Through my email , I received the following message from a tireless online correspondent and activist:
The worst airport in the world.
The most expensive electricity cost in Asia.
The slowest Internet among Asean nations.
The highest unemployment rate among
NASA KANGKUNGAN NA BA TAYO?”
This column is one compatriot’s reply to her lament.
I sympathize with your despair, at the rate
Our country is hurtling from bad to worse.
And yet, your litany of ignominies is by no means a complete record of all the embarrassments inflicted on the nation during President BS Aquino’s watch.
The latest embarrassment that we must bear is being rated third worst in the Impunity Index of countries where journalists’ murders go unsolved, as compiled by the International Committee for the Protection of journalists (CPG).
Dirty Dozen in unsolved journalists’ murders
CPG cited 12 countries with dismal records. The list in descending order runs as follows:
4. Sri Lanka
There’s great humiliation in our being rated worse than Afghanistan, a war zone, and Colombia and Mexico, two countries in the middle of drug-cartel wars.
And it’s so shameful to be running toe-to-toe with Iraq and Somalia.
This is serious stuff, and this is why the Times published a scathing editorial on the subject last Sunday (“President Aquino doesn’t care about journalists’ killing,” May 4).
Impunity is scary
Impunity is so scary, the English language did not allow it to father an adjective, like, say, impune, and unlike immunity, which begat (begot) immune.
Impunity means “exemption or immunity from punishment , recrimination, or other unpleasant consequences for something that has been done.”
Scotland acknowledged the gravity of impunity when it crafted its national motto around it: “ NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT” (No one attacks me with impunity).
Would that we also adopted it as the motto of journalists—with guarantees from our government.
But it is our government that is missing in action here—in its inability to provide better protection and justice when journalists are slain.
When Ed Henry of Fox News posed his question to President Aquino at the joint news conference of Presidents Aquino and Obama, he did so in sympathy with Filipino journalists, and in support of the anti-impunity program of the CPG.
Henry’s question was to the point, “President Aquino, as a journalist, I’d like to ask you why 26 journalists have been killed since you took office? And I understand that there have been suspects arrested in only six of those cases. What are you doing to fix that?”
Mr. Aquino fumbled in his reply. He rationalized that he has formed an inter-agency committee to investigate the killings and other human rights violations. When he touched on the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre, in which 32 journalists were murdered, he showed that he did not know what he was talking about. And he was not aware of the entire media situation. He also betrayed his indifference to these journalist murders, by suggesting that some of them deserved to die and some of the killings were not related to their work as journalists.
It’s true that in 2013, President Aquino signed Administrative Order No. 35 creating the “Inter-agency committee on extra-legal killing, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and the security of persons.” Named as chair of the committee was Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Since the committee’s creation, no report on the investigations has been made, and more journalists have been killed, the latest being tabloid reporter Robelita Garcia.
President Aquino’s response provoked a strong rebuke from the International Federation of Journalists’s acting Asia Pacific Director Jane Worthington, which I discussed in my previous column (“Time to adopt fact-checking journalism in PH”, Times, May 3)
Aquino and Coloma deserve each other
If President Aquino’s reply to Ed Henry was confused and vacuous, the comment of his communications secretary Herminio Coloma on the high impunity index ranking was confidently obtuse and tautological.
Coloma declared that the country ranks high because “In the Maguindanao massacre more than 50 people are thought to have died because of impunity against journalists.”
This is what happens when you comment on something without (1) knowing first what you are commenting on, and without (2) thinking out and writing what you’re going to say.
With a check on the Internet and search engines like Google and Yahoo, you can quickly find full information about the impunity index, and why the Aquino administration cannot pretend indifference to the judgment of the international media community.
The Impunity Index includes those countries where the slayings of five or more journalists have gone unresolved.
It was first issued on World Press Freedom Day 2013. In this year’s observance of World Press Freedom Day, the index was issued again, this time listing 12 nations that fit the criteria.
Iraq ranked worst with 93 journalists killed in the last decade, but with no convictions at all for their murders.
The country has been a dangerous place for journalists going back to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, although the number of media workers murdered is now in decline there.
Among the other familiar names on the 2014 list are Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico and Sri Lanka. A major concern, the CPJ said, was that there was a danger that journalists in these countries would practice self-censorship, failing to hold powerful and sometimes dangerous interests to account.
The Philippines got highlighted because of the additional victims this year, and the lack of progress in investigating the Maguindanao Massacre.
In their statements on the impunity index, Aquino and Coloma show that it was their destiny to wind up with each other. No employer and employee deserve each other more.
One young man in the house, who’s quite upset by the whole business, says that there’s a perfectly logical reason why journalists’ murders go unsolved in our country. “What else can we expect of a president who hates journalists for not reporting the good news under his regime?”
And with so many journalists being killed and so much incompetence on display, what good is there to report about this government?
World Press Freedom index
Besides the impunity index, there’s another press list that should be perused by Filipino journalists and press freedom advocates. This is the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, which spotlights the state of freedom of information in the world. Reporters Without Borders, the sponsors of the index, says that some countries have been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an “overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed.”
The group said the trend was a “growing threat worldwide” and was endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies.
In the list of 180 countries, Finland topped the Press Freedom index for the fourth straight year, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year.
The last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where Reporters Without Borders says freedom of information is non-existent.
The Philippines is No. 149 on the list.
The United States is number 46. Russia is number 148. And China is ranked at number 175.
With hardline communist countries in the listing, this is one list we need not worry about topping.
But with our Congress’ continuing failure to pass, and President Aquino’s reluctance to push, a freedom of information law, it’s no wonder we rate poorly in the press freedom index.
We have a strong guarantee of press freedom written in our Constitution, but we are still missing the enabling law and the law enforcement that will allow its effective exercise.
After nearly four years in the Aquino Presidency, it should now be crystal clear that he fears the passage and operation of a Freedom of Information Act.
Together with Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, they form a veritable Berlin Wall against good journalism in this country. It’s time to tear down this wall.