FFFJ: Beyond the Numbers
Statement of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ)
on Secretary Herminio Coloma’s claim that there is “no more culture of impunity”
IS THERE “no more culture of impunity” as Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma of the Presidential Communication Operations Office argued during a press conference last November 22, on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre?
Secretary Coloma was reacting to allegations that the Aquino administration has pulled ahead of past administrations because of the number of journalists killed—19, or an average of six per year— during the first three years of its watch. He bases this argument on another argument: that the number of journalists and media workers killed during the first three years of President Benigno Aquino III, from 2010 to 2013, which, as documented by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), currently stands at 19, is inflated because “a driver of a network, employees of ‘fly-by-night’ newspapers, and a blocktimer selling skin whiteners” are included in the count.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility includes media workers, such as drivers and grips, because of indispensable support these give to journalists. They perform services required by journalists to do their work. CMFR also includes blocktimers and those working in tabloids who may be sponsored by political and commercial interests, because whatever the quality of their work, they remain part of the free media community, exercising a crucial role in a democracy and equally protected by the Constitution.
When they’re killed in the course of their work or for their work, it has an impact on the state of the press and media because the killings serve as a deterrent against other journalists’ doing their jobs without fear. The CMFR list does not look into the compliance of practitioners with ethical and professional standards, that being a separate issue altogether from the fundamental one: that no one who does journalistic work or who supports the work of journalists deserves to be killed, and their killing has a chilling effect on the way the press and the media provide the information and analysis citizens need. CMFR and other advocate groups believe that their killers must be punished.
CMFR looks very closely into every report, whether from the news media or from its own network, on the killing of a journalist or media worker. CMFR alerts and threats officers call the Philippine National Police and local journalists to confirm if indeed the killing took place. If it did, CMFR interviews the local police for the details of the killing, and the colleague of the slain to establish if the victim was indeed regarded by the local press and media community as a journalist; what he was working on; his history in the profession; whether he has received any death or other threats; and if the opinion of the press community his killing was work related. CMFR also contacts the family to verify if the slain was indeed working as a journalist and if he had mentioned any threats to his life, and from whom the slain thought they were coming from. CMFR then contacts whoever, if at all, the slain had told his family was threatening him to get his side.
CMFR, which also serves as the Secretariat for the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), continues to validate its early findings by verifying them with other sources. Only when there is a high probability that the motive for the killing was work related is the name of the slain included in the CMFR database and a report on it released to the CMFR national and international networks, and if approved by its member organizations, to FFFJ networks as well. CMFR is aware that a journalist or media worker could be killed for other than work-related reasons, such as a private dispute or a love triangle, and has excluded thirteen (13) non-work related killings from its list of journalists killed during the Aquino administration, whose three-year record would otherwise total 32.
As far as the number of journalists killed during the first three years of the Aquino government (19) is concerned, only the gunman in the January 2011 killing of Palawan broadcaster and environmental advocate Gerry Ortega has been convicted. Meanwhile, in 2013 alone, 66 threats, whimsical and politically- motivated libel suits, illegal arrests, physical assaults, being barred from covering events of public concern, and other harassments have been recorded, with no one being held to account for them.
Impunity is the name for the fact that only one gunman and no mastermind has been tried or even arrested in 18 out of the 19 killings of journalists from 2010 to 2013, and for the continuing harassments many journalists have to contend with in the course of their work.
FFFJ holds that the primary reason why the killings and harassments are continuing today is the slow progress of the Ampatuan Massacre trial, which is still hearing petitions for bail three years after it began, while 89 out of the 194 accused of masterminding and carrying out the Massacre are still at large.
But whatever the numbers—whether the driver of a TV network should be excluded from the list of 32 journalists and media workers killed during the Ampatuan Massacre or not—what is at issue is State responsibility for the safety of all its constituencies including journalists and media workers.
This has always been FFFJ’s stand, which is shared by CMFR and the other members of the FFFJ. That is why it continues to ask for government action. It is also the international standard, as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Frank La Rue has reminded media and media advocacy groups, by which to determine the persistence of the culture of impunity in the Philippines and in other countries.
Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists: