The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines welcomes the Philippine National Police’s statement that it is “implementing more tangible actions to fulfill its crucial role in complementing national government efforts to resolve media killings and other threats to press freedom,” except for one very, very crucial item — the statement miserably fails to present any proof towards achieving this goal, much more what PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac calls “significant headway in the investigation of cases.”
Sindac claims Task Force USIG of the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management has investigated 42 cases resulting in “the successful prosecution of eight (8) accused responsible in separate cases of media slay(sic).”
He cites the murders of Marlene Garcia-Esperat (3 convicted), Edgar Damalerio (1 convicted), Klein Cantoneros (1 convicted), Armando Pace (1 convicted), Rowel Endrinal (1 convicted), Gerardo “Doc Gerry” Ortega (1 convicted) and Arecio Padrigao Sr. (1 convicted).
But not only are the figures wrong to begin with, these convictions pale if seen against the 171 media murders in the country since 1986.
And, may we point out, all these convictions are of those who pulled the triggers or served as lookouts. None of these are of masterminds.
In fact, in the case of Esperat, the accused brains continue to report for work at the Department of Agriculture while, in the case of Ortega, they remain at large, allowed to slip out of the country by hirelings in government.
If this is all the PNP has to report, it is really all but admitting failure. And may we also point out that the reason most of these cases even reached conviction is because of the relentless efforts of media organizations and the victims’ families.
The PNP also says it has “intensified the campaign against Wanted Persons and Organized Crime Groups, particularly gun-for-hire syndicates who may also be involved in media killing.”
This should, of course, be welcome news not only for media but for all citizens of this republic. However, news report after news report will bear out the fact that syndicates that hire out their expertise in assassinations continue to thrive.
The Human Rights Watch report on the “Digos death squad” and its hand in the murder of broadcaster Rogelio Butalid last year remains fresh. And lest we forget, close to a hundred suspects in the Ampatuan massacre remain at large, most of them members of a private army that, at its height, boasted more firepower than the government’s security forces in Maguindanao.
Sindac says there is “no pattern” to the killings and he is right, but only insofar as there is no official program to murder journalists unlike the targeted killings of activists and other dissenters.
However, as we have pointed out again and again, there IS one pattern, not only behind media murders but, come to think of it, of the myriad of other social problems plaguing our country. And that pattern is the continued system of governance that not only tolerates but actually nurtures corrupt warlord politicians, who are the primary suspects in ordering the deaths of so many of our colleagues, but whose loyalty is indispensable to the national government.
It is likewise infuriating that Sindac, like President Benigno Aquino III, engages in the sickening charade of blaming the victims for their fates, by citing motives such as “personal grudge, double-cross, land dispute, and business rivalry” for the killings.
These are clear attempts to downplay the continued assaults on journalists and freedom of the press in the country.
And, as we have said before, questions of ethics may have played a role in a number of cases but this is still no justification for murder. For if, as Sindac and Aquino seem to imply, corruption justifies murder, it should be food for thought why those most guilty of it continue to thrive in the corridors of power.