Let me put on the table right away the reason why President Aquino and our criminal justice system feel no urgency or commitment to end the dismal record of impunity in the murders of journalists in this country.
Police investigators, justice department officials and some members of the bench are uncomfortable with the media. In displaying indifference and unconcern, they think they are only reflecting Aquino’s constant blaming of the media for his loss of public support.
At almost every public forum these days, Aquino always berates the media for not reporting the positive things his government is doing. Only President Gloria Arroyo is assigned more blame in his black book.
Aquino envies the media’s high trust rating
But the core reason for his attitude to media could be envy and professional jealousy.
In four annual surveys by the Philippine Trust Index, the PTI rated the media as more trustworthy than the government. Media was consistently number three in the trust ratings. Only the Church and academe were rated higher than the media in the public’s esteem.
The 2015 trust index released last month should be particularly galling for President Aquino and his top advisers. The Office of the President recorded the biggest drop in trust ratings among all government agencies. Only the House of Representatives, which seems to have a reserved seat in the hall of shame, had a lower rating than Malacañang.
No one would know about this and other Aquino failings if we in the independent media do not report these black marks in Aquino’s report card.
Philippines as haven of impunity
Our national embarrassment under President Aquino never ends. The tribulations just keep piling up. And there are more coming in the pipeline, which out of deference to our hosting of the APEC summit of leaders on November 17-20, I will forbear from discussing for now.
What will not wait for another day, however, are my thoughts and apprehensions about the lengthening record of unsolved killings of journalists in this country. The issue strikes at the core of my work as a journalist and writer; the perils that haunt my colleagues all over our land are also mine. There is no immunity for any journalist in this country. We have to fight this cancer together.
The national embarrassment consists of this:
Of the five worst countries where journalists are murdered with impunity, only the Philippines, at fourth place, is not in a state of large-scale armed conflict. This was noted by the Committee to Protect Journalists when it released its latest Global Impunity Index.
The Philippines was topped in the index only by Somalia, Iraq and Syria, and was rated worse than South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan and Russia. The 10 countries have the worst records in bringing murderers of journalists to justice. The Philippines also ranked third behind Syria and Iraq as the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.
The company is scary.
Just last Saturday, October 31, on the eve of the national observance of the day of the dead, and on the eve also of the worldwide observance of the Unesco-declared International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2, Jose Bernardo, 44, a radio reporter was shot dead by one of two suspects aboard a motorcycle outside a Manila restaurant.
Bernardo’s killing brings to seven the number of journalists killed this year alone.
Although deadly attacks on media workers are relatively rare in Metro Manila, it was the third such killing in the metropolis.
Since 1992, 77 journalists and two media support workers have been killed in the Philippines for their work, according to New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists.
It said 52 other journalists were murdered in the country for unclear reasons.
One of the world’s deadliest attacks against journalists took place in Maguindanao in 2009, when 32 journalists were among 58 people killed by a political warlord clan bent on stopping a rival’s election challenge.
The massacre remains the single deadliest attack on journalists in history. But to date, not one conviction has been secured by the Philippine government.
Impunity charge and APEC summit
The charge of impunity in the killing of journalists is a very serious indictment that is uncomfortable for the Aquino government to face at this time. If ignored and downplayed, as it is wont to do with any criticism, the issue could explode in his face during the APEC summit.
Foreign journalists will surely raise the issue with Aquino at some point during the summit. Serious journalists the world over care whenever a colleague meets with tragedy in any part of the world. In the Philippines, with our record of indifference and impunity, the questions will be pointed and impatient for action.
When President Obama visited Manila two years ago, Aquino was grilled on the issue by US journalists. He tried to impugn the credentials of the murdered journalists. That did not wash.
President Aquino and his advisers have to understand that at the heart of the impunity issue is the question whether the Philippines really believes and practices the rule of law.
In the international law on human rights, impunity refers to the failure to bring human rights violators to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress.
The amended Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, defines impunity as follows:
“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.”
Remember Leila de Lima
The failure to convict anyone in the Maguindanao massacre after six years, plus the continuing murders of journalists, have kept this country on the list of the five worst countries in the Global Impunity Index for years. If the record abides much longer, they might give us an impunity Oscar.
Former justice secretary Leila de Lima, who more than anyone is responsible for the Aquino record in dealing with the murder of journalists, is now running for senator in the 2016 elections.
To vote for this lady is to dishonor the memory of all the journalists who were murdered during Aquino’s watch. Let everyone remember this.