By Alcuin Papa, Philippine Daily Inquirer – http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20090729-217730/Poster-child-of-impunity-68-media-men-slain

29 July 2009

MANILA, Philippines-Not since the dark days of martial law have the Philippine media been as threatened as now.

To stifle dissent, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered the closure of print and broadcast media and the incarceration of certain journalists. But media repression has recurred during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and it has gotten worse.

The biggest blot on the Arroyo administration’s press freedom record is the killing of journalists-68 since she took office in 2001, per the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The number is higher than the total such killings in the Aquino (38), Ramos (21) and Estrada (7) presidencies combined.

According to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), the tally under Ms Arroyo is twice that during martial law (36).

The last journalist killed was blocktimer Godofredo Linao, who was shot dead in Barobo, Surigao del Sur, on Monday, when Ms Arroyo delivered what is touted to be her last State of the Nation Address.

In 2006, the Arroyo administration formed Task Force Usig to investigate the killings of journalists and leftist activists.

Only 3 cases solved

In its latest accomplishment report, the task force said that as of July 20, only a total of 35 media practitioners were killed in the line of duty. Of that number, 29 cases have been filed in court and six are under investigation.

The task force said that among the 29 cases filed, the killers were found to be a member of the communist New People’s Army, two military personnel, five police personnel and two municipal mayors.

Only three cases have been solved. The NUJP also noted that these three cases led to jail terms for the purported killers, but not the masterminds.

‘The message from upstairs’

“The killings are worst than ever, and the numbers prove that,” said Nonoy Espina, a director of the NUJP.

Luis Teodoro, a journalism professor and former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication, said the “culture of impunity,” tolerance for the killings and the failure of any serious move to resolve most of the killings constituted the “emerging policy” under the Arroyo administration.

Said Vergel Santos, a member of the board of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR): “Impunity is there because the message from upstairs is it’s all right.”

International media groups have roundly criticized the Arroyo administration for its seeming do-nothing stance with regard to the killings.

The CPJ had earlier labeled the Philippines as the deadliest peacetime nation for journalists and one of the worst in solving the murders.

In March, the CPJ ranked the Philippines sixth on its Impunity Index, which assesses the safety and protection of journalists worldwide.

“The Philippines, with its exceptionally high rate of killings of journalists and especially low rate of prosecution, has long been a poster child of impunity in the global context. Our research shows that the impunity rate in the killed journalists’ cases still hovers above 90 percent, one of the highest in the world,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ senior representative for Southeast Asia.

Gov’t authorities responsible

He added that the high rate of unsolved journalists’ murders in the Philippines had “encouraged repeated and sustained attacks against the press here.”

Another international media group, the Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders), said in May that the killing of journalists should not be explained away by the existence of a culture of violence.

“A culture of impunity reigns, for which the highest government authorities are responsible…” the group said.

De facto martial law

To media advocates, Ms Arroyo’s administration has implemented a “de facto martial law” vis-à-vis the media.

Said Teodoro: “She does not have to declare martial law to get what she wants. She does not have to abolish Congress. The majority of those sitting at the Supreme Court are her appointees. These institutions becoming an active check on the administration is becoming less and less the fact.

“She ignores public opinion and does what she wants.

The CMFR’s Santos said that to Ms Arroyo, “no one is fair.”

“But it’s easy to critique and be fair because of the obvious misdeeds of this administration. She does not seem to understand that journalism is not defined by textbooks but by the environment where it operates,” he said.

Teodoro said that during martial law, you were sure to be arrested for being critical of the dictatorship.

“Today, you are not forewarned. You don’t know what will happen and what [the government] will do. You can be arrested while covering an event,” he said.

‘Enemies of the state’

In Nov. 29, 2007, at the end of the so-called siege of Peninsula Manila hotel by members of the Magdalo group charged with rebellion, more than 50 journalists covering the event were rounded up by police.

With hands cuffed, they were taken to a police camp and “processed.” Some of their video footage was also confiscated.

Police said they were just adhering to procedure by arresting everybody at a crime scene.

The NUJP said the government’s “knee-jerk” reaction indicated that authorities were viewing journalists as “enemies of the state.”

The Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines has actually given journalists that brand in a slide presentation titled “Knowing the Enemy.”

Early this year, journalist Carlos Conde found himself included in the 10th Infantry Division’s order of battle.

And just last month, reporters covering the humanitarian crisis brought about by the displacement of families caught in the crossfire between government troops and Moro rebels in central Mindanao were briefly detained by soldiers in Maguindanao province.

Legacy

In a statement, the NUJP said the Arroyo administration would be remembered for “a legacy of bloodshed and repression, its acts of omission and commission nurturing the impunity with which the enemies of press freedom have operated.”

“This is the only administration since martial law to threaten media openly, and make it official policy. This administration is being draconian without being blatant about it,” said the NUJP’s Espina.

Teodoro said the Philippine media might have their own failings involving ethics and corruption. “But no matter the failings, it does not justify violation of your constitutional rights or assassination. But the government has been using these as justifications. And certain quarters in society are buying the argument,” he said.

Santos said that however journalists practiced their profession, “[they] don’t deserve to die.”

“There are legal processes they can avail themselves of. That is basic in any civilized society,” he said.

Tribune raided

In the early hours of Feb. 26, 2006, police entered the editorial office of the opposition paper The Daily Tribune on T.M. Kalaw Street in Manila. They took copies of a mock-up of the paper’s issue and of photographs before leaving.

A few policemen stayed outside the office, saying they wanted to “secure” the area and make sure that everything inside would remain intact.

Prior to the raid, Ms Arroyo had declared emergency rule to quell a purported plot to overthrow her administration.

The raid sent shock waves throughout the Philippine journalism community. For the first time since martial law, a media outfit tasted the state’s police power.

It did not help matters any that then Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo threatened to take over a media network that was running an interview with a military mutineer.

Mike Arroyo

The President’s husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, also waded in, filing libel cases against some 46 journalists for reports on his purported involvement in scandals and irregularities.

He has since withdrawn the suits.

But a total of 43 journalists and media groups filed a class action suit against him for purportedly abusing his right to litigate and for violating the freedom of the press.

Teodoro noted that “the media are not being scared [or] intimidated.”

Declared the NUJP: “If the Philippine media remain free, it is no thanks to this administration’s lip service professions of respect for the freedoms of the press and free expression, but rather to the tenacity with which Filipino journalists have resisted all attempts to cow them into submission and silence.”