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The Philippines’ paramilitary groups and privately-owned militias, which were included in the 2011 list of Predators of Press Freedom, have been implicated in most of the attacks on journalists since democracy was restored in 1986. Corruption facilitates the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for violence against journalists. Politicians maintain links with criminal networks. The judicial system is not sufficiently independent.
Difficulty accessing information, self-censorship and journalists’ low pay also pose serious problems for the independence of newspapers, which are often influenced or controlled by powerful business and political interests.
The trial of 96 people accused of planning and carrying out the 23 November 2009 massacre in Maguindanao province, in which 32 journalists were killed, has been under way for more than a year without anyone being convicted yet.
Three journalists were killed in connection with their work in the two weeks prior to President Aquino’s inauguration on 30 June 2010, confirming the tendency for post-electoral periods to be a time for reprisals and score-settling. The victims were Desidario Camangyan of Sunshine FM (on 14 June), Joselito Agustin of DZJC Aksyon Radyo (on 16 June), and Nestor Bedolido of the weekly Kastigador (on 19 June). Three other journalists have been killed in connection with their work since Aquino took office: Miguel Belen of radio dwEB (on 31 July 2010), Gerardo Ortega of Radio Mindanao Network (on 24 January 2011) and Romeo Olega of the same radio as Belen (on 13 June 2011).
As this death toll suggests, the environment for journalists is marked by fear and violence. The prevailing impunity, particularly on the island of Mindanao, one of the world’s most dangerous regions for journalists, is holding back the “process of improving the media freedom situation and the right to information” that President Aquino promised during a meeting with the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (http://www.nujp.org/) in August 2010. The government also promised to take the “necessary concrete measures” to stop the killings.
Some efforts have been undertaken by the police and judicial system. Task Force 211 (a special unit tasked with preventing or solving cases of political violence) has helped investigate deaths of journalists (http://www.mb.com.ph/node/300536/doj-ta). Justice secretary Lelia de Lima refused to allow one of the leading Maguindanao massacre defendants to become a state witness. But suspects have yet to be tried in the murders of Dennis Cuesta, Marlene Esperat and Miguel Belen. The promises are not translating into results and journalists continue to be threatened and targeted by hired killers.
Finally, the Right of Reply Bill (RORB), which Philippine journalists’ organizations have called an “act of terrorism against the media,” the revised criminal code and the witness protection programme constitute obstacles to media freedom and give the authorities the power to silence undesired voices.
Updated: October 2011
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