End Impunity Now!

July 20, 2013

Statement of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication on the third year of the Aquino presidency
July 22, 2013

When Benigno S. Aquino III took his oath of office on June 30, 2010 as the 15th President of the Philippines, hopes were high that he could bring about much-needed change. The high expectations, however, remain just that – campaign promises that remain unfulfilled even if he is already in his third year in office. In the context of media, among his many promises is to stop the killing of journalists and to promote and uphold press freedom.

As early as July 25, 2011, the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) has issued an official statement on the Aquino regime’s treatment of the media : “(A) scant month and a half in office, in August 2010, in apparent ignorance of the self-regulatory regime in the media, Mr. Aquino threatened to file criminal charges against some of the journalists who were in violation of the ethics of their profession during the coverage of the August 23 hostage taking incident… In the ensuing months Mr. Aquino kept up his criticism of the press, accusing them at one point of irresponsible behavior, while, in a call reminiscent of Joseph Estrada,  he urged the business community to advertise only in `responsible’ media organizations.”

This observation is consistent with an earlier statement of the College on November 23, 2010, the first anniversary of the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers: “The Aquino administration has denied the demands of local and international human rights and media organizations to disband the civilian volunteer organizations and other paramilitary groups that constitute the core of the warlord armies. And yet their disbandment is in most cases basic to stopping the killings…(I)t is an indispensable part of the imperative of trying and punishing the killers of journalists and political activists, and to dismantling the culture of impunity.”

The Aquino administration’s failure to create an environment conducive to ending impunity has resulted in the unabated killing of journalists. Latest data from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) show that 12 journalists have been killed in the line of duty during the first three years of the Aquino presidency. It is interesting to note that during the first three years in office of her predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the work-related killing of journalists was pegged at 11.

While the killings are already a cause for alarm, what proves to be equally disconcerting is the fact that Aquino shares Macapagal-Arroyo’s attitude toward media.  In the past, his predecessor was quoted as saying that the good news is needed “to give more investors confidence in the country.” Aquino’s criticism of the Philippine press at present is not substantially different: “Sa karanasan ko po, tila ba nakasanayan na ng media na magpaulan ng batikos sa mga lumalabas na balita. Allergic po yata ang iba sa good news. Kundi man iiwasan ang mga ito ay hahanapan naman nila ng masamang anggulo.” (In my experience, it appears that the media have gotten used to issuing a lot of criticisms on the news that comes out. It seems that some of them are allergic to good news. If they don’t avoid it, they look for the negative angle of a story.)

While Aquino and other government officials have every right to criticize media, they should do so based on the prescribed professional and ethical standards of the profession. And using those standards, they should be reminded that issues are reported not based on the “good” and the “bad” but mainly on how they affect people’s lives. In the interest of truth, journalists will always strive to air different sides of the story, including those who may not share the views of the government.

If the Aquino administration intends to fulfil the campaign promise to end impunity and to promote and uphold press freedom, we repeat our call in July 2011: “He can start by dismantling the private armies that in over a hundred places in the Philippines were behind or were involved in the killing of journalists. He can also seriously examine the wisdom of the `new’ counter-insurgency policy that his administration is implementing.  Of equal urgency is his making civilian control of the military a reality, as a necessary first step in stopping both human rights violations as well as the killing of journalists, in both of which military men have been involved as perpetrators, torturers, gunmen and co-conspirators.”

Indeed, there is a need to constantly repeat what has been said in the past as the present proves to be no different. The message is clear and the call must be heeded: End Impunity Now!

(This is the statement of the UP CMC in time for the President’s 4th State of the Nation Address on July 22, signed by 22 faculty members (full-time and part-time) led by Dean Roland Tolentino; 9 administrative staff and research personnel; 173 undergraduate students; and 9 graduate students)