Indifference and impunity in the murder of Filipino journalists

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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.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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7 Comments

  1. Remember Mr. Makabenta, In our Group of BBMLI, we will campaign hard of slogan
    ZERO VOTE TO ALL LIBERAL PARTY and all allies of Abnoy administration which is also collaborator of Binay and Grace Poe political party..They are the biggest THIEF of our nation..to HELL WITH THEM…

  2. Thank you Mr. Makabenta for this revealing and troubling insight.

    What is not mentioned, although clearly demonstrated, is this issue attacks the right to free speech in a hideous manner that weakens democracy to the point of a communist state.

    It becomes difficult to distinguish the difference between a Death Squad killing drug dealers and thieves and a death squad killing those that criticize and unveil the truth… both have a man at the top calling the shots and the existence and tolerance of one feeds and justifies the other.

    Add in the current Lumad injustices and one ponders the similarity of the Third Reich under Hitler. The world says “never again” but that never again can only occur with vigilant adherence to the rights of freedom of expression. Never again is happening right now in N. Korea where the entire media is government controlled.

    In this world of power hungry madmen the power of the pen will always be the victor.

    God bless you Sir….

    • What I believe is what most of the international journalists, news, banking institutions and agencies says about our country. Unfortunately, Yen (Japanese currency) I could not agree in most cases not because of anything else but balance reporting. I hate people who only talks about negativism.
      There is always second story of all these attacks. What I believe if a leader or manager is doing his job well many people dislikes him. Why? Simple it affects them.

  3. ‘Politicians and nappies have one thing in common – they both
    should be changed regularly, and for the same reason !’

    The Philippines is potentially approaching a 3rd wave of political change.

    The first wave was the Marcos years. Dictatorial – 1 man rule

    The second wave will be bookended by the Aquino years. Sham democracy – feudal in practice, opportunistic, and dynastic rule by a few. Neo-liberalism controlled by oligarchs. Hegemony by the US.

    The third wave will be facilitated when there is a step up in political maturity, and a step forward in democratic practices. Unity and inclusion will then take center stage, and a conscious move to meritocracy will drive progress, fuel improvement, open markets, and usher in an innovation economy.

    Each generation brings with it new ideas and new perspectives.
    It is one of the mechanisms which enables societies to adapt and thrive, to refresh and renew.
    And more than any other generation Millenials are more connected, more aware, more active, and more concerned.

    The green shoots of a new era will hopefully be nurtured by the attitudes and aspirations of Millenials, who have a greater sense of individuality, whilst sharing common principles of social responsibility and humanitarian values. They see through the propaganda, and expect solutions, not excuses. They want to embrace the future, rather than cling to the past. Their political patience will be far less than their parents, their demands far more.

    But such change takes time, and effort. 2016 will not be the end of the second wave, but it will signal the beginning of the end. Dynastic rule has no place in a modern world or a democracy. The dinosaurs are clinging on and their unscrupulous tactics display their desperation, but they are at deaths door, politically, and in Satan’s waiting room, spiritually. The sooner they are extinct the better for the nation.

    Without a new era, new politicians, and new thinking, the country will face a lost decade, and the hopes of another generation will be dashed from the outset.
    The Millenials must also do their part, and as they grow in numbers and ability, use a united voice.
    Silence is the friend of the tryant – fear their weapon – impunity their shield.

    The Philippines is in the last chance saloon – the caring and sharing generation needs to call time on the champagne life-style of corrupt self-interested politicians, or it will be them who pick up the bill and pay the price.
    Only time will tell if they step up to the plate, or get stepped upon, and if their energy and enthusiasm of youth carry the day, or whether they get distracted and despondent.

    As with any abuse it only stops when you challenge the bully, expose their cowardice, and break the vicious cycle.

    “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”
    Benjamin Franklin
    US President

  4. ‘The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ backed by UN, EU, and many western governments, was a missed opportunity for the philippine media to be at one in condemning the current situation by showing a united front – eg. All carry black banners/blank front pages etc.

    The fact that it was a non event in the philippine media – apart from manila times – is in itself surprising, and worrying.