CMFR STATEMENT: Philippine Day of Mourning



WORLD PRESS Freedom Day has for many years been an occasion for mourning rather than celebration in the Philippines, where, since 1986, 140 journalists and media workers have been killed for their work, among them the 32 killed on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province. This year’s commemoration is no different.

Despite President Benigno Aquino III’s claim—made during the press conference at Malacañang Palace on the first day of the State Visit of US President Barack Obama—that most of the killings have been solved, only in13 cases have the killers been tried and convicted. No mastermind has been convicted, either in the two high profile cases of the 2005 killing of Marlene Esperat in Tacurong City, and that of Gerry Ortega in 2011 in Palawan, or in any other, older cases, among them that of Edgar Damalerio in 2002 in Pagadian City.

The killings have not ceased. Since President Aquino III took office in 2010, 22 have been killed in the line of duty. Another 14 were killed for non-work-related reasons. Fourteen (14) were killed in 2013, of which 10 were work-related. Robelita “Ruby” Garcia, a reporter for Remate tabloid, was the first case in 2014; shot to death by an unknown assailant in her home in Bacoor City, Cavite on April 6, 2014.

Other attacks and threats against journalists have hardly abated. There have so far been nine (9) incidents of attacks and threats against journalists and media workers in 2014, including three death threats, two physical assaults, two instances of being barred from covering events, and two libel charges. In 2013, there were 68 incidents of attacks and threats.

Despite Mr. Aquino’s claim that not all of the killings listed by CMFR and other groups have involved journalists, all those in CMFR’s list were killed for their work in the media, whether as reporter, columnist, commentator, editor, publisher, or member of the support staff. Media workers are as much a part of the media and press community as reporters and other editorial workers; they are indispensable to the essential task of providing the citizenry the information they need in a democracy, and are thus included in the lists of international press freedom watch groups.

CMFR takes the greatest care to see to it that it includes in its database of journalists and media workers killed only those slain for their work. Contrary to what Mr. Aquino told domestic and foreign media last April 28, killings due to non-work related reason such as a dispute over property or a love triangle never find their way into the CMFR list of journalists killed for their work.

CMFR has never claimed that it is state policy to kill journalists. The bottom line is that the killings are continuing because of the failure to punish killers. Since 1986, only 13 gunmen have been convicted and sentenced for killing journalists and media workers. And no mastermind has ever been convicted.

Meanwhile, the worst case of them all, the Ampatuan Massacre trial, is proceeding in fits and starts, at times so glacially. The possibility grows every year that trial will not bring the perpetrators and masterminds to justice.

Mr. Aquino did say that his administration recognizes the molasses-like pace of the Philippine justice system and the need for reforming it. But that is hardly any consolation to the journalists and media workers who have been killed, and to those still likely to be killed because so many killers and all the masterminds in the killings have escaped punishment.

All this makes World Press Freedom Da y particularly ironic. It should be a day of celebration. Instead it has become its exact opposite.