Pattern reveals media killings are part of a gov’t program
THE NATIONAL Union of Journalists of the Philippines has always said that we see no pattern leading to conclude that the continuing murder of journalists in the country is part of an official government program—unlike, as many experts have noted, the extrajudicial killings of activists and dissenters.
However, recent events may have made us reconsider this view.
We have had military officers, angered that lies about the atrocities against the lumad were being exposed, mounting a brazen, if amateurish, smear campaign against our former chair, Inday Espina-Varona, accusing her of being in cahoots with communist rebels. Though this is baseless, we all know the deadly implications such Red-tagging can mean for its targets.
And then we have the Magahat militia which threatened to ambush journalists covering the 47th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines because such coverage showed these journalists to be rebel sympathizers. No less than Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel has described Magahat as a “monster” created by the military. Worse, the one who reportedly issued this threat, Bobby Tejero, has been ordered arrested by the courts for the murder of a tribal school administrator and two Manobo leaders. Yet, going by the accounts of Surigao del Sur officials and residents, Tejero continues to sow terror in the province and—surprise!—continues to operate with the military.
That Tejero has failed to carry out his threat does not diminish the fact that he can openly issue such threats without any fear of being hauled to court because he apparently enjoys the protection of those whose task is to bring him before the bar of justice.
Then, the day after Christmas, an ABS-CBN news team, led by the chair of our Iligan chapter, was tailed and fired on by motorcycle-riding gunmen in broad daylight in the heart of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. Thankfully, none of them was hurt.
While the Marawi ambush may, on the surface, have nothing to do with the military and Magahat threats, as we have said time and again, government inaction on—or more aptly, apathy toward—the killing of journalists and President Aquino’s well-documented penchant for blaming media for most everything wrong with his administration, can only serve to embolden those who wish to silence us. Indeed, a broad daylight attack on a clearly marked news vehicle in the heart of a major city is as bold as it gets.
Of course, we do not expect government to admit any link to these openly announced threats from the military and the Magahat, just as the military insists it has nothing to do with the Magahat and other militias wreaking havoc among lumad communities; or, for that matter, with the unabated murders of activists, farmers, religious leaders and countless other propeople advocates. But its silence in the face of this brazen flouting of our laws and democratic processes damns it as surely as if it had given its blessings.
As he winds down his term, Mr. Aquino has been big lately on legacy. Yes, we will indeed long remember his presidency as one of the bloodiest for Philippine journalism and for its attempts to undermine free press and free expression.
Of the 170 media killings since 1986, 30 took place during the Aquino administration. This year alone, we lost six colleagues—Maurito Lim (Bohol), Melinda “Mei” Magsino (Batangas), Gregorio Ybañez (Davao del Norte), Teodoro Escanilla (Sorsogon), Cosme Maestrado (Misamis Oriental), and Jose Bernardo (Quezon City).
Let us not forget the single deadliest attack on press freedom in the world when 58 innocent people, including 32 journalists and media workers, were massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009, whose resolution still appears, after six years, light years away—with one of the principal accused out on bail and on the verge of being elected mayor to boot, no thanks to the government’s broken promise of a speedy judgment.
All these and more are grim reminders of the culture of impunity that reigns in the Philippines, where masterminds in the killing of journalists and other civilians go scot-free and remain unpunished, and even run for public offices; and murderers issue open threats to members of the Fourth Estate.
The Philippines may have been dropped from international media group’s lists of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world, but this does not diminish the fact and reality that journalists in this country are increasingly getting threats from state and nonstate actors.
Not helping any bit are the media owners who have effected record-high mass layoffs and job cuts this year. This has affected not only local journalists and media workers but also communities already facing a future without a freedom of information law, no thanks again to the six-year-old failed promise of a leader and his legislative minions to pass it.
Thus, it is with trepidation that we welcome the new year, especially as the election season heats up.
We urge all Filipino journalists to remain vigilant against threats and attacks while doing their job, as we also challenge them to unite and defend press freedom at all costs.
— NUJP NATIONAL DIRECTORATE