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Media Killings under the Culture of Impunity in the Philippines

Freedom of Expression and the Media

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold
opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through
any media and regardless of frontiers according to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. Ideally that was the case, but what happens when this right to freedom
becomes hampered in a country that was ironically deemed as being the freest in Asia. The
Philippine media has been known for its long tradition of respect for free expression which
we could be traced back during the American period of administration where the freedom of
the press was said to be recognized (Pineda-Ofreneo, as cited in ARTICLE 19 & Center for
Media Freedom & Responsibility [CMFR], 2005). This commitment to free expression, right
to information and freedom of the press was then continued in the first Philippine Republic
(Malolos Constitution in 1899) that was about more than a hundred years ago, and was
expanded through the succeeding Constitutions in the country (Teodoro & Kabatay, cited in
ARTICLE 19 & CMFR, 2005).

However, regardless of the having a liberal tradition along with liberal laws, still there
was no guarantee for the full exercise of the freedom of expression and the freedom of the
press, as it was also challenged in the different administrations that have passed (ARTICLE
19 & CMFR, 2005). Even today, the right to freedom of expression that was supposed to
claim as our right is still continually being challenged to the extent of being defied by the
culture of impunity in the Philippines. One extreme and alarming manifestation of the
challenges in relation to fully observing our right to freedom of expression is the
longstanding, ongoing and inflaming extrajudicial killings of our media practitioners.
The Advent of Media Killings (Emergence of the Social Problem)

From decades ago up to the present, the killing of media practitioners is considered
as one of the most troubling issues of free expression, a problem that has gained our
attention, and has been there since 1986 (ARTICLE 19 & CMFR, 2005). It was presumed
that the people behind the murder of some prominent journalists during those times were
local politicians and their trusted policemen as their response to the criticisms by the
journalists that were killed (Philippine Journalism Review, as cited in ARTICLE 19 & CMFR,
2005). As for today, it was mostly the individuals and groups that were involved in corruption
and criminal acts and that were exposed by the journalist/media practitioners were seen as

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the mastermind behind the killings, which was deemed as their response against the
journalists (CMFR, 2013).

Prevalence of Media Killings in the Philippines (from 1986 until February of 2014)

According to the CMFR database on the killing of Filipino journalists/media

practitioners (as of February, 2014), there has been a total of 209 cases of killing of Filipino
journalists/media workers (by motive) since 1986, wherein 139 (67%) were killed in the line
of duty, and 70 (33%) were not work related. According to the database, 80 out of the 139
work related cases were killed under the Arroyo administration, while there were 21 cases
during the late Aquino administration.

Among the island groups in the Philippines, Mindanao was recorded as having the
most number of cases with 80, while Luzon has 46 and Visayas with the remaining 13
cases. Looking at the gender, it can be seen that the majority of the victims were male (130
cases, 94%), while the female would only sum up to 9 cases (6%). Regarding the medium of
their work, it can also be concluded that majority of the journalists/media workers that were
killed since 1986 worked solely for radio with a total of 60 cases out of 139, next to them
worked for print with 55 cases of individuals that has been killed. It was notable to mention
that majority of the journalists/media workers that were killed (work-related) were based in
the provinces, with ARMM as having the most number of killings summing up to 34 cases
since 1986, which would include the 32 journalists/media workers that were killed in the
Ampatuan Massacre last November 23, 2009.

The Notorious Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao

The dreadful event was said to have shocked the world and struck a deep blow
against freedom of expression, democracy and the rule of law and now deemed as the
worst single-day attack on media professionals in recorded history as stated by Irina
Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO in Crimes and Unpunishment: The Killing of Filipino
Journalists (2012), a research work in accordance to UNESCOs advocacy in promoting
freedom of expression and promoting the safety of journalists. The International Crisis Group
(ICG) also called the attack as one of the worst acts of political violence in modern
Philippine history, and the largest number of journalists slain on a single day ever, anywhere
in the world (Win, 2013).

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November 23, 2009, the dreadful date that everyone will remember as the worst
single attack towards the Philippine press. This notorious massacre that happened in
Maguindanao have captured even the attention of the International Freedom of Expression
Exchange (IFEX), leading them to assigned November 23 of every year as the International
Day to End Impunity (IDEI), which sought to remind us all that the murders should never
happen again as stated by Herminio Coloma Jr., Vice Chair of UNESCO National
Commission of the Philippines in Crimes and Unpunishment (2012).

