Media groups urge Aquino to take concrete action to Stop the Killings

by Ronalyn V. Olea,

MANILA – In an open letter, media organizations called on President Benigno S. Aquino III to take concrete action to put a stop to the killings of journalists.

The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc. (FFFJ), a national network of press oriented organizations, together with other media organizations and mass communication professors and students, said the action should “send a signal that the executive will do all that is necessary and within its power to counter impunity.”

Six journalists have been murdered since Aquino assumed the presidency. An unidentified gunman shot at broadcaster Miguel Belen of Camarines Sur on July 9, 2010; he later died on July 31. On January 24, Gerardo Ortega [2] was gunned down in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. A woman broadcaster Marlina Flores Sumera [3] was shot dead on March 24. The FFFJ noted that the first two killings are work-related and said that the murder of Sumera could also be work- related.

The group said that while the murder of three other journalists are probably not work-related, the killings, said FFFJ, “are part of the same culture of impunity that has allowed to go unpunished the murder not only of journalists but also that of political activists, human rights workers, members of the clergy, lawyers and even progressive local officials.”

According to the FFFJ, a number of these killings involve local government officials and officers of the Philippine National Police. “We are anxious because you have not taken any significant action to show political will to put an end to impunity and to launch the presidential initiatives needed to begin the process of change,” the letter said.

“We realize that there are many other urgent problems that call for your attention. But you were elected because the people were hungry for change, and you thwart that belief in the possibility of change at the risk of the people’s loss of faith in the capacity of the system to deliver justice,” the letter further stated.

While the groups recognize the limitations of the executive in dealing with the problems in the judiciary, they asserted that “the power and capability of the president resonates in different ways and … executive action can have a positive impact on the conduct of the judicial system, as it does on the legislature.”

The groups also decried the snail-paced trial of cases against the alleged masterminds and killers of the massacre [4] on Nov. 23, 2009 that claimed the lives of 58 victims, including 32 journalists. “Fifteen months since the Massacre, in which 32 journalists and media workers were killed together with 26 others, the cases against the alleged masterminds and killers have hardly moved. Even more dangerously, however, these killings enfeeble the Philippine state, demonstrating that it cannot enforce its own laws, and protect its own citizens within its own territory,” the groups said.

The groups pointed out that failure to prosecute the killers of journalists as well as those of political activists and the masterminds behind these crimes “is sending the dangerous signal that, as in the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the killings can continue during Aquino’s watch without the perpetrators being punished. “That failure will confirm that impunity will continue to reign, and those with the means will not stop the use of violence against those they wish to silence,” the letter further stated.

On August 8, 2010, the FFFJ and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) discussed their concerns with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. The groups recommended, among others, the following: 1) the strengthening of the Witness Protection Program; and 2) the formation of Multi-Sectoral Quick Response Teams which will combine both investigative, forensic and other police actions on the killing of journalists; 3) Steps that would accelerate the pace of the Ampatuan Massacre trial. For long-term reform, the groups also called for a review of the rules of court “to diminish the possibility of abuse and manipulation.”

“We understand that it has been less than a year since that meeting. But we are alarmed by the unabated killing of journalists and political activists, and the continuing human rights violations which undermine Philippine democracy more than any rebellion. We reiterate the need for your administration to act now to prevent the further deterioration and the recurrence of more killings – if only to retain the public’s confidence in the promise of reform,” the media groups stated.

“As we pause from daily routine in this period of spiritual contemplation and renewal, we ask once again that you draw strength from our advocacy to end the impunity that has punished the Filipino people for so long,” the groups said.

Other signatories include Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, faculty members of the University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communication, BusinessWorld and College Editors Guild of the Philippines.

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