Filipino journalists risk their lives for truth

With 42 killed since 2007 and no one convicted, keeping a check on corruption has rarely been so dangerous
Filipino journalists risk their lives for truth
A Filipino activist covers her mouth with tape during a demonstration in Manila to protest against alleged attempts by the government to suppress press freedom. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
 
Journalists, writers, reporters and commentators will just have to curb their passion for speaking and exposing the truth if they want to continue to live.

Too many Filipino media workers have ended up dead before their time in recent years. That is just the way it is in the Philippines. More than 146 journalists have been assassinated since 1986.

In 2009, 58 people were killed in an ambush, 34 of whom were journalists, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province. It was one of the worst and most violent assaults on press freedom that has occurred in one single blow.

A powerful political family was allegedly behind the attack, but no one has been convicted of the crime as of yet.

Journalists are tasked with telling stories and reporting the facts. But telling the truth in the Philippines is to put one's own life at risk. Exposing that which is corrupt and damaging to the public is seen as a challenge to political power — almost always with dire consequences.

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No vengeance is as fierce as that of a corrupt politician who has been exposed, or a shady business corporation with its secrets laid bare. And surely, no form of ignorance is as painful as that of an uninformed and uncaring public.

The killings continue to this day. Press freedom is at stake as some powerful figures try to control the message and cover up the truth.

The task of the media is to report the facts and bring the truth to light. That is at the heart of democracy. Tyranny is the alternative, and it descends like a dark cold cloud of threats and intimidation.

People in government are accountable for billions of pesos that often end up in their personal bank accounts. In the past, it was the media who exposed these politicians.

That is their role, and they need the freedom to tell the truth without fear of reprisals. Without this no institution, individual or group will reveal the extent to which the country is being plundered and is beset with corruption.

If evil persists unchecked, human rights will continued to be abused and the national economy will be damaged. During his time, dictator Ferdinand Marcos closed newspapers and radio stations. He controlled the media and plundered it at will. Those who opposed him often paid with their lives.

In the Philippines, violence against journalists is frequently the response to media reports of wrongdoing and corrupt practices.

As many as 42 journalists have been assassinated since 2007 and no one has been convicted. The killers acted with impunity and got away with murder.

As a result of this the nation slipped to fifth place in last year's Global Impunity Index by the Committee to Project Journalists, a New York-based watchdog.

Why do powerful government officials and politicians fear and silence journalists, as they did with the dedicated Maltese writer Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a bomb?

Those who oppose the truth have always attempted to silence a free media. They use bombs, bullets, incarcerations, threats and false charges. Yet the power of the word, with one well-placed and outspoken journalist armed with the truth, and evidence of corruption, can be as powerful as a bomb as the truth can also drop like a bombshell.

The truth can bring down the mighty from their thrones. Investigative and dedicated journalists of integrity are threats to wrongdoers in society. They need protection and the freedom to speak and write the truth and tell it as it is.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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