Beyond the Numbers

Along with these instances, it was also important to look at the advent of media
killings in the country as a problem long before these numbers have reached the level they
were now. In understanding the increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings among
journalists/media practitioners in the country, not to mention how many of them were still not
given justice, one must look at them as not just merely numbers of death that will affect the
mortality rate of the country. They were people that were killed mostly for the reason of doing
what their supposed to do as journalists, which was to present unbiased and accurate
information to the public. It was not just about numbers, it was about the lives of these
individuals, lives that should have and would have contributed to the development of our
society. The loss that was felt by their families, was also a loss felt by the whole society. The
long cry for justice of the people they have left was also our long awaited cry for justice, to
end these killings, and to further end impunity. Attacks on journalists are also attacks on the
press as a pillar of democracy, the killings affected the capability of the press in helping to
create a more informed public that was deemed as important to a democratic society.
Violence against them can also be seen as a manifestation of a culture of violence fostered
by the culture of impunity which was deeply destructive of our development, of our country,
and of our people (CMFR, 2013). As their voices were put to silenced, hundreds of lives
were taken, along with their responsibility to adhere to our right to information and the right
for freedom of expression. Hundreds of families were left broken, most of them were still
longing for justice which would have seem very difficult for one to claim as long as we were
under the culture of impunity, which furthermore intensified, and most likely sustained the
problem of media killings in the country.

Media Killings, an afflicting problem in the Philippines (Legitimation of the Social

Problem and Mobilization of Action)

Recognition of the Stirring Problem

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The increasing and seemingly unending incidences of media killings in the country
undeniably caused an alarm to various sectors of the society. This was again further
intensified by the series of killings just before the year 2013 ended. A terrible coincidence
as they may have said, when three journalists have been murdered just between the
International Day to End Impunity (IDEI on 23 November) and the International Human
Rights Day. These incidents in turn marked the reputation of the country as one of the
worlds most dangerous countries for journalists, and the sole country in Southeast Asia
where (12) journalists were killed during 2013 (Southeast Asian Press Aliance [SEAPA],

According to the Committee to Protect Journalist [CPJ], the Philippines ranked third
for the fourth consecutive year for having the worst CPJs Impunity Index which was
indicated by the number of unsolved (no convictions have been obtained) journalist murders
as percentage of each countrys population. It was said that the lack of convictions in the
Maguindanao massacre case has entrenched the country's position on the index. In
addition to that, the Philippines have also ranked as the second deadliest country for
journalists, only second to Iraq according to the CPJ research, wherein most of the
journalists that were killed covered politics or corruption (CPJ, 2013).

In addition to that, the United States also viewed media killings in the country as
deeply troubling, as stated by Philip Goldberg, US Ambassador to the Philippines; he also
stressed that the Philippines being a democratic country is in need of a free press.
Although the President said that he is determined in dealing with the murders, local press
watchdogs have noticed that the masterminds behind the killings often go unpunished, all
could be attributed back to the culture of impunity (Agence France-Presse, 2014).

A Call for Action, to Stand for Justice

Even before the 2009 tragic incident, international media groups have protested and
demanded the Arroyo administration to respond to the killings of Filipino journalist more
seriously and to put an end to the culture of impunity. In relation to that, the International Day
of Action Against Impunity and for the Safety of Filipino Journalists was organized by the
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), having more than 500,000 members around the
world (Espina, 2007).

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Recently, in the Philippine Senate, Sen. Pimentel III, Chair of the Senate Committee
on Justice and Foreign Affairs, said that he would call for a Senate investigation into the
series of media killings, he also called on to the police to step up in their fight against the
criminals, as well as to make every effort in order to arrest the suspects and determine the
mastermind behind the series of killings in Mindanao (as cited in Bordadora, 2013). In
relation to the said killings, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) has called
on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to respond and take action to the series of media
killings in the Philippines. KBP was alarmed after 3 media personalities was subsequently
killed just within two weeks, having no suspect pointed out by the police. Basbano, KBP
National President also said that the PNP should do their best in arresting not only the
gunmen but also the mastermind behind the killing (Kaga, 2013).

An international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) being alarmed

by the latest media killings in the Philippines has called on authorities to punish the
perpetrators. RSF also added that impunity breeds more violence, which will only be
stopped by exemplary punishments (as cited in Felongco, 2013). In addition to that, Human
Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based rights watchdog once again denounced the
government for failing to end media killings as stated in its latest annual report. According to
HRW, the failure of the government to arrest, prosecute and convict perpetrators of media
killings and human rights abuses has reinforced the continuing climate of fear and culture of
impunity in the Philippines (as cited in Espejo, 2014).

Aside from the year 2009 where 32 journalist/media workers were killed in the
infamous massacre, the year 2013 was also considered as one of the deadliest years for
the Philippine press members, when 12 were killed, including the three that were killed just
within a week according to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP). In
addition to that, among the journalists and media workers killed under the current
administration, there were only 6 cases that involved the arrest of the suspects, and only 2
that were arrested were convicted (HRW, as cited in Espejo, 2014). Carlos Conde of HRW
also said that the Aquino administration needs to declare that the attacks on journalists are
a national catastrophe that threatens fundamental liberties and that the Philippine
government must interfere in the battle fought by the press, than just ignore it, referring to
the statement by the Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr., wherein he said that
media killings in the country were not so serious (as cited in Olea, 2013). And just as
contradictory as that statement, is the fact that the Philippines was known as among the
freest country in the world, yet the price of this liberty freedom was paid by some media
practitioners with their own blood (Felongco, 2013).

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To be Free from the Price of Freedom (Formation and Implementation of the Plan of

Journey towards the End of Violence

In search for solutions, CMFR conducted a study to understand the pattern in the
killings of journalists (2002-2005), and then they proposed in their report some steps that
can be done to minimize the potential harm for journalists. These could be done by
providing journalists with safety and security training, and assisting those who are
threatened with stronger legal defense (Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
[PCIJ], 2005).
During the Arroyos administration, they issued the Administrative Order 181 in 2007
which would require the directing of the cooperation and coordination between the national
prosecution serviced and other concerned agencies of government for the successful
investigation and prosecution of political and media killings. In accordance to that, the act of
killing the members of the media was also considered as human rights violation, wherein
finding a definitive solution to these killings is of the utmost priority (Official Gazette of the

In 2010, the Philippine National Police published the Handbook on Personal Security
Measures for Media Practitioners, which was a part of the ongoing efforts in providing
protection for the journalists that were face with threats in relation to their duty. As stated by
Director General Bacalzo, PNP Chief, the intention is to provide media practitioners with the
basic knowledge and practical skills in securing themselves and their family, determining
possible threats and improving communications among all concerned including local PNP
units (PNP, 2010).
Under the current administration, the President has committed to relentlessly pursue
the perpetrators of media killings in the country, despite the concerns and issues raised by
international organizations (Calica, Lee-Brago, & Katigbak, 2013). Moreover, in the Senate,
Sen. Grace Poe has also filed a resolution which calls for a review of government efforts to
end media violence in the country. In her Senate Resolution (SR) No. 533, she stated that
"Media killings have no place in a democratic country like the Philippines". SR 533 demands
the Senate committee on public information and mass media and the committee on justice
and human rights to probe for the intervention of the government in addressing the killings of

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media practitioners and the protection of journalists (Senate of the Philippines, 2014). While
in the Lower House, Bayan Muna representatives Neri Javier Colmenares and Carlos
Isagani Zarate have also filed a resolution which condemned the continuing media killings
and urging Aquino to carry out comprehensive and concrete actions to bring the perpetrators
before the bar of justice. It was mentioned under the House Resolution 526 that forming
local task forces every time a journalist is killed is hardly comprehensive action to address a
larger problem of weak law enforcement and a tolerated culture of impunity (as cited in
Olea, 2013).

Putting it all into Action

According to COLOMA, Jr. (UNESCO, 2012), the responses to the killings that have
happened ranged from political interventions through protest actions, public statements,
meetings with government officials to activities related to the media such as the training of
journalists on safety and ethics, providing support to families of slain journalists, monitoring
and documentation. These actions were employed by different media advocacy groups in
the country such as the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), Center for Media Freedom and
Responsibility (CMFR), Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (National Association of
Broadcasters), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), National Press Club
(NPC), Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), and the Freedom Fund
for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ).

Most of what was mentioned above, were just actions, actions that may prevent or
lessen the damage; the hurt that was already brought by the violence against the media,
what we are still lacking was the effective implementation of the concrete action toward
finally putting a period in the longstanding occurrences of media killings in the country. To
give a concrete view of the justice system that our country has towards media killings, we
can take a closer look again in the Ampatuan Maguindanao Massacre, an incident that will
forever be marked in the history of media violence. It has been more than four years since
58 people were slaughtered, including 32 media workers, an incident that we could relate to
electoral violence leading also to media violence. Yet, in those four years, the injustice still
remains, along with the persisting killings of media practitioners. Looking at these particular
case of long withstanding injustice among others, we can say that this was not just an
isolated problem, this was a problem not just felt by the people that were directly affected,
this was a problem that we can traced back not to a single mastermind or individual but
rather to the system of governance that in a way allowed the corrupt politicians and

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warlords to flourish in the regions and provinces in exchange for their loyalty and support
(NUJP, 2013).

Each media killing was not an isolated case, or a coincidence as they may say but
rather a result of the twisted system, the impunity, the idea that one can easily get away
with the crime that one has committed, that all resulted to the prolonged killings. The killings
of media workers will still continue in the midst of these attempted actions as long as there
remains the system of injustice that was encouraged by the culture of impunity. Four years
after the incident, and still the only way we will ever find justice and the freedom to fully
enjoy our rights is to lay claim to them, to seize them and, once we have them, to nurture
them and jealously guard them against all those who would keep them from us (NUJP,

Furthermore, according to the United Nations deputy general Jan Eliasson as he

pleaded for the government to increase its effort in stopping the killing of journalists, more
than 90 percent of the cases of summary killings of media people in the country remain
unsolved (as cited in Fabunan, 2013). Lastly, in his own words (quoted by Fabunan, 2013)
every time a journalist is killed or intimidated into silence, there is one less voice to speak
on behalf of the victims of conflict, crime and human rights abuse, one less observer of the
efforts to uphold rights and ensure human dignity.


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