Under Aquino, 39 journalists have been gunned down.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – When President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said that most of the journalists killed were corrupt, Malacañang was quick to condemn the incoming president’s statement.
Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said further, “It is the duty of government to arrest, prosecute and punish those responsible for violence against members of the media.”
It seems that Coloma did not realize the irony in his own statement. Under Aquino, 39 journalists have been gunned down, according to the monitoring by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). Thirty-two victims were believed to have been killed due to their work.
Of these murders, not one mastermind has been convicted. So far, only two gunmen were arrested and convicted.
A case in point is the 2011 murder of Palawan-based broadcaster Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega. Arturo Regalado, a known aide of former Palawan governor and suspected mastermind Joel Reyes, was convicted of murder by a Puerto Princesa local court on March 7.
Reyes and his brother, Mario, former Coron mayor, also implicated in the Ortega murder, went into hiding for three years until they were arrested in September 2015. In May this year, a local court allowed Mario Reyes to post P500,000-bail for his temporary liberty. The same court has yet to issue a decision on Joel Reyes’s bail petition.
Ryan Rosauro, NUJP chairperson, said the Aquino administration glossed over the problem of media killings.
In a September 2014 forum in Brussels, Aquino was quoted as saying, “…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?”
Much earlier, during his campaign for the presidency, Aquino promised to resolve the Ampatuan massacre case. More than six years into the trial, not one of the suspects in the gruesome murder of 58 individuals, of whom 32 were journalists, has been convicted.
One of the primary suspects, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, was ordered released on March 9 after posting P11.6-milllion ($246,000) bail bond. Sixteen other accused police officers were also granted bail.
Relatives of the Ampatuan massacre victims deplored Aquino’s failure to fulfill his promise during the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day last May 3.
In the 2016 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders, the Philippines ranked 138th out of 180 countries.
The RSF noted that “media killings in the Philippines usually go unpunished” and that, in such a climate of fear, “journalists succumb to self-censorship.”
According to the monitoring by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, there were 138 reported cases of attacks against journalists, ranging from threats, harassment to libel and assassination attempts.
Twenty-nine cases of libel were filed against journalists; two were convicted. Sixty-two percent of the charges were filed by government officials and police officers.
Aquino also did not make true his campaign promise of legislating a Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.
For six years, the FOI bill gathered dust in Congress. Advocates lamented that Aquino did not certify the bill urgent.