First of two parts
HIS MOTHER is a former president who was widowed when her husband, a prominent opposition leader, was assassinated. And so when Benigno ‘Noynoy’ C. Aquino 3rd came to power on June 30, 2010, expectations were high that he would act with dispatch and resolve on the unsolved murders of activists, lawyers, church workers, and journalists.
Aquino himself promised as much—and more. In his first State of the Nation Address or SONA, he vowed that his administration would work to end the reign of impunity and extrajudicial killings. In its stead, Aquino said, his administration would usher in an era of “swift justice.”
“Kapayapaan at katahimikan po ang pundasyon ng kaunlaran (Peace and order are the foundations of progress),” Aquino said in his first SONA. “Habang nagpapapatuloy ang barilan, patuloy din ang pagkakagapos natin sa kahirapan (So long as there is gunfire, so too will we continue to be impoverished).”
Aquino did busy himself trying to address the country’s economic woes. In the first half of his term, Aquino and his economic managers assiduously sought and in time earned the Philippines unanimous upgrades from the world’s most creditable ratings agencies, notably Fitch, Moody’s, Standard & Poor.
Parallel to that, however, were the country’s lower and lower scores from the world’s most creditable human rights monitoring agencies – in large measure because of the rising numbers of media murders, and the slow, tepid results of official action on the cases.
Under Aquino, the Philippines has scored steadily dipping ratings in recent years from international groups monitoring the state of human rights, media freedom, and freedom of expression such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, Human Rights Asia, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
In fact, during Aquino’s first 40 months in office, from July 2010 to October 2013, at least 23 journalists were killed. It is a trail of blood redder, thicker, and worse compared to the number of work-related media murders per year under four other presidents before him, including his late mother Corazon ‘Cory’ C. Aquino and his immediate predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Only 4 cases in court
Of these 23 media-killing cases, half are already dead in the water because of failure by police investigators to identify or arrest suspects. Only four are in the trial stage. Twelve of the murder cases have no charges filed against anyone yet, while the remaining seven are still in the level of the public prosecutor or the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the determination of probable cause.
For sure, part of the problem lies with a criminal justice system that is in need of a serious overhaul. But there is also no doubt that for so long as the Aquino administration continues to lack clear and unequivocal policy directions on media killings, the trail of blood will only get longer.
“The killings are being encouraged by the fact that of the killers of journalists, no mastermind has been tried or punished,” says former University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications Dean Luis Teodoro, now a trustee of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ).
“What is disappointing is that we were hoping (for better) under President Aquino, son of the two icons of democracy,” says Rowena Paraan, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
“He ran under a platform of anticorruption, transparency, and human rights,” she says.
“We were thinking na magkakaroon ng political will and decisive action to address the killings, not only of the media, but also of the activists, priests, and lawyers.”
For this report, PCIJ reviewed the records of two independent media agencies that have been monitoring media murders in the country since 1986: the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and NUJP.
Under Aquino, CMFR has documented 19 media murders, while NUJP monitored 18. Fourteen cases appear in both lists. CMFR’s list, however, has five cases not enrolled in NUJP’s records, while NUJP has four cases not appearing in CMFR’s list, hence PCIJ’s total count of 23 cases of media murders.
Aquino started his term on a relatively high note with media groups. Just months before his election as President, Aquino had pledged to support the long-delayed Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, drawing cheers from media organizations.
In the succeeding months, however, the number of media murder victims began growing again, and would in three years exceed the number of media deaths recorded in the first 40 months of the preceding Arroyo administration.
There were 12 media murders in the first 40 months of Arroyo’s administration, from January 2001 to May 2004.
There are now more journalists killed per year on average under Aquino than there were under President Arroyo or any other Philippine president for that matter—at least if one does not count the monstrous Maguindanao Massacre where 32 journalists were among those killed in a single act of violence in 2009. Including those killed in that tragedy, Arroyo comes out on top, with 80 journalists killed under her watch.
(To be continued)