“The environment of fear and intimidation in the Philippines must come to an end. It is President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s responsibility to ensure that journalists in his country are free and able to go about their work without fear of retribution.”
Those are the words of Jane Worthington, acting Asia Pacific director of The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), who criticized the Aquino administration on the eve of World Press Freedom Day (May 3, 2014) for its inadequate handling of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 32 journalists were killed.
IFJ and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), on Friday expressed deep disappointment at the president’s disrespectful response to a question about media killings in the Philippines during a joint news conference with US President Barack Obama on April 28.
When asked why, under his watch, 26 journalists have been murdered and only six suspects in six cases have been arrested, the IFJ said the president incorrectly stated the details and facts about the infamous Magindanao massacre that remains internationally the single deadliest attack on media to date.
Despite admitting that he did not have the figures before him, the IFJ said it was deeply disturbed that the leader of the country can make a bad mistake when talking about one of most heinous crimes in the history of the Philippines.
“President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s reply clearly illustrates how much our leader really cares about media murders and extrajudicial killings in general—zilch,” according to NUJP Chairman Rowena Paraan.
The IFJ called on Aquino to address the dire state of impunity in the Philippines or continue to draw the ire of the global community.
“The Maguindinao massacre has become the centerpiece case for the international struggle against impunity and those killed are honored annually on the anniversary on November 23. The fact that the Philippine president cannot get the facts right on this very significant case, which has been campaigned on heavily during his watch, is beyond comprehension,” Worthington said.
The IFJ said the president explained the lack of progress in solving media killings by claiming his office does not “reveal the discoveries by our intelligence agencies and security services” and said “we are very sensitive to personal relationships by the people who were killed not because of professional activities but other issues.”
“After repeated demands for justice from victims’ families and colleagues have been met with nothing but silence, the president finally—and very publicly—insinuates that those who fell were killed because they possessed less than savory credentials, a blanket insult to the departed,” Worthington said.
“While it may be true that there are those in our ranks targeted for reasons other than the work they do, such a wholesale aspersion cast on the victims practically amounts to an attempt to justify their murders. If corruption or any other sin of moral turpitude justified murder, wouldn’t the graft-ridden halls of government be the first to undergo a purging?” Paraan said.
Ten journalists have been murdered in the past 12 months in the Philippines, making the country one of the most dangerous for journalists in the world.