2008 a bad year for RP journalists

MANILA, Philippines—The number of Filipino journalists killed rose to six in 2008, making the year one of the worst since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in 2001, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said in its Philippine Press Freedom Report 2008, released Wednesday.

“Press freedom again took a beating in 2008 as the number of journalists killed in the line of duty, one of the most telling indicators of threat to press freedom, rose to six from two recorded cases in 2007,” the CMFR said.

Murdered last year were journalists Marcos Mataro, Fausto Albert “Bert” Sison, Martin Roxas, Dennis Cuesta, Arecio Padrigao, and Leo Luna Mila, all of whom were based in their provinces.

The victims were believed to have been killed because of their critical commentaries on issues, such as corruption, in their respective hometowns.

The Philippines’ ranking in press freedom surveys may likely nosedive with the six murders following a year of relative calm. Only two work-related killings took place in 2007.

Even the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders noted the “unexpected improvement” of the Philippine situation as the country rose 14 places higher in its 2007 press freedom index.

The CMFR pointed out that the pervading presence of “elements that feed impunity” continue to put journalists at risk.

The CMFR identified these elements as the lack of political will, poor law enforcement, and an ineffective judicial system.

Government indifference

The CMFR pointed out that except in 2007, the number of killings since 2003 has never gone below five.

“There are now 39 journalists killed in the line of duty during the Arroyo administration—more than half of the 77 killed since 1986,” the CMFR said.

Aside from the government’s indifference to the “developments and hostile environment in which journalists work,” the CMFR pointed to government orders that also “helped erode press freedom.”

Among these were the controversial directive of Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Jesus Verzosa that limited the media’s access to police blotter reports.

The Verzosa directive was heavily criticized, forcing the PNP chief to withdraw the order.

The government also considered filing a complaint against ABS-CBN Channel 2 after it aired an exclusive interview with Abdullah Macapaar, the rogue commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the interview could be violative of a provision in the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas) Broadcast Code of 2007 which states that “criminals shall not be glorified” and “crime should always be condemned.”

The CMFR also noted the reported “media profiling” of the military’s Western Mindanao Command wherein the journalists were made to fill out forms with information such as the Social Security System number and distinguishing physical marks, before they are accredited to cover the camp.–Nikko Dizon, Philippine Daily Inquirer