“If you have to kill a snake, kill it once and for all.” Japanese Proverb
By Alex P. Vidal
As community journalists, we have heard in brutal details how some of our colleagues were killed in cold blood by hired assassins. Sometimes they died in the line of duty like cops and soldiers in the battlefield.
When we joined the press after the EDSA Revolution, the country was already becoming one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists, a notoriety that hasn’t changed until today.
Extra-judicial killings and other forms of harassment continued unabated under the Cory administration — even after Marcos has fled. FVR, Erap and Gloria have failed to curb the culture of impunity, as well.
Journalists, labor leaders, and other activists disappeared like shallow lakes in the summer. They were summarily executed sometimes in front of their family members and in broad daylight.
Back in November 2009 at Camp Pendelton in Oceanside, California, an American soldier asked why I was in tears while I was reviewing the news in the internet. “My colleagues were massacred in the Philippines,” I replied in a cracked voice. I cried in horror because of the magnitude of that massacre.
I was referring to the Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009. Of the 58 victims, 34 were community journalists. Two of them were my former roommates at the Hyatt Hotel in Manila way back in the 90s when we were still active members of the Publishers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PAPI).
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called the Maguindanao massacre the single deadliest event for journalists in history. Until now, justice continues to elude the victims and their families.
When an American journalist, who accompanied President Barrack Obama in Manila last April 28, brought the matter of media killings during a joint conference, President Noynoy Aquino was caught flat-footed. In fact, he failed to satisfy this very straight-to-the-point and simple question: “President Aquino, as a journalist, I’d like to ask you why 26 journalists have been killed since you took office. And I understand that there have only been suspects arrested in six of those cases. What are you doing to fix that?”
President Aquino’s answer: “With regards to the killing of journalists, perhaps we should say from the outset that I don’t have the figures right here before me. But we did set up an inter-agency committee to look on extralegal killings and forced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations of right to life, liberty and security of persons.
“And in this particular body, there has been — I have the figures for labor-related issues — there were 62 suspected cases of extrajudicial killings referred to it, and of the 62 investigations before this committee, there have been 10 that have been determined to fulfill the criteria and the definitions of what constitutes an extrajudicial killing. Of the 10 cases that have been determined to be possible EJK cases, only one happened during our watch — the case of Mr. Estrellado.
“Now, as far as journalists are concerned, perhaps the track record speaks for itself. The Maguindanao massacre involved something like 52 journalists, and there are presently something like over 100 people who have been indicted for this crime and are undergoing trial. That doesn’t mean that we have stopped trying to look for others potentially involved in this particular killing. And may we just state for the record that even when it comes to journalists, it is not a policy of this state to silence critics. All you have to do would be to turn on the TV, the radio, or look at any newspaper to find an abundance of criticisms.
“Now, having said that, investigations have been done. Anybody who has been killed obviously is a victim, and investigations have been ongoing. If at times we do not reveal the discoveries by our intelligence agencies and security services, perhaps we are very sensitive to personal relationships by the people who are deceased who were killed not because of professional activities, but, shall we say, other issues. But having said that, they were killed. That is against the law. And the people will have to be found, prosecuted and sent to jail.”
Why they were killed and what is the president doing to fix the killings? President Aquino has failed to break the camel’s back in this very fundamental question. No assurance that the culture of impunity will end. No assurance that justice will soon be served on the fallen members of the Fourth Estate.