No one has alleged that the killing of journalists in the Philippines since 1986 is part of a government conspiracy. Most journalists’ groups have ascribed the continuing killings to a number of factors in the communities instead.

First among these factors is the partisanship and weakness of the justice system, despite the “strong Republic”. The failure of local police agencies in all 66 cases except one to apprehend suspects has encouraged further killings. In the one exception to this rule, the Edgar Damalerio case, the trial of the ex-policeman-suspect has had to be moved from Pagadian City to Cebu City because Damalerio’s family, the witnesses to the crime as well as prosecutors feared for their lives.

But it’s not only the justice system that’s weak in the communities. The national government also has a tenuous hold on local officials and police forces, some of whom have been implicated in the killings, and who pretty much run their turfs like fiefdoms. When targeted by journalists, especially radio broadcasters, for alleged corruption, these officials respond with violence.

Local journalists have also stepped on other, equally powerful toes, among them those of gambling and drug lords. But it is also true that some journalists, for a number of reasons including economic survival, have taken sides in political disputes, and ended up in the gun sights of warring groups.

The consensus among journalists’ and other concerned groups is that the killing of journalists is not orchestrated. Despite occasional anti-press diatribes from civilian officials including the President, and all those bills restricting press freedom regularly introduced in Congress, the government’s not into either killing journalists literally, or press freedom figuratively.

If the Arroyo government doesn’t watch out, however, that perception may change. If that happens, the “Know Your Enemy: Are We Missing the Point?” military briefing, which names three (not two as earlier reported) media organizations as actual or potential communist fronts, would be the critical factor. (The three organizations so named are NUJP- the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; PCIJ- the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; and the universities-based CEGP- the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines.)

The “Know Your Enemy” briefing argues that the military may be “missing the point” by, supposedly, concentrating its efforts on the New People’s Army (NPA) alone. The military, says the briefing, should also focus its efforts on Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) “fronts” and allied organizations.

This last assertion raises the question of whether that’s exactly what the military has been doing lately by assassinating members and leaders of activist organizations it says are CPP fronts. Will it eventually target members of journalists’ groups like the CEGP, one of whose members was indeed killed by the military in 2002? If indeed some of the groups named are merely potential or possible CPP fronts, will the military pre-empt their becoming actual ones through the usual assassination route?

Probably with those disturbing questions in the mind, the latest issuance of NUJP asserts that the Arroyo government has made it a matter of policy to suppress press freedom as part of an over-all policy to suppress dissent. NUJP argues that Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita “let the cat out of the bag” when he admitted that the military has been spying on members of the named media groups. The “cat” is that media surveillance is official policy.

“This policy,” said NUJP, “targets not just certain media groups but (also) those that the military and the Arroyo administration perceive to be critical of the state. It not only betrays a narrow view inside the government (‘either you’re with us or against us’)—it (also) betrays a systematic plot to intimidate critics and the press.”

NUJP goes on to challenge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to disown the military briefing. “Indeed, we challenge her to …ensure that the perpetrators of violence against activists and journalists be brought to justice.” This part of the statement comes close to suggesting that the killing of journalists is part of a wider military-government conspiracy.

The sectoral, religious, party-list and media groups named in the “You’re your Enemy” briefing may be diverse in political orientation, but what they have in common is criticism of government policies and actions The briefing thus suggests a mind-set in the military that regards all dissent as inimical to the state–which makes it in state interest not to prosecute the killers of journalists, and even to encourage further murders. This would make dissent criminal and dissenters and critics legitimate targets for “neutralization” in the eyes of the military and the police.

It’s the context most of all. The briefing is being widely disseminated in the “culture of violence” every Filipino, no thanks to IFJ, is familiar with. Part of this culture is the military and police’s own cavalier attitude towards violence against the media. That attitude is evident in police attempts to justify the killing of journalists by alleging that some of them were corrupt anyway. One police officer indeed remarked a few months ago that whenever he sees a journalist, he himself feels like killing him/her.

The conclusion is unavoidable. Government indifference to the killing of journalists is supporting a policy that looks at press freedom as anti-state. Some journalists’ groups may themselves be missing the point.

(Manila Standard Today)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. Stressing on Damalerio’s case, wasn’t it true that the suspect was infact Pagadian official’s enemy number one? He was accussed of a dozen cases and most of which included killing cops. But the DOJ and the somewhat fictional justice system in the country abled him to roam around and get in and out of jail like he was simply visiting a mall.
    I’m not an pro-Estrada and definitely not a Gloria-blinded “idiot” forgive me of using the word, but somehow i find it ridiculous that we impeached and replaced presidents like we’re just simply emptying our trash cans on early mornings.You might think I deviate from the topic but my point is, how would one expect justice system to work well with solving crimes such as the killing of mediamen or even take the allegations seriously when in fact the press and the people like how the Edsa2 was depicted-People’s Power to Address Grievances-made the presidency and that of the consistency of the republic’s law a mockery.
    I do believe the media and the government are but of nothing but old pals fighting over petty things.Though i’ quite aware press had been suppressed referring to the country’s past years of dictatorship rule, i still think those were fights not that of the people’s will to be respected nor to bring-down corrupt and human rights abuses. Instead, it was a fight of not letting the press sell its “squid balls” ’cause the government-her play pal in terms of pricing and stuff- thinks it is better to infact let his playmate share more than his offered toys and that is to gain about more than half of his squid balls sellings.
    i do not intend to infact make a point about the media’s advocacy for justice to cease. But i can’t help thinking that the media wanted the law to act well on their behalf when they set laws and justice aside ’cause the “urge for change” simply roused-out of proportion.(was there?)

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