In the midst of rampant human rights violations in the country allegedly perpetrated by the state’s armed forces and intelligence agencies, human rights groups and advocates lament that the government is not making any move towards resolving them. The media, they say, is likewise falling short of its responsibility of bringing the issue close to the public.
BY JEFFREY OCAMPO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
In the forum Solving and Reporting Extrajudicial Killings and Disappearances: Are the Government and Media Doing Enough? held at the College of Mass Communication (CMC) Auditorium at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City last Dec. 10, various human rights groups and advocates lamented that the government and the media are “falling short of their responsibility” in reporting and resolving the cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance. For the longest time, the cases have remained unsolved and the perpetrators remain unpunished, they said.
Organized by the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project (PHRRP), the UP Department of Journalism, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), Asian Congress for Media and Communication and Mass Communicators’ Organization, the forum was held in commemoration of the 10th year of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the 60th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Speakers included Ruth Cervantes of Karapatan and Edita Burgos, mother of missing peasant advocate Jonas Burgos. Jaime Espina of Inquirer.net and Joy de los Reyes, the editor-in-chief of Malaya, were invited for the journalist’ response to the issue.
Meanwhile, Justice Undersecretary and head of Task Force 211 (Task Force Against Political Violence and Extra-Legal Killings) Ricardo Blancaflor and Presidential Human Rights Committee director Severo Catura, who were invited to speak in behalf of the government, did not show up.
Cases of human rights violations
Cervantes presented Karapatan’s 2008 Human Rights Report, which included cases of human rights violations within 2008 and the “escalating attacks against human rights defenders since 2001.” A review of the writ of amparo was also included in the presentation.
According to the report, there had been a total of 50 victims of extrajudicial killings and seven victims of enforced disappearances from January to October this year. Meanwhile, from 2001, Karapatan has documented 977 cases of extrajudicial killings and 201 cases of enforced disappearances by alleged military elements. The number of cases of torture (1,010) and illegal arrest (1,464) since 2001 are also appalling.
The report also pointed that under the Arroyo administration, two of the most bloody assaults against legitimate mass actions – the massacres in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and in Palo, Leyte – happened and have not yet been resolved.
Meanwhile, the group holds the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), which had an initial budget of P50 million ($1,065,870 at the current exchange rate of $1=P46.91), for the recent filing of trumped-up criminal charges against 72 activists from Southern Tagalog, including Kilusang Mayo Uno’s (May 1st Movement) chief legal counsel Remigio Saladero, Jr. According to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), to which most of the accused are affiliated as regional or provincial leaders, the series of filing of criminal cases is an effort of the government to “give a legal face to political persecution.”
Karapatan stressed that “injustice and impunity have been the trademarks of the atrocious Arroyo regime.” In lieu of formal declaration of martial rule, the Arroyo government designs and executes its “brazen attack” against its critics under Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch) I and II, an internal security plan implemented since 2001, added the group. OBL, Cervantes said, is the strategy behind these human rights violations, which also include burning of progressive organizations’ headquarters, vilification campaign against activists, psychological warfare against alleged supporters of the New People’s Army, and other forms of harassment.
That media fall short of its responsibility of reporting cases human rights violations is becoming an issue among its practitioners, human rights advocates and the public. Stories of killings, abductions, illegal arrests and tortures, no matter how frequent they occur, “seldom hit the headlines.” With profit being the “bottomline” of the efforts of the media industry, reportage becomes “events-based,” admitted Espina. That media is “influenced by business interests” is among the realities in media that he himself is ashamed of.
The PHRRP statement read, “Ignorance on the part of reporters on basic human rights is dangerous.” The PHRRP said that some media practitioners reduce extrajudicial killings to “nothing more than police beat stories.”
Meanwhile, Burgos said that perpetrators of human rights violations have become even more fearless. She further said that the government, through its military officials, have been successful in “demonizing” the victims, reducing them into dangerous terrorists who deserved their deaths.
Some media outfits, she said, have been responsible for “obviously slanted” news articles delivering them as though what the authorities say is the truth. A story about the NPA being behind the abduction of her son “because he (Burgos) absconded funds” was written, matter-of-factly, in the news section of a certain newspaper. The writer based the story solely on the account of Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino of the Army’s 56th Infantry Division. This, according to PHRRP conveners, is an example of how media “wittingly or unwittingly aid human rights violations through its reportage.”
However, Burgos has not lost her faith in media even if she sees that some of them have become “desensitized” by the forces in the industry that propel it. She is even thankful to them for bringing the story of her son’s abduction into public knowledge.
She then encouraged media practitioners to “add an inch further” and “go beyond” mere dissemination of facts and focus on the accuracy of reports and dig deeper into the motivations behind the events.
The irony, however, is that even journalists and other media practitioners have fallen prey to the rounds of persecution by alleged military agents. Following the forum, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), prepared a mass and candle-lighting at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City to pay tribute to slain journalists.
Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, who was once a journalist himself, was among those who attended. Isagani Yambot, publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, spoke before the gathering of journalists and shared how bothered he is by the cases of killings of journalists
According to NUJP, 98 journalists and media practitioners have bitten the dust while doing their jobs since 1986. Rowena Paraan, NUJP’s treasurer and one of the conveners of PHRRP, tearfully recounted the killing of one of her colleagues, who was shot dead in her dining room, in front of her children. Her colleague’s death signifies a truthful journalist’s continued commitment to informing the public of social realities, said Paraan.
Meanwhile, the Belgium-based International Federation of Journalists tags the country as the most dangerous place for broadcast journalists. This was after Leo Mila Luna was shot dead by an unknown assailant. Mila, known for his criticisms against government officials in his radio program in Radyo Natin was killed last Dec.2 in Northern Samar.
With the conclusion of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston’s investigation that the military, guided by the Arroyo administration’s internal security plan, is responsible for the human rights violations documented from 2001 to the present, the government finds it hard to defend itself against criticisms.
According to Burgos, the government has done nothing at all to resolve the issue.
Karapatan also pointed out that the formation of the Melo Commission and Task Force Usig is a dubious step by the government. Cervantes said that the two formations presented the conclusion that the killings and abductions were results of “purges” within the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and were carried out by the NPA even before they started their investigations.
“The Arroyo has not lived up to the promise of respecting the dignity and fulfilling the human rights of Filipinos… Instead, it unleashed the brutality its armed forces against the very people it has sworn to protect,” said Karapatan in a statement.
Journalists as human rights defenders
According to Rorie Fajardo, the director of the PHRRP, “journalists are of great help” in reporting human rights violations when they use the “tried and tested” craft of journalism infusing balance, accuracy, and sufficient context into their output. The group stressed the need to reaffirm the “fundamental values and beliefs regarding the importance of a professional media and its role in the defense and promotion of human rights.” They encouraged media practitioners to continue despite the economic hardships, and safety and security concerns “that plague Philippine journalism today.” (Bulatlat.com)