THE problem of violence against media workers in the Philippines has been with us for several decades now. It inevitably surfaces and receives focus from the nation’s consciousness every time there is a new killing or mauling of a journalist, especially if the newsman is considered senior or popular. The issue also takes on renewed importance whenever the International Day to End Crimes of Impunity Against Journalists comes around, which this year was observed last Monday.
It is perhaps reflective of the way Filipinos and the Philippine media industry weigh the relevance of media killings and other acts of harassment, intimidation and violence against news workers, that only a small group of left-leaning and anti-Duterte organizations celebrated the occasion with a simple manifesto.
The Committee for the Freedom of Leila De Lima announced that it is joined by the Cebu for Human Rights, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, and the Asian Center for Journalism in “condemning all the killings, violence and attacks against journalists and media workers.”
‘It is time to remind the government panel… that the 2020 Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh among countries where many newsmen are killed and the perpetrators of these killings remain free to kill another day.’
The groups even introduced a little-known word in the national discourse — lawfare — when they said: “We call out the government for adopting an unwritten policy of lawfare — the weaponization of the law and legal processes against democratic dissent and other fundamental freedoms — that has furthered engendered the climate of impunity, and largely enabled the continuing media repression in the Philippines.”
These groups also pointed out that there is “unabated rise in the number of killings, attacks, threats of violence and varied forms of intimidation and harassment — both online and offline — targeting journalists and media outlets.” The truth of this claim is the tally touted by other media groups, saying that under Duterte’s 22 months in power, there have been 85 cases of attacks and threats against journalists. They said these include nine slayings, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, six slay attempts and 11 incidents of physical harassment and intimidation.
Experience tells us that threats, violence and killings are more common in far-away provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao than in Metro Manila, such as the killing in Dumaguete City of radio broadcaster Edmund Sestoso, the ninth media victim of murder.
It is time to remind the government panel called Task Force on Media Security and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) that the 2020 Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh among countries where many newsmen are killed and the perpetrators of these killings remain free to kill another day.
We can only agree when this small group of media men and human rights advocates said that “impunity emboldens other perpetrators and their masterminds.” Truly, the hopeless search for punishment for offenders in these crimes erodes the people’s trust in the legal and judicial systems — the very reason why the government should act more decisively to solve the problem.