NUJP: media corruption noted but not justification for killing

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 June) – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP ) said it does not gloss over the fact that corruption is among the most pressing problems faced by the media and that this could be a reason for a number of media killings but “it is one thing to recognize a possible reason for murder; it is a totally different thing to present this as a justification for taking life.”

The NUJP issued the statement in reaction to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s statement in a press conference Tuesday night that most of the journalists who were killed were corrupt.

“Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch,” Duterte told reporters at the “Malacañang of the South” in response to a query on his

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte discusses various issues in a press conerence in Davao City on Tuesday night, 31 May 2016. MindaNews photo President-elect Rodrigo Duterte discusses various issues in a press conerence in Davao City on Tuesday night, 31 May 2016. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

policy on media killings.

The NUJP has listed 176 journalists killed since democracy was restored in the country in 1986.

Duterte said freedom of expression and the Constitution itself will not shield journalists from being the subject of killing if they took advantage of their profession to commit a wrong against another.

“Your freedom of expression cannot help you if you’ve done something wrong to the guy… the Constitution can no longer help you pag binaboy mo ang isang tao,” he said.

Addressing Duterte, the NUJP statement issued by its chair, Ryan Rosauro, said “what leaders say, right or wrong, seriously or in jest, will resound with their followers. Thus, even if this be in jest, and we see no reason to believe this was the case, your words may well be interpreted as marching order by those with an axe to grind against a critical press.”

Cusp of a new era

The NUJP said it was hopeful, following pronouncements the President-elect would push for the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) law and the recent announcement of his spokesperson, Petero Lavina, that he would constitute a special task force to investigate media killings, “that we were on the cusp of a new era when freedom of the press and of expression would be respected, defended and promoted beyond lip service.”

“Alas, it seems we were wrong. Or are we to be again treated to the excuse that it was all a joke and we need to be more discerning about your pronouncements?”

“Murder is no joke. Neither is press freedom,” it added.

Perpetuating Impunity

Atty. Romel Bagares, Executive Director of the Center for International Law, Inc. said Duterte’s statement “implying that corrupt journalists who are killed were asking for it, and therefore deserved to die, only serves to justify and perpetuate impunity.”

“In a country that has become one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists, it will only serve to embolden, rather than deter, those who kill without compunction,” Bagares said.

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) said it is “alarmed” by Duterte’s “sweeping pronouncement which could embolden attacks on the working press.”

“While saying that most of the media killings were motivated by corruption involving the victims, the president-elect did not provide evidence that can be used to bring the perpetrators to justice nor condemn the killings to discourage future attacks,” the FOCAP said.

“You really want to know the truth?”

Duterte said “Kung papatayin ka talaga, papatayin ka (If they will kill you, they will kill you),” the President-elect said. “There’s no way to know that the next victim would be a journalist,” he said.

“Pero karamihan dyan nabigyan na tapos…. Nabayaran mo na tapos you play. Yan ang karamihan namamatay. Or tumatanggap na sa mga sugarol   tapos bira pa rin. You really want to know the truth? Yun ang truth. There is still corruption… sa inyong side,” he said.

He cited the late radio commentator Jun Pala as “the best example of bakit namamatay itong mga journalists” (why these journalists are being killed).

He said Pala was on the take and would collect money from one side to attack the other side.

“I do not demean his memory but he was a rotten son of a bitch,” Duterte said.

Pala, then a radio commentator of DXGO, was gunned down on September 6, 2003.

Duterte said upright journalists don’t get killed, most especially if they are reporting the truth.

“Most of you are clean,” he told the media, “ but do not ever expect na itong mga journalists are all clean kaya namamatay yan sila. Karamihan dyan nabayaran na. They take sides. Or sobrahan nila ang atake” (that’s why they’re being killed. Most of them are paid hacks. They take sides. Or attack excessively).

No justification

Bagares said that even if Duterte’s allegations of media corruption is true, “it does not under any circumstance justify the assassination of journalists,” Bagares said.

Duterte explained that politicians are used to being hit by the media. “That’s okay. We’re used to that” but there are private individuals who cannot stand the shaming and harassment.

NUJP chair Rosauro said that while there may be instances where private individuals may have sought revenge against journalists for soiling their reputations, “the data shows that, of the handful of media killings that have actually made it to the courts, the accused are invariably from government – elected officials, government executives or members of the security services – and invariably accused of corruption.”

The NUJP cited, among others, ‘the murders of Edgar Damalerio of Pagadian City, Marlene Esperat of Tacurong City, and Gerry Ortega of Puerto Princesa City, and, of course, the most heinous of all, the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, of which 32 of the 58 victims were media workers, making it not only the worst case of electoral violence in recent Philippine history but the single deadliest attack on journalists ever.”

Photojournalist Rene Lumawag, whose son Gene Boyd, MindaNews photo editor, was gunned down while on assignment in Jolo, Sulu on November 12, 2004, wrote in reaction to a Facebook post on Duterte’s statement: “ I am pretty sure Mayor Rody takes my son, Gene Boyd, an (exception) from the President-elect’s statement. Davao would know who are the journalists the Mayor is/are referring to.”

Incoming Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters on Wednesday that what Duterte said on Tuesday night was that “when a journalist is killed, it doesn’t mean he is being killed as a journalist. That person is being killed because he has done something wrong to a fellowman.”

“Regardless of what profession you have kung meron kang nagawang masama sa isang tao, na gusto gumanti sa iyo, papatayin ka whether ikaw peryodista, abogado ka, whether mayaman o mahirap” (if you have wronged someone who wants to seek revenge, he will kill you, whether you are a journalist, lawyer, rich or poor,” Panelo added. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)