It’s dangerous to be a journalist in this country


Perhaps finally, President Aquino will take seriously the issue of media killings and criminal impunity and act.

Because this time, it’s the US government and the American press that have taken notice and are alarmed.

Because his American backers, for so long the ballast of his presidency, are now worried about the political and media situation in our country.

They are alarmed and shocked that the Philippines, touting itself as the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia, and as a serious democracy, is fast becoming a place where journalism is an art and science of living dangerously.

Third worst in impunity index
They are alarmed that for four years running, the country has ranked as the third worst in the world in the Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPG), which tracks countries according to their records in solving media killings or murders. Impunity in this case means “getting away with murder.” That is third worst among the 12 deadliest places in the world for journalists in the 2013 Impunity Index.

The Philippines had a rating of .580 per million population. That beats Afghanistan (a war zone), Mexico (a drug-war zone), Columbia, Russia and Brazil.

A Human Rights Watch report says 12 journalists were killed in the Philippines in 2013.

Aquino should sit up and notice because when CPG says four years in a row, that means the four years that he has been the president of the Philippines.

An American educator working in the country, who has just returned from the US, sent me an email saying that the impunity issue has become a serious topic in Washington DC. It’s discussed in the US Congress and the State department. And there are calls for the US government to put more pressure on the Philippine government to act.

On the radar of US government
When Ambassador Philip Goldberg arranged a meeting with media watchdog groups last week to discuss the issue and released a statement of concern about the media killings, you know that the issue is now truly on the radar of the US government. It wasn’t a sudden whim on his end, it’s the result of a rising outcry in the US and here in Manila.

Goldberg met with the leaders and representatives of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the National Press Club (NPC), Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). He sought to learn more about the challenges facing journalists in the Philippines, including extra judicial killings, and what can be done to address these issues.

He emphasized that press freedom is a fundamental human right, belonging right up there with other rights. He underscored America’s support for an open media environment where journalists are free to work safely without fear of being threatened or killed.

But the question really is how to move Aquino into action. The problem is something that serious action at Cabinet level can cope with.

When a Fox News journalist asked Aquino about media killings and criminal impunity last April during Obama’s visit, his answer was to question whether the victims were really journalists. He won’t budge unless US support for his key initiatives is placed in jeopardy.

Well, it is in jeopardy here. One loud voice in Congress could cause a lot of headaches. Especially because this is a mid-term election year in the US.

Unyielding media is real opposition
People in Washington need to connect the dots and recognize that the reason the Philippine government is not doing anything about the spate of media killings, is that the media constitute much of the real opposition to Aquino today, in the absence of serious political opposition in Congress, and with the sidelining of some opposition senators in the pork barrel scandal.

It is the unyielding media crusade, backed by public outrage, that has carried forward the campaign against the pork barrel and the President’s unconstitutional and illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

Aquino has often said that relentless media criticism has been the bane of his administration, providing him no respite, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even during snack time. Like King Henry II, who was released by his knights from the opposition of Thomas Beckett, Aquino probably exudes relief every time a journalist is killed. Significantly, most of the killings have occurred in the provinces, and as a result of local political rivalries.

But this problem is not just for the government to address. This is even more an issue that should rouse our media community, both national and local, into action. The issue should engage us all. Our institution is on the line. Every media killing diminishes us all. And when they are left unsolved, we must treat each victim like a lost member of our families. The authorities must know no surcease.

We have to treat it personally, or the authorities will just “noynoy” (procrastinate or put off) the problem.

What can we do?

What the media community can do
As an amateur student of strategy, here are some action ideas that I believe we in the media community can adopt as lone voices, individual media organizations, or as a community. They are each designed to compel the attention and prompt response of government.

First, put the media killings on the frontend of the hosting by the Philippines of the APEC Summit of leaders in 2015. Top leaders of Asia and America will be coming . all top media organizations will come to cover the event. The Aquino government will seek to put its best foot forward. What better time to highlight the issue than in the runup to and during the summit. The government cannot afford not to act.

Second, to force the justice department and Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to act on the media killings, let’s persuade individual newspapers and networks to enforce a freeze or blackout of all stories on De Lima and the Justice department.

