“Aquino is wrong in saying that the killings are not work-related. These journalists were killed for their work, not because of a love triangle or any other reason.” – Luis Teodoro
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Human rights advocates, members of the academe and journalists in the alternative press all agree that President Benigno Aquino III is responsible for perpetuating the culture of impunity in the country.
In a press conference, Nov. 13, Luis Teodoro, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, said that under the Aquino administration, “impunity is a growing and continuing threat to press freedom and the people’s right to know.”
Teodoro said the killings and other forms of attack continue after the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. Twenty-five journalists have been murdered since Aquino assumed office. Four of them were killed this year. In 2013, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) documented 68 cases of physical assault, threats and harassment against journalists.
“Aquino is wrong in saying that the killings are not work-related,” Teodoro said. “These journalists were killed for their work, not because of a love triangle or any other reason.”
In a forum in Brussels, Belgium in September, Aquino insinuated that the journalists were not killed in the line of duty. He said, “…in the media killings, some who used to work in media died. Did they die because they were investigative journalists? Were they exercising their profession in a responsible manner, living up to journalistic ethics? Or did they perish because of other reasons?”
For Gervin Tacadena, chairman of the Union of Journalists of the Philippines –University of the Philippines, Aquino has resorted to victim blaming when it comes to media killings instead of resolving the cases.
Teodoro said the massacre that claimed the lives of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists has drawn the attention of the United Nations and international media watchdogs. With the way the Ampatuan massacre case is going, however, Teodoro said, it might embolden other killers of journalists.
According to the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), a coalition of media groups in the country, 41 of the accused have been granted bail. Since Aug. 4, the media have been barred from covering the Ampatuan massacre trial, raising suspicions that vital information is being concealed from the public.
Benjie Oliveros, spokesman of AlterMidya, a national network of alternative media outfits in the country, said the snail-paced trial favors the Ampatuans, the primary suspects in the massacre.
“As the trial drags on, more witnesses could be killed, the interest of the public on the issue would wane and it would be easier for the Ampatuans to settle with or threaten the families of victims,” Oliveros said.
Oliveros noted that Aquino’s actions are not helping resolve the case. He said that local warlordism, such as the Ampatuans, has strengthened under Aquino’s watch. These warlords, he said, are often the masterminds behind the killings of journalists especially in the provinces.
AlterMidya also criticized Aquino for promoting two military officials who refused to provide security to the convoy of Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife and journalists. Col. Medardo Geslani and Lt. Gen. Alfredo Cayton were recently promoted to brigadier general and major general. “What message is Aquino sending us?” Oliveros asked.
Task forces formed by the government to address the killings have only served as a deodorizer to the tainted image of the Aquino administration, according to Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights alliance Karapatan.
Palabay said the so-called superbody headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to resolve cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances has not accomplished anything yet.
The super body, or the Inter-Agency committee (IAC) on extralegal killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons was created by virtue of Administrative Order No. 35. In its first meeting on Jan. 8, De Lima identified several high-profile cases that the super body would focus on.
Impact on the academe, campus press
The chilling effect of the Ampatuan massacre has reached the academe such as the UP College of Mass Communication.
Roland Tolentino, dean of the UP-CMC, revealed there is an outflow of students from the journalism program. The main reason, he said, is the danger that comes with the journalism profession.
The campus press, on the other hand, has not been spared from attacks.
Charina Claustro, chairwoman of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) – National Capital Region, said the CEGP documented 400 cases of campus press freedom violations. These include censorship, closure, non-collection of funds, withdrawal of funds, red tagging and surveillance, among others.
Claustro cited the red tagging against Atenews, official student publication of the Ateneo de Davao University in an Aug. 23 forum at the said university. A certain Capt. Nathaniel Morales of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division branded the CEGP as a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP).
Under the End Impunity Alliance, the groups will hold a protest action on Nov. 21 at UP Diliman.
Members of the AlterMidya outside Manila are set to hold similar actions to mark the fifth year of the Ampatuan massacre.
The alliance also announced their participation to the Million Candles campaign initiated by the International Freedom of Expression (IFEX) network on Nov. 23.