THE New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called on President Benigno Aquino 3rd to speak out against the recent killings of three journalists and ensure that the authorities expedite their investigation, stressing that unresolved attacks on journalists have a chilling effect on media freedom in the country.
“The latest killings and threats against journalists underscore the precarious state of media freedom in the Philippines and the need for the government to respond,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW.
“Unless the government brings people who attack journalists to justice, these killings are not going to stop,” Kine added.
On July 30, unknown assailants shot and killed Richard Kho, 47, and Bonifacio Loreto Jr., 59, both columnists for the weekly tabloid Aksyon Ngayon.
Two days later, unidentified gunmen killed freelance photojournalist Mario Sy, 53, in General Santos City. ABS-CBN senior reporter Ces Drilon also received threatening text messages after her reports on the Maguindanao Massacre and Cagayan de Oro bombing had been aired.
Although the number of extrajudicial killings has declined since Aquino took office in 2010, certain groups such as environmental and labor activists and journalists continue to be targets of attacks, HRW said.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said journalists regularly report threats and harassment.
HRW noted that though the Aquino administration has introduced reforms to the criminal justice system that could result in more effective criminal investigations, these have not been fully implemented.
“Aquino began his term with a promise to promote and respect human rights, and pressed for the passage of several laws to improve human rights, but this has not translated into significant improvements on the ground. In particular there has been little progress in prosecuting human rights abusers,” the group added.
“The Philippines has a reputation for having one of the freest media environments in Asia, but that reputation disappears bit-by-bit with every killing of a journalist,” Kine said.
Journalism has long been a high-risk profession in the Philippines. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, some 73 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1992. The Philippines consistently ranks third in the organization’s list of “deadliest countries” for journalists.
Neil A. Alcober