HEADLINES

Violent attacks still threaten Filipino journalists

Celia E. Acedo | Silliman University Research and Environmental News Service

VIOLENT ATTACKS CONTINUE to plague Philippine journalists and the crimes go unpunished because government protection mechanisms are ineffective and the legal system is dysfunctional, according to a 2017 report by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication in Manila.

The report said the Philippines ranked as the third deadliest country for journalists, after Iraq and Syria, based on the number of killings since 1992, and even though the Philippines was “enjoying peaceful democracy rather than being technically at war.”

The report is part of a sevencountry study by the non-profit organization International Media Support (IMS), in partnership with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It is funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the project, “Promoting the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.”

The studies are published in a book entitled, Defending Journalism, released by IMS in October 2017.

The Philippine report cited figures from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), which recorded “151 cases of journalists being killed in connection with their work in the Philippines from 1986 to 2016, including the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre in which 58 people were slaughtered, 32 of them journalists.”

In another report, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reported a higher figure–172 journalists murdered during that same period, but that figure includes killings that may not be work-related.

The report said perpetrators of violence against journalists are rarely prosecuted. Over the twenty-year period, as of November 2016, there were only 17 convictions for the murders, but justice was not fully served because not a single mastermind of the crimes was prosecuted.

The Philippine Permanent Delegation to UNESCO reported to the UNESCO Director-General in September 2014 that in the 55 cases considered as media killings from 2003 to 2014, only 10 resulted in the convictions of the perpetrators.

In the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, not a single perpetrator has been found guilty.

The impunity sweeps across a vibrant Philippine mass media that “typically are not subject to government interference.” The Philippines has 67 newspapers (6 of them national dailies), 436 TV broadcast stations, 411 AM broadcast radio stations, and 1,014 FM broadcast radio stations—apart from the 33 radio stations owned by the government’s Philippine Broadcast Service.

The report blamed the slow and dysfunctional justice system for the unsolved crimes. “Legal remedies have in practice done little to dislodge the culture of impunity. Justice procedures in the Philippines advance at an extremely slow pace. A human rights lawyer for the Ampatuan victims estimated that it could take 55,000 years to try all the cases in court.”

Jose Manuel Diokno, dean of the De La Salle University College of Law in Manila, attributed high impunity rates to “shoddy police work, ineffective police investigation and weak prosecution, as well as to congested court dockets and a lack of judges and prosecutors.”

Over the past decade, Philippine presidents, in response to outcry against journalist killings, have created five task forces to monitor the crimes, help arrest the suspects involved, and assist in prosecution. These bodies count as members, cabinet officials working with the police and non-government organizations.

“In practice, however, these bodies have disappointed press freedom advocates, who criticize them for their lack of independence and credibility, the low-level participation by non-government organizations, and the lack of political will to go beyond the perfunctory creation of a committee or task force.”

If journalists are not being killed, they are threatened with multi-million libel cases (a criminal offense in the Philippines) or with harm–many of the threats being delivered online.

For example, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism website and blog were hacked on July 29, 2016, after the publication of its reports on the war on drugs and its Know Your Rights series.

In September 2016 two female journalists from the CMFR received online threats of rape and harm to their families after they were accused of sharing information with a foreign reporter on Duterte’s war on drugs.

On December 8, 2016, the Facebook page of Reuters correspondent Manny Mogato was hacked. His cover photograph was changed, and the words “Duterte is my President” were written across it.

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