The killing of a journalist is an attack against press freedom


I will not forget that day of Nov. 23, 2009 when the news broke out that 58 individuals were reportedly killed on their way to accompany the Genalyn Tiamzon-Mangudadatu, wife of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, to file a certificate of candidacy (COC) on his behalf in Maguindanao. My principal’s meeting with the diplomats then had just finished when we heard the terrifying news. And then later my officemate exclaimed, “They were all buried!”

Out of the 58 individuals, including relatives and lawyers, were 32 journalists and media workers who were covering the filing of the COC of Mangudadatu who was then running for governor.

This horrible news shook the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international organization that promotes press freedom worldwide called it the single deadliest event for journalists in history. In an article the CPJ said, “Even as we tally the dead in this horrific massacre, our initial research indicates that this is the deadliest single attack on the press ever documented by CPJ.”

The Ampatuans has been ruling Maguindanao since 2001. According to a study by Dr. Ronald Mendoza, executive director of the Asian Institute of Management, the Ampatuans are one of the “fat” clans or political clans in the country. Fat clans are clans that are occupying more than one provincial elective posts.
But for the Task Force Usig of the Philippine National Police, it was not an attack against the media or press freedom.

Speaking during the Basic Investigative Reporting seminar held last Sept. 19 to 22, TF Usig’s head of secretariat and Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management of the PNP, Police Superintendent Henry Q. Libay said that the journalists and media workers who were killed are part of what they call as “collateral damage.”

The TF Usig was formed in May 2006 to investigate killings of media practitioners and political activists.

According to Libay, the TF Usig has documented 43 work-related media killings (from 2001 to Sept. 1, 2013).In his presentation, Libay said they did not include the 32 journalists and media workers killed in the Ampatuan Massacre. Libay said, “It doesn’t mean that when a journalist is killed he or she was performing his duty. There are cases where journalists were killed outside their line of work and just happened to be in the incident.”

He said the journalists killed during the Ampatuan massacre were only there to accompany the filing of COC of Mangudadatu. He said that if that is called an attack against the press, then the killing of a doctor or doctors would constitute an attack against doctors. He said they were there because they just happened to be there and it is not an attack against the press because the Mangudadatus were the target of the killings and others were just “collateral damage.”

To enlighten Libay, Private Prosecutor and legal counsel of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) Prima Quinsayas who was among the panel of discussant said “The mere fact that they (the journalists and media workers) were there is because they were performing their duty.”

Libay clarified that when a journalist is killed because of his or her hard-hitting commentary or because of his or her expose,’ it is then that the TF Usig categorizes the killing under attack against the press or attack against press freedom.

So does this mean that when a journalist is not a hard-hitting commentator but was killed because he has been dutifully writing about the state of farmers in some hacienda is not an attack against the press? Or the harassment and threats against a journalist who is writing about human rights and exposing members of the state who are alleged perpetrators is not an attack against the press?

Everyone in the room was disappointed with the TF Usig’s presentation.A fellow journalist expressed his disagreement with Libay and said that the Ampatuan massacre is the deadliest attack against the press in history.

Libay said it is not that they are maligning the journalists who were killed, it is just that their classification of attacks against the press is when the victim is killed because of his hard hitting commentary or expose’.

The Ampatuan massacre sends a clear message to all those who will challenge the ruling political clan in Maguindanao. Not only those who will try to challenge them will be silenced but also those who will be an instrument to defeat a clan that has been ruling Maguindanao for a decade. I was not yet a journalist then when the massacre happened but I know that it is an attack against press freedom, against the press who will tell the news that someone like Mangudadatu, a not so influential candidate, will oppose the Ampatuan clan in the 2010 election. I think that we do not need an expert to tell us whether it is an attack against the press or not.

Could it be that the TF Usig is downplaying the fact that there were 136 journalists and media workers killed in the line of duty? And with this number not a single mastermind of the killings is convicted?

In 2012, the Philippines was listed as the most dangerous place to be a journalist according to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa). “Of 10 countries covered in the alerts and monitoring network Seapa, the Philippines gained the indubitable honor of landing first on the list – as it was, and remains to be, the deadliest place in Southeast Asia for journalists and media workers,” an article by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism read.

The article further said, “The Philippines accounted for a full third or 36 of the 100 cases of impunity that Seapa has recorded in the first 10 months of 2012 alone. These 36 cases included nine murders, 17 cases of threats, and 10 cases of attacks.”

In the 2013 Immunity Index (covering years 2003 to 2012) of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Philippines ranked third in the 12 countries where the CPJ monitored cases of immunity where murders of at least five journalists are left unresolved and no conviction by their respective governments.

In the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, the Philippines also landed in the “red” zones of nations.

The indexes show that there is a massive attack against the press in the Philippines, but according to the data of TF Usig there are only few.

Libay lamented in his input during the training that the media only reports the number of unresolved cases and not the solved cases. But even if the media report about the solved cases, figures don’t lie. There are more unresolved cases than solved cases. It is a screaming proof that tells us that there is something wrong in the system. The government should face it, there is impunity in the country and that they fail to address not only media killings but extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. (

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