MANILA, Philippines – With 4 journalists attacked in a span of two weeks, lawmakers want to step in and identify the cause of the worsening media killings that human rights groups call a “war against journalists.”
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III called for a Senate investigation into the series of media killings, condemning the attacks that left 3 journalists dead and one wounded. Senator Grace Poe, head of the Senate committees on public order and mass media, vowed to prioritize the probe.
In a statement, Pimentel said the attacks showed that the culture of impunity against the media worsened.
“The non-stop killings of known media personalities are obviously work-related, [because the] victims are popular among their listeners because of their exposes against corruption and other illegal activities in their areas,” Pimentel said on Friday, December 13.
Pimentel urged the police to “step up” their campaign against criminals and “work extra hard” to arrest the suspects and identify the masterminds behind the killings.
The senator was reacting to separate attacks against journalists in the past two weeks:
- The killing of radio broadcaster Joas Dignos, 48, in Valencia City, Bukidnon on November 29
- The killing of Michael Diaz Milo, broadcaster of Prime Radio FM in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur on December 6
- The shooting of Jonavin Villalbal in Iloilo on December 10. He was wounded and is recuperating in the hospital.
- The killing of Rogelio Butalid in Tagum City, Davao del Norte on December 11
Poe said she supports the inquiry.
“If it is referred to my committee of public order, it will be my priority to hear it,” Poe told Rappler.
“I think that we need [is] to unburden our courts and add justices, Public Attorney’s Office lawyers [to deter the killings]. And also for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to push through with its plan to hire an additional number of police officers by 2014,” Poe added.
She also took to Twitter to denounce the attacks.
We condemn the unabated crimes against our journalists and the attack against our democracy. This must be stopped, justice must be meted out— Grace Poe (@GracePoe2013) December 13, 2013
Calls for an investigation come after media organizations and human rights groups expressed alarm over the attacks, and again pressed the Aquino administration to act on the killings.
They record 12 media killings so far in 2012, and 26 journalists killed under the Aquino administration.
The recent killings also came after the 4th anniversary of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre – the single deadliest attack on the media – that killed 32 journalists. Media groups note that 4 years later, the trial is proceeding at a slow pace, with zero conviction. The Supreme Court this week issued guidelines to fast-track the trial.
Former journalist Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch Asia’s Philippines researcher, said the deadly attacks are “no less than a war against the media.” He called on the government to declare the killings “a national catastrophe that threatens fundamental liberties.”
Conde said the Aquino administration’s response has been discouraging, with Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma describing past killings as “not so serious.” Coloma also said that there is no more culture of impunity in the Philippines.
“The police should give priority to investigations of journalist killings and look beyond the gunmen to the individuals ultimately responsible. They should probe threats against journalists to prevent and deter future attacks. The government also needs to work with media companies, particularly broadcast networks, on strategies to better protect journalists,” Conde said in a dispatch on Wednesday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called on the government to end the killing spree of journalists.
“The killing of 3 journalists and shooting of another in two weeks painfully reaffirms the Philippines’ reputation as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a reporter,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.
“Until the murderers of journalists are regularly brought to justice and the cycle of impunity is broken, the violence will inevitably continue,” Crispin added.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said the government must go beyond “knee-jerk condemnation statements” to tangible steps to address the culture of impunity. SEAPA said it was a “terrible coincidence” for the murders to occur close to November 23, the International Day to End Impunity, and the International Human Rights Day on December 10.
“Because of impunity, the reputation of the Philippines for press freedom is dubious for threats to physical safety effectively put a gag on free reporting,” SEAPA said in a statement on Friday.
“More insidiously, impunity for killings of journalists in the Philippines negates any argument to push for a free press in other countries. Too often have journalists from other countries expressed concern on these killings, and wondered aloud whether a restricted media is an acceptable trade-off for their safety as media professionals.”
Police, NBI probe
The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said on Thursday that they are investigating the recent cases of media killings.
The northern Mindanao police filed a murder case against a suspect in the killing of Dignos. The PNP said the suspect was identified through a “computerized facial composite” provided by the NBI based on the descriptions by a key witness.
Police also released an artist’s sketch of the alleged gunman in Butalid’s killing, based on witness’ testimonies.
In Milo’s case, the Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office filed murder complaints against 4 suspects, including April Milo, the victim’s wife. The other 3 suspects are Arnel Fernandez, Bernie Ann Fernandez, and Police Officer 1 Hildo Patrimonio.
Contrary to Pimentel’s statement, the PNP initially ruled out Milo’s killing as work-related, citing “possible motives such as his strained relationship with his estranged wife and in-laws.”
The police said Milo’s radio station “does not engage in hard-hitting commentaries and instead promotes alternative natural healing products.”
Following criticism over Coloma’s remark, the Palace changed its tone and vowed action on the killings. It cited Administrative Order 35 signed in 2012, which created an inter-agency committee on extra-legal killings. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima heads the committee.
“Certainly, the fact that there’s a task force devoted to these media killings, not only emphasized our concern but also our resolve to investigate these killings. We condemn these media killings,” said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. – Rappler.com
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