SE Asian journalists to GMA: "stopping killing of journalists could be your legacy"

The SEAPA mission which visited the Philippines from March 21 to 24 to mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of Esperat, said that while it welcomed the creation of “tracker teams” in the Philippine National Police, the Arroyo administration could still do much more by tracking down the killers of journalists and arresting suspected masterminds.

The tracker teams, the police told the Mission, are charged with speedily locating and arresting suspected killers of journalists.

 “We are alarmed by the continuing killing of media workers in the Philippines and the inadequate measures the government is taking to stop them,” the group said in an end- of- mission statement.

“Given the prevailing sense of urgency in the impunity issue and in anticipation of an increase in the number of journalists being killed as the 2010 presidential election draws closer, we call upon President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to take the steps necessary to prevent that unfortunate development. Madame President, a halt to the killing of journalists as well as political dissenters would be one the enduring legacies you can leave the Filipino people as your term ends.

“We note with concern that despite intensified efforts by civil society and Philippine media groups themselves to convince the government, its law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to address the issue of impunity and the killings, the murders, a majority of which occur in the provinces, have been continuing. An average of five journalists has been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 2001 when the Arroyo administration came to power. By the end of February 2009, the count of slain journalists had gone up to 78 since the end of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, according to statistics compiled by the Philippine-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has recorded 100 killed since 1986, 64 of them under the Arroyo administration.

The NUJP list is “based on the databases of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Bulatlat, the CMFR, and the defunct Philippine Movement for Press Freedom, which monitored press freedom violations in the ’80s.”

“The list contains only those journalists who were killed – or were most likely killed – because of their journalism work. In cases where it is not clear whether the death was work-related, or when the authorities could not ascertain the motives behind the killing, NUJP shall assume that the killing was work-related, unless future evidence points to the contrary,” the NUJP said.

Esperat’s  expose of DA wrongdoing has been linked to the 2004 fertilizer scam scandal in which DA funds were allegedly used for the elections that year.

The SEAPA mission was composed of  Doung Hak Samrithy, vice president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists; Jajang Jalamudin, secretary general of the Alliance of Independence Journalists, Indonesia; Pradit Ruangdit , secretary general of  the Thai Journalists Association; V Gayathry, executive director of Center for Independent Journalists, Malaysia; and Kulachada Chaipipat, campaign and advocacy officer of SEAPA, Bangkok, Thailand, the Head of the Mission.

Based in Thailand, SEAPA member-organizations include the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, in addition to Indonesian and Thai journalists’ groups.

The team members expressed fear that the killing and harassment of journalists in the Philippines could spread to other countries unless stopped.

“One of the reasons we came to the Philippines on the eve of the 4th death anniversary of Marlene Esperat was because we believe that the culture of impunity that is deeply-rooted in the Philippines could be replicated in other countries in the region unless there is a common effort to dismantle it in the Philippines. We note an increase in the violence against journalists and media workers in Malaysia and Thailand including browbeating, harassment and mob attacks on individual journalists; surrounding media premises; and the killing of journalists in addition to the use of legal sanctions to silence the media and suppress on-line free expression in 2008.”

“The culture of impunity” refers to the seeming immunity from prosecution and punishment of most of the killers and suspects in the killing of journalists. Only two out of the 78 cases of journalists killed while on duty since 1986 have been partly resolved in that the killers have been tried and convicted. No mastermind, however, has been prosecuted. Journalists groups worldwide believe that this immunity from punishment encourages further killings.

“The SEAPA mission called on media practitioners to adhere to the ethical and professional standards of journalist so as to eliminate one excuse for the killings, and to assure the outrage of the citizenry whenever a journalist is killed. It also called on Filipinos to be involved in the campaign against impunity because every journalist killed deprives citizens of their right to information,” its press statement said.

The mission met with the state prosecutor handling the Esperat case; the secretariat of the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Usig (Prosecute); lawyer Nena Santos, private counsel of the Esperat family; some Filipino legislators; and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists.

The New York-based committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the other hand released its report on the Global Impunity Index, also in time for Esperat’s death anniversary, saying her case “has become emblematic of the struggle against impunity.”

Two government officials are accused of ordering her murder. They have remained free. The gunmen have been convicted.

The Philippines again ranked sixth among 14 countries  in the Global Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population, from 1999 to 2008.

The CPJ defines unsolved cases as those that have not resulted in convictions. (MindaNews)