Third, to force the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to apprehend suspects and provide better security, media should enforce a freeze or blackout on all stories and coverage of Mar Roxas and these organizations.

Fourth, the media should develop a fund of stories on the victims, and a comprehensive report on the killings. For too long, the victims have been rendered anonymous, faceless, and unsung.

Fifth, the national press should seize the opportunity and the issue as a means to unite and strengthen the National Press Club, and recapture its lost relevance and lost glory. It’s high time the Philippine press has again a club that represents its collective interests and values.

Sixth, since they are the channels of information, media organizations can develop and implement together a practical communications strategy and media campaign.

At the end of the exercise, we may be sure that the media will be better regarded and appreciated by the public for its service than our politicians.


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  1. It is surprising to see how some people comments are very insensitive as to how a journalist feels i..e. fearing for their life., that their job seriously calls for, is to report to his countrymen what they gather for us Filipinos to know and must know from which may gravely affect our daily ways of life . Journalist deserve more respect than those elected politician that run our country today they should be our hero, because without their courage, we wont have our freedom, the freedom of expression.

  2. I am not surprise at all Mr. Makabenta say that. There are irresponsible journalists in this country.

    • Ex-Ambivalent on

      I did not call him that. I only said that the lone sentence was a tiny yet very smelly piece of irresponsible journalism. Who am I to judge a whole man?

      It is very regrettable if this has distracted from the main point — murders of journalists. I agree that those who would resort to grave threats and murder to achieve their ends or defend their interests have no place in our society, much less as political leaders. Whilst we debate about constitutional and budget law, it is common ground be that the Criminal Code must be enforced. There is nothing that a journalist can write that would justify murdering him or her.

  3. To: Ex-Ambivalent: Don’t show your true yellow color, my goodness. You’re bias and unreasonable. Yen Makabenta is just exposing the slipshod administration of PNoy. Don’t get irk if PNoy is now the object of nitizen’s criticism. Don’t be a Gonga Din. Do you know who or what a Gonga Din is? Read one of the satirical poems of Rudyard Kipling – and there you will know who Gonga Din is.

    • Ex-Ambivalent on

      Was that sentence hyperbole? To suggest that **anyone** is relieved that a journalist died is sobra na.

      Is your view of politics so simplistic as to be reducible to color-coding? Must I choose a side? Since you have given me a reading assignment, I will give you one too. Please read my reaction to Ben Kritzs column on the 2015 budget.

  4. Media killings are one of the prime indicators of illegal acts being covered up. The government should bring safety to all of our people. Unfortunately they are too busy covering up illegal acts.

  5. Don’t be afraid Yen – if they kill you, the people knows the killer.

    Who has the motive to kill you? Watch the “Ikaw Lamang” sa TV show of Kapamilya ABS-CBN ni Samuel and Franco.

    Si Don Maximo and Governor Franco lang ang may motivo sa pagpatay sa mga Journalist na critical sa administration ni Governor Franco. You know whom I am referring to.

    You will be a “Hero of the Filipinos” – like Ninoy

  6. Ex-Ambivalent on

    What?!? “Aquino probably exudes relief every time a journalist is killed?!?” Are you serious Mr. makabenta? I stopped reading after that sentence. Here are my comments on what came before:

    1. Not all media killings are politically related. Gangsters and businessmen are motivated to silence journalists too. The impunity problem applies to all killings. Is a journalist who is killed at the behest of a non-politician, a lesser hero? But you have ignored them all.

    2. Political media killings can happen at all levels of government including provincial and municipal. The Amputuan case was about a governorship. Countless killings are related to mayoral races.

    3. Do you have any evidence that Aquino welcomes media killings? Any proof that he has interfered with the prosecution of these crimes? If you have a good reason to write it in a newspaper column, then what is that word “probably” doing in your sentence?

    The rest of your column today might be good. Too bad a fetid speck of irresponsible journalism stopped me, and probably many other readers, dead in my tracks.

  7. douglas o rosete on

    Why don’t media organizations pursue the killers of a radio broadcaster in Digos,Davao del Sur on June 2010.A witness has tagged former Governor Dodo Cagas as the mastermind.A star witness who was under the witness protection program was also killed while the case is pending in the court of appeals.What happens now?Somethings fishy.