 during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos, and six for the three-year stay of Joseph Estrada in Malacañang. The figures would shoot up to a horrendous 104 under Gloria Arroyo’s administration, with 32 journalists killed in one blow in the infamous Maguindanao massacre in November 2009—what Agence France Presse has called “the world’s deadliest attack against journalists.”
One of Mr. Aquino’s main campaign promises was to end the spate of extrajudicial killings and stamp out the climate of impunity that had allowed them to fester. In his first Sona, he said his administration will return to the rule of law as the linchpin of his presidency’s reformist agenda. “Kapayapaan at katahimikan po ang pundasyon ng kaunlaran (Peace and order are the foundations of progress),” he said.
But, according to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), “Under Aquino, the Philippines has scored steadily dipping ratings in recent years from international groups monitoring the state of human rights, media freedom, and freedom of expression such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Asia, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.” The record of 23 journalists killed in the first 40 months of Aquino’s presidency was the worst case load since 1986, said the PCIJ. “Viewed from another lens, there are now more journalists killed per year on average under Aquino than there were under President Arroyo or any other Philippine president for that matter—at least if one does not count the monstrous Maguindanao massacre where 32 journalists were among those killed in a single act of violence in 2009.”
That report was in 2013 yet. With the number of journalists dead under his watch further rising to 29,
Mr. Aquino’s record has only gotten blacker. The latest incidents involve three journalists killed just days apart: radio commentator Cosme Diaz Maestrado, shot dead in front of a shopping center in Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental, last Aug. 27; Gregory Ybañez, publisher of a local weekly and head of a press association in Davao del Norte province, gunned down in front of his house on Aug. 18; and, a day later, Aug. 19, broadcaster and human rights activist Teodoro Escanilla, waylaid in similar fashion outside his home in Tagdon, Barcelona, Sorsogon.
Has Malacañang been roused to action and concern by these incidents? The most it could muster in the wake of Escanilla’s death was to say it condemned the killing, and that “We will hunt down the suspects, and they will be put into trial”—the same “strong condemnation” it mouthed at news of Ybañez’s assassination a day earlier. With press groups here and abroad loudly scoring the government’s apparent apathy and inaction, all presidential spokesperson Herminio Coloma has managed to say is textbook pro-forma bureaucratic gibberish: “The government is taking necessary action to identify and arrest suspects and bring them before the bar of justice.”
Well, if it is indeed taking “necessary action,” it’s doing a miserable job at it. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines says that out of the media deaths since 1986, only 13 cases have been resolved so far, with conviction and jail time for their suspects. Malacañang’s anemic, indifferent response to the latest attacks against journalists inspires no confidence that it will do better this time to finally address the situation and stop the killings for good. We’re ostensibly in a democracy now, but it’s clear press freedom remains under attack.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.