Southeast Asian journalists’ groups have called on Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to intensify efforts to prosecute the killers of journalists and to arrest the suspected masterminds in the 2005 killing of a woman journalist.
"We are alarmed by the continuing killing of media workers in the Philippines and the inadequate measures the government is taking to stop them," the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) Mission to Fight Impunity Against Filipino Journalists said in an end-of-mission statement.
"Given the prevailing sense of urgency in the impunity issue and in anticipation of an increase in the number of journalists being killed as the 2010 presidential election draws closer, we call upon President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to take the steps necessary to prevent that unfortunate development. Madame President, a halt to the killing of journalists as well as political dissenters would be one of the enduring legacies you can leave the Filipino people as your term ends.
"We note with concern that despite intensified efforts by civil society and Philippine media groups themselves to convince the government, its law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to address the issue of impunity and the killings, the murders, a majority of which occur in the provinces, have been continuing. An average of five journalists has been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 2001 when the Arroyo administration came to power. By the end of February 2009, the count of slain journalists had gone up to 78 since the end of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, according to statistics compiled by the Philippine-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility."
The Seapa mission, which visited the Philippines from March 21 to 24 to mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of Sultan Kudarat journalist Marlene Esperat, said that while it welcomed the creation of "tracker teams" in the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Arroyo administration could still do much more by tracking down the killers of journalists and arresting suspected masterminds.
The tracker teams, said the PNP in a meeting with the mission, are charged with speedily locating and arresting suspected killers of journalists.
Esperat, who exposed corruption in the regional office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and in local government, was killed in her home in Tacurong City on March 24, 2005. Her expose of wrongdoing in the regional DA office has been linked to the 2004 fertilizer scam scandal in which DA funds were allegedly used for the elections that year.
The Seapa mission was composed of Doung Hak Samrithy, vice president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ); Jajang Jalamudin, secretary general of the Alliance of Independence Journalists (AJI), Indonesia; Pradit Ruangdit , secretary general of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA); V Gayathry, executive director of Center for Independent Journalists (CIJ), Malaysia; and Kulachada Chaipipat, campaign and advocacy officer, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa), Bangkok, Thailand, and head of the mission.
Based in Thailand, Seapa member-organizations include the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), in addition to the Indonesian and Thai journalists’ groups.
The team members expressed fear that the killing and harassment of journalists in the Philippines could spread to other countries unless stopped.
"One of the reasons we came to the Philippines on the eve of the 4th death anniversary of Marlene Esperat was because we believe that the culture of impunity that is deeply-rooted in the Philippines could be replicated in other countries in the region unless there is a common effort to dismantle it in the Philippines. We note an increase in the violence against journalists and media workers in Malaysia and Thailand including browbeating, harassment and mob attacks on individual journalists; surrounding media premises; and the killing of journalists in addition to the use of legal sanctions to silence the media and suppress on-line free expression in 2008."
"The culture of impunity" refers to the seeming immunity from prosecution and punishment of most of the killers and suspects in the killing of journalists. Only two out of the 78 cases of journalists killed while on duty since 1986 have been partly resolved in that the killers have been tried and convicted. No mastermind, however, has been prosecuted.
Journalists groups worldwide believe that this immunity from punishment encourages further killings.
The Seapa mission called on media practitioners to adhere to the ethical and professional standards of journalist so as to eliminate one excuse for the killings, and to assure the outrage of the citizenry whenever a journalist is killed. It also called on Filipinos to be involved in the campaign against impunity because every journalist killed deprives citizens of their right to information.
The mission met with the state prosecutor handling the Esperat case; the secretariat of the PNP Task Force Usig ("Prosecute"); lawyer Nena Santos, private counsel of the Esperat family; some Filipino legislators; and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists.