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PHL keeps 3rd spot in intl media watchdog's impunity list

April 18, 2012 7:55am

The Philippines has maintained a dubious distinction as one of the "four worst nations in combating journalist murders" this year, placing third in an international media watchdog group's impunity index for 2012.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which compiled the index, said it found no sign of progress from the Philippines along with Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

"CPJ's index found improving conditions in Colombia and Nepal, along with a long-term decline in deadly, anti-press violence in Bangladesh that caused that country to drop off the list entirely. But the four worst nations in combating journalist murders – Iraq, Somalia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka – showed virtually no sign of progress," it said.

The CPJ said countries in its index have at least five journalist murders, where governments had failed to convict a single perpetrator from 2002 to 2011.

In the CPJ 2012 index, the Philippines had an impunity index rating of 0.589 unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants.

But in terms of the number of unsolved cases from 2002 to 2011, the Philippines – with 55 unsolved cases – would have been second only to Iraq's 93, with Pakistan's 19 a distant third.

Last year, the Philippines also ranked third with an index rating of 0.609 unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants.

Iraq topped the 12-country index with an impunity index rating of 2.906 unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants compared to 2.921 last year.

Somalia remained at second (11 unsolved cases or 1.183 unsolved murders per million inhabitants compared to 1.099 last year), the Philippines was third, while Sri Lanka was fourth (9 unsolved cases or 0.431 unsolved murders per million inhabitants compared to 0.443 last year).

In the case of the Philippines, the CPJ lamented that authorities have yet to combat impunity even after the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

At least 58 people, 32 of them journalists, were killed in the incident.

"Even after the horrific 2009 massacre in Maguindanao province... Philippine authorities have yet to effectively combat impunity. The prosecution of dozens of politically connected suspects in the Maguindanao attack has been marked by delays and marred by allegations of bribery and witness intimidation," CPJ said.

Worse, it said the overall death toll grew yet again in 2011 when a gunman shot dead environmentalist-broadcaster Gerardo Ortega in Palawan.

In March 2012, a local court issued an arrest warrant for former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, on charges of ordering Ortega's murder.

Other countries in the index included:

5. Colombia (8 unsolved cases, 0.173 index, fifth last year with 0.241)
6. Nepal (5 unsolved cases, 0.167 index, seventh last year with 0.205)
7. Afghanistan (5 unsolved cases, 0.145 index, sixth last year with 0.235)
8. Mexico (15 unsolved cases, 0.132 index, eighth last year with 0.121)
9. Russia (16 unsolved cases, 0.113 index, ninth last year with 0.113)
10. Pakistan (19 unsolved cases, 0.109 index, 10th last year with 0.082)
11. Brazil (5 unsolved cases, 0.026 index, 12th last year with 0.026)
12. India (6 unsolved cases, 0.005 index, 13th last year with 0.006)


CPJ's Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country's population.

For this index, it examined journalist murders that occurred between January 1, 2002, through December 31, 2011, and that remain unsolved.

Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on this index.

CPJ defined murder as a deliberate attack against a specific journalist in relation to the victim's work.

It said its research showed murders make up more than 70 percent of work-related deaths among journalists.

"This index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or while carrying out dangerous assignments such as coverage of street protests," it said.

Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained. Population data from the World Bank's 2010 World Development Indicators were used in calculating each country's rating.

PHL: 'Anything goes'
CPJ senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin cited the unsolved murder of radio commentator Romeo Olea as "tragically typical" of media killings in the Philippines.

Before his fatal shooting on June 13, 2011 by motorcycle-riding assassins, Olea had received anonymous threats over his reports on local government corruption, Crispin said.

"Ten months later, police authorities who initially said Olea's murder was likely related to his journalism have failed to make any arrests or identify any suspects," Crispin said.

"It is a pattern of impunity that has spanned successive Philippine administrations, including the two-year-old government of President Benigno Aquino III," he added.

Crispin said at least four journalists, including Olea, have been killed for their reporting on Aquino's watch.

"Despite executive vows to turn back the tide of media killings, none of the cases has been solved," he said.

Crispin also said that figure could be substantially higher as another six reporters have been gunned down under "uncertain circumstances" under Aquino's watch.

He said the CPJ continues to investigate whether any of the journalists' deaths were work-related.

According to Crispin, the Aquino-era killings came against the backdrop of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, where 32 journalists were among the 58 people murdered.

Crispin said that as with many media murders in the Philippines, the main suspects are politically powerful provincial officials.

"Aquino vowed both before and after his election to achieve swift justice in the landmark case. Over two years later the case has bogged down in legal stalling tactics, seemingly aimed at breaking the prosecution's resolve and resources. The longer the trial drags on, prosecution attorneys involved in the case have said, the greater the chance the main suspects slip free on a technicality," he warned.

He also said the persistent failure to achieve convictions in media murders ranks the Philippines third on CPJ's Impunity Index in 2012.

It was the third year in a row the Philippines has placed among the top three countries, Crispin said.

Crispin also said that while Aquino's office issued an official message deploring Olea's "senseless killing," the assailants behind the crime remain free and the Philippines ranks again among the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

"(T)here is a growing sense that Aquino could and should do more to break the cycle of impunity," he said.

Significant intl developments

The CPJ noted the release of its index came after two significant international developments that take the fight against impunity in markedly different directions.

Last March, the Mexican Senate approved a constitutional amendment that if adopted will federalize anti-press crimes and place national authorities in charge of such investigations.

Such steps seen as crucial in fighting impunity in that country.

But also last March, it said the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization's 28th biennial session failed to endorse a plan to strengthen international efforts to fight impunity after the proposal drew objections from Pakistan and two other member nations, India and Brazil.

"The U.N. plan – which could still move forward despite the setback – would strengthen the office of the special rapporteur for free expression and assist member states in developing national laws to prosecute the killers of journalists," it said.

CPJ's Impunity Index is compiled as part of the organization's Global Campaign Against Impunity, which is supported by the Adessium Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Open Society Foundations. — LBG, GMA News
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