The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) today observed World Press Freedom Day, "anguishing over the lack of genuine freedom of expression in our country and girding our loins to resist yet other attempts to muzzle the Philippine Press."
In a statement it issued, the NUJP said 76 journalists have already been killed since 1986, and 39 of these killings happened only in the past five years under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration.
We commemorate World Press Freedom Day today anguishing over the lack of genuine freedom of expression in our country and girding our loins to resist yet other attempts to muzzle the Philippine Press.
The statistics are grim enough:
Seventy-six of our colleagues were lost to the ultimate form of censorship - murder - in the past two decades since the supposed restoration of democracy in the country in 1986. Thirty-nine of the killings happened only in the past five years during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, making her administration the deadliest for Filipino journalists.
Indeed, it was under the Arroyo administration that the country, in 2004, earned the ignominy of being the "most murderous place for journalists."
The killing of journalists is a glaring indictment of the Philippine government's commitment to freedom of the press and of expression. With the exception of three cases, none of our colleagues' murders has been solved and no perpetrator has been brought to justice.
All the while, the victims' families and the witnesses are being hounded, threatened and, at times, killed.
As if the toll in the lives of journalists has not been enough, the Arroyo administration has distinguished itself as the only one since the Marcos dictatorship to have attempted and continues to attempt a wholesale clampdown on media.
That it failed with the declaration of Presidential Proclamation 1017 is a tribute to the fierce jealousy of the Philippine press that refused to be cowed into abdicating its calling to serve the people's right to know.
But more threats loom, from Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales' continued pronouncements of keeping news organizations and journalists under watch and threats of sedition charges, to colleagues' names cropping up on military orders of battle and watch lists, to the onerous provisions of the proposed anti-terrorism measure that would effectively criminalize the practice of journalism.
These are just threats from the government.
There, too, are the threats to the integrity of our profession that stem from the ownership patterns of media that breed the often unjust and inhuman conditions our colleagues, especially in the provinces, have to toil under, conditions that make them prone to corruption and unethical conduct. This, in turn, leads to the erosion of public trust in the media as harbingers of truth and the people's last resort against abuse.
There can, indeed, be no press freedom when journalists continue to live in conditions of corruption, poverty and fear.
Today, as we observe World Press Freedom Day, we call on our colleagues to unite as never before to confront the continued threats to the untrammeled practice of our profession and demand total and unconditional respect for our rights and liberties.
We are not perfect, either as an institution or as individuals. But let us never allow this to be used to justify the killings and other assaults on our colleagues and the continued attempts to suppress us.
To do so can only bring more assaults and can contribute to the culture of impunity that has already cost us and our profession dearly.
Let us take stock of ourselves and examine how we, individually and collectively, can contribute to improving the conditions in which we practice our profession.
Let us resolve never to allow a threat or assault on a colleague and the institution to go unchallenged. Let our dictum be: An assault on one is an assault on us all.
We also call on the Filipino people, the public that we strive to honestly serve, to stand with us and jealously guard our freedom against all those who would threaten it. For, more than the media, Press Freedom rightfully belongs to the people as an indispensable extension of their right to free expression and right to know.