Minimizing the killings

NO ONE — certainly not the journalism community and the public it serves — benefits from the attempts to make it seem as if the killing of journalists in the Philippines is not as big a problem as both national and international journalists, press freedom and media advocacy groups say it is.

And yet the Philippine National Police has repeatedly claimed that not only were many of the individuals included by media advocacy and journalists’ groups in their lists of slain journalists and media workers not killed for their work; most were not even journalists to begin with.

The PNP campaign to minimize and downplay the killings, and, together with it, its claim that many of the cases of journalist murders have been solved, are of course self-serving, implying that the PNP has not been as remiss in preventing violence against journalists as it would seem, and that, in addition, it has also been eminently successful in its mandated tasks of investigation and case-building.

But it is also a convenient excuse for continuing to do what it has been doing — or more accurately, what it hasn’t been doing, which is precisely that of rapidly investigating the killings, building the cases against the suspected perpetrators, and helping bring them to court.

The number of cases the PNP claims have been solved since 2001 — eight — is 17 percent of the 48 cases it says are the only ones that qualify as cases of journalists killed. The reality is that 108 journalists and media workers have been killed for their work since that year, out of which only in nine cases have there been convictions.

The PNP keeps count only from 2001 when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. The work-related killing of journalists and media workers in the Philippines did not begin only in 2001, having begun to increase in 1986.

The key issue is which of the killings were work- related. The PNP claim conflicts with the lists of journalists and media workers killed maintained by journalists’ groups such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and that of media advocacy groups like the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility, as well as by international press freedom watch groups like the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres, and, much closer to home, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance based in Bangkok.

CMFR, which investigates all instances of journalists and media workers killed, lists a total of 145 work-related killings since 1986. CMFR does recognize that not all the killings were work- related, having documented a total of 217 killings since 1986, of which 72 were due to personal and other disputes. The PNP — and as a consequence, President Benigno Aquino III — rejects those figures. President Aquino only recently (August 27) declared that not all the murders of journalists were work- related, which is certainly true enough — except that the number of such murders so categorized by the government, courtesy of the PNP, seems to be much bigger than 72.

Equally relevant is Mr. Aquino’s defining media killings during the same interview last August 27, as “(those killings carried out by) agents of the State (engaged in) ‘suppressing the search for the truth.’” None of the journalists and media advocacy groups have ever claimed that the killings were being carried out solely by “agents of the State,” much less that it is State policy to eliminate journalists, only that the government has been mostly indifferent to the killings. But if the Aquino administration and the PNP define media killings as those carried out by agents of the State, by implication in furtherance of State policy, then the number of such killings would indeed fall, albeit not too significantly, given the involvement of police and military personnel as well as local officials in a number of cases of journalist killings.

President Aquino and his spokespersons have repeatedly declared that the administration is committed to stopping the killings. Punishing the killers and the masterminds behind them — none of whom, incidentally, has been held to account — is the necessary condition to accomplishing that task, which in turn must be premised on an accurate appreciation of the extent of the problem. Minimizing the problem by claiming that it isn’t as bad as it has been made out to be, and even declaring that some of those killed — including some in the lists of journalists’ and media advocacy groups — were not journalists, won’t make the problem go away, and could even make it worse. ###