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Threats of violence and death should not be part of the job

Philippine journalists continue to be targets of murder and abuse

Threats of violence and death should not be part of the job
Journalists call for an end to violence that target members of the media. (Photo by Rene Sandajan) reporter, Manila

May 3, 2013

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Manix Marta, 63, a radio announcer in Leyte province, still trembles when he recalls his close encounter with an enraged politician.

On April 26, while Marta was winding up his program for DYBR radio in Tacloban, Bem Noel, a former congressman who is running for mayor, barged into the announcer’s booth with his armed bodyguards.

"I sat surprised and taken aback by his audacity, arrogance and threatening manner and sudden unwelcome appearance in the booth," said Marta.

Marta’s experience, however, pales in comparison to the many instances of killings and threats the Philippine media have been experiencing in the past two decades.

On April 22, radio broadcaster Mario Vendiola was shot and killed in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay in Mindanao. Police are still investigating the murder.

As the world marks International Press Freedom Day today, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that this is the fourth straight year that the Philippines has ranked third in the list of countries where "journalists are slain and the killers go free."

The Philippines also fares poorly in the press freedom index of international media group Reporters Sans Frontieres, falling seven notches to 147th from 140th last year.

"Despite President Benigno Aquino’s vow to reverse impunity in journalist murders, the Philippines ranked third worst worldwide for the fourth consecutive year," states the CPJ report. 

The CPJ says that there are 0.580 unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants so far this year, or 55 unsolved cases for a population of 94.9 million -- slightly better than the 0.589 unsolved murders per million inhabitants in 2012.

The group cites the murder of broadcaster-environmentalist Gerardo Ortega in January 2011, where authorities linked prominent local officials to the crime.

"But the case suffered a severe blow in 2013 when an alleged conspirator who had turned state witness was killed in prison," CPJ stated.

Another key problem surrounding impunity is the insecurity of witnesses, with the group citing the lack of progress in prosecuting suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre that killed 32 journalists.

"Authorities in the Philippines ... have yet to make headway in the prosecution of dozens of suspects in a politically motivated massacre.... Three witnesses in the Maguindanao case have themselves been murdered, one of them dismembered and mutilated," the group says.

International media group Reporters Without Borders also accuses private militias of threatening news providers "with the aim of imposing a climate of terror and self-censorship."

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed its "deep concern over the continuing pattern of violence and attacks against the media in the Philippines."

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the recent attacks on journalists are a “tragic reminder” of the dangerous situation for journalists throughout the region.

Park called on the government to end the culture of impunity that she said allows the killings of journalists.

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