On Press Freedom Day, media groups call for an end to impunity
QUEZON CITY, Philippines— May 3 marked World Press Freedom Day. But in the Philippines, this day had a different meaning.
In a kite flying activity dubbed “Simulkites: Soar High for Press Freedom,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and other media groups on Friday, May 4, gathered at the University of the Philippines-Diliman to call for a “freer and more responsible press.”
“The Philippine press is actually not free. But we are celebrating the community of journalists who stand against media killings and soar high for a freer press,” NUJP Director Sonny Fernandez said Friday.
This year's World Press Freedom Day marked the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, which in 1993 called for free, independent and pluralistic media as a fundamental human right that is essential to democracy.
Yet for the 4th year now, the Philippines has remained 3rd among 12 countries with high rates of media-related violence and unsolved media killings -- ranking just behind Somalia and Iraq, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Since Jan 1, 2003 to Dec 31, 2012, no conviction has been made in 55 cases of media killings in the country.
“It's sad that the Philippines is 3rd in the impunity index of the CPJ especially since we are commemorating World Press Freedom Day today. This is as horrifying as what happened in the Maguindanao massacre,” Fernandez said.
In its special report, CPJ cited the still unresolved case of the Maguindanao Massacre, where 32 journalists and media workers were killed. More than 3 years have passed since the incident occurred but the case is still at the level of bail proceedings and other petitions filed by the accused.
CPJ also said the murder of radio host and environmental activist Gerardo Ortega shows “the general breakdown in the rule of law that has allowed the killings to continue."
In 2011, Ortega was shot in the head inside a mall in Puerto Princesa. The police arrested an alleged conspirator and traced the murder to the province's governor. In 2013, however, the arrested suspect who later became a state witness was killed in prison.
Fernandez said the failure of the government to put the masterminds behind bars has led to the absence of fear among the perpetrators. Most of the convictions made so far involve trigger men, he added.
The media groups challenged the president to take “concrete actions” to solve media killings in the country -- for instance, to support that passage of a Freedom of Information (FOI) law that will allow freer access to public documents.
Despite the sore situation of press freedom in the country, Melanie Pinlac of the Center for Media Freedm and Responsibility (CMFR) said the current state of the Philippine press should not serve as a reason for media practitioners to lose hope.
“Hindi tayo titigil hanggang walang tunay na kalayaan dito sa bansa,” she said. (We will not stop until there is true freedom in our country.)