Ending the Killing of Journalists: State Action Urgently Needed
Statement of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists
The United Nations declared November 2 as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. However, press freedom advocates in the Philippines focus on November 23 to commemorate the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre in which 58 men and women including 32 journalists were killed in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.
This year, the member organizations of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) invited representatives of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to a forum to discuss what could be done to address the problem of impunity in the cases of violence against journalists. The sixth anniversary of what has been called “the single most bloody strike against journalists in the world” called for more than just a march or a memorial ceremony. FFFJ had hoped that these agencies could still commit to doing something about the killing of journalists before the end of the term of President Benigno Aquino III in May 2016.
The killings in Ampatuan town occurred in the larger context of the killing of journalists in the line of duty since 1986, which at this time has already reached 150. Because of the heinousness of the crime and the numbers involved, the credible and speedy outcome of the trial of the individuals accused has been a crucial objective for those working to counter impunity in the Philippines. The trial began in January 2010 or five years ago and has dragged on without any visible indication of what the outcome will be.
Despite the limited time available, however, FFFJ holds that the coordinated and resolute action of the PNP, the DILG and the DOJ can still take the steps necessary during the next seven months to address both the slow pace of the trial as well to as to prevent further attacks against the press.
Among the steps that these agencies can take are those which FFFJ recommended to Malacanang and the DOJ in August 2010. These were:
- Organizing a quick response team of government officials, including media and NGO members to go anywhere a journalist is killed to establish the facts and to assure swift government action and sustained public attention;’
- Reviving cold cases ion which government agencies have been remiss in bringing suspects to trial;
- Addressing the causes of delays in the trials (including the Ampatuan Massacre trial) due to manipulative legal tactics, including the review of rules of court;
- Improving the forensic capacity of the police; and
- Correcting the deficiencies of the Witness Protection Program.
In addition, filling the vacant positions for prosecutors in the prosecutorial system of the Department of Justice would help accelerate the pace of the trials not only of those accused of killing of journalists but also those of other victims.
Another journalist, a broadcaster, was killed only last October 31 in Metro Manila, raising the number of journalists killed during the Aquino III administration to 29, or an average of six every year of this administration.
Despite the urgency of this concern, only the PNP’s Task Force USIG responded to the FFFJ invitation by promising to send a representative to the forum. Neither DOJ nor DILG saw fit to do the same.
Does this response indicate that the killing of journalists is not among the concerns of these agencies? FFFJ hopes not. FFFJ has engaged, and worked with, these very agencies in the belief that only resolute action by the State can reduce the number, or even end, the killing of journalists. Among other consequences, the killings– and State failure to punish most of those responsible– has placed the Philippines in the list of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists and seriously damaged its reputation as a democratic state.
Despite the disappointing response of the agencies whose functions are crucial to putting a stop to the killings, FFFJ nevertheless reiterates that something can still be done between now and May 2016 to address a problem that since 1986 has haunted Philippine democracy. FFFJ therefore calls on the DILG, the DOJ and the PNP to seriously consider implementing the above recommendations as well as other measures that can help put an end to the continuing killing of journalists. Whatever gains are achieved in countering impunity would redound to the benefit of all in terms of enhanced public safety.
(FFFJ is a coalition of media organizations founded in 2003 to address the attacks and threats against of journalists in the Philippines. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) serves as its Secretariat. FFFJ has helped prosecute the killers and masterminds in the murder of journalists since 2003, including the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.)