Dismantling the culture of impunity


In 2015 the Philippines was number four in the Committee to Protect Journalists’(CPJ) Impunity Index, after Somalia, Iraq and Syria. The Index lists those countries where the killers of journalists are seldom, if ever, punished, with many literally getting away with murder. The first three countries are failed states, which raises the question of why the Philippines should be in their company, but the numbers speak for themselves. Only in 11cases out of 152 journalists’ murders since 1986 have the killers of journalists and media workers been prosecuted, and very rarely have masterminds been tried.

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The center cannot hold

IN A piece that won’t win any Pulitzer Prize, one of those individuals on whom the media have conferred the title of “political analyst”– Ramon Casiple– asked if Benigno Aquino III was committing political suicide. It was a question more rhetorical than literal. Casiple’s answer is yes, the country’s President, with three more years to go before he leaves office, has been killing himself politically.

He cited as proof Mr. Aquino’s statements and actions in the last six months or so of this particularly problematic year. On the pork barrel issue, for example, Casiple noted that Mr. Aquino chose to defend the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP) which those Filipinos still capable of any kind of thought regard as a license for Presidential patronage politics.

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Monkey in the driver’s seat

THE December 16 Metro Manila bus disaster in which 22 people lost their lives and 20 more were injured was far from unique. On the same day, in Badian, Cebu, a drunken bus driver lost control of his vehicle while negotiating a curve and killed several people, including his own wife and daughter. Barely two months ago, on October 9, a bus collided with a truck in Atimonan, Quezon, and smashed into two other buses, two cargo trucks, a trailer truck and a van that were going in the other direction. Twenty people were killed and 54 others were injured.

In 2010, a bus crash in Balamban, Cebu, killed 21 people and injured 26 others. A journalist and member of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Journalism Faculty, Chit Estella, was killed by a speeding bus along Quezon City’s Commonwealth Avenue in 2011 that rammed the taxicab she was in. Although Estella was the only casualty in that crash, her death cost the country one of its leading journalists.

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THE phrase is of recent vintage, but the reality behind it isn’t. Like most of the horrors that afflict Filipinos, the culture of impunity, or exemption from punishment so common it has become routine, has been a fact of their lives since the datus betrayed their own people by collaborating with the Spaniards in the conquest of these isles.

In the course of that bloody process and after, entire barangay were put to the torch and their inhabitants to the sword. Not only did those responsible escape punishment; they were also rewarded, and their deeds hailed as part of God’s plan and work.

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Heralds of impunity

A SIGNATORY to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Philippines has sent a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the second cycle of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation of the Philippines since 2008 when it was last reviewed.

The May 29, 2012 review of Philippine compliance with the above covenants, and with its own commitment to implement 11 out of 17 recommendations by the member-States of the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, came a week after the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged UN member-states to “see through the Philippine government’s rhetoric and question the lack of progress on accountability over the past four years.”

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