The Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists sent letters to incoming Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino, asking him to deal with the issue of the murders of journalists in his country. The groups want real investigations and an end to the protection of the murderers.
What is going on against journalists in the Philippines is not unique to the Southeast Asian nation. Journalists are being killed with impunity in Mexico and Colombia as well.
From the International Federation of Journalists
30 June 2010
President Benigno S. Aquino III
1610 J.P Laurel St.
RE: Journalists’ Rights and Impunity in the Philippines
Dear President Aquino,
Congratulations on taking office today.
We write regarding the ongoing violations facing journalists in the Philippines on the eve of your inauguration. We are saddened to learn from our affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), of three murders of media personnel in recent weeks. The killings are especially disturbing in consideration of the 32 journalists and media personnel killed in the Ampatuan Town Massacre last November and the 140 media personnel killed in your country since 1986.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), representing more than 600,000 members in 125 countries, has a long and close working relationship with the media community in the Philippines, through the work of the NUJP. In the Philippines, we promote the rights of professional journalists, especially on issues of safety and press freedom. It is our view that a robust and independent media sector is essential to democracy and assurance of respect for universal human rights.
However, the long-running culture of impunity surrounding the deaths and violent assaults and intimidation of Filipino journalists pervades the Philippines, and is a significant impediment to the full realisation of these rights.
With respect, the IFJ reminds the Government of the Philippines of its obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and to the 1997 Additional Protocol on the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) to ensure the protection of journalists as civilians. Article 13 of Protocol II states: “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”
In addition, we draw your attention to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738, which was adopted in 2006 and stresses the civilian status of journalists reporting in war zones and crisis areas within national borders. The resolution stipulates: “… that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.”
Therefore, the Philippines Government is required by international law to remedy the current situation and redress the past injustices carried out against journalists. The recommendations that follow are based on close engagement with local organisations and the findings of an emergency mission the IFJ led in the immediate aftermath of the Ampatuan Town Massacre.
These recommendations serve as indicators which will be used by the IFJ and the NUJP, other international press freedom organisations, and the international community to assess the progress of the Government of the Philippines in meeting its responsibilities to protect journalists as civilians and to ensure justice is done for past gross abuses of the rights of media personnel.
- Immediate prosecution of all perpetrators of the Ampatuan Town Massacre in Maguindanao on 23 November 2009. The trial or trials must be fully open and transparent so that the public may observe the proceedings without hindrance. There is to be no political interference in any aspect of the conduct of the cases.
- The Government of the Philippines initiates immediately a full and open investigation into the involvement of Filipino military, police and government officials in the Ampatuan Town massacre. An independent and impartial investigator, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines, is appointed to lead the inquiry. All appropriate resources, including protection, are provided to ensure the investigator can do his/her work without hindrance. The investigator’s final report is completed by 1 December 2010 and tabled in the Congress.
- The Government of the Philippines establishes an independent commission with full judicial powers to call witnesses to publicly inquire into repeated and ongoing instances of assaults, threats, intimidation, abductions, illegal detention and murder of journalists in the Philippines, and the reasons for the failure of authorities to take action against perpetrators. The terms of reference will be devised in consultation with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and other media groups. The commission’s recommendations will be made public and acted upon by the Government of the Philippines. The commission will be established by 1 October 2010 and will report to Congress by 30 June 2011.
- Noting that 140 media personnel have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986, the Government of the Philippines in consultation with the Department of Justice, the Philippines National Police together with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, establishes an independent taskforce to implement credible judicial proceedings, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and international legal experts, to fully investigate these cases and conduct prosecutions. Action initiated by 1 October 2010. The task force and proceedings will be funded by the Government of the Philippines. There will be full public disclosure of all evidence and official records.
- Any new attacks on media personnel and human rights defenders (murder, assault, abduction, threats and intimidation) are immediately and credibly investigated. Perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.
- Where any new attacks on media personnel and human rights defenders (murder, assault, abduction, threats and intimidation) are reasonably suspected of links to state actors or associates, the Government of the Philippines will direct that such actors be stood down from their positions pending full and credible investigations. All information on such cases is publicly available. Perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice. The IFJ, its associates and other international organisations will closely monitor such cases.
- The Government of the Philippines will issue a congressional statement in defence of the rights of journalists and the media, recognising the Philippines’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 and acknowledging the vital role journalists play in strengthening democracy by informing communities and scrutinising power.
- The Government of the Philippines will legislate national laws that enshrine the sentiments of the above congressional statement, with specific reference to the Government’s commitment and responsibility to protect and defend the rights of journalists and the media, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738.
- The Government of the Philippines provides financial resources, with full transparency, to the families of all killed journalists for legal support and ongoing trauma counselling.
- The Government of the Philippines acts to ensure the Freedom of Information Bill is passed by the Congress at the first sitting of the new Congress.
- The Government of the Philippines commits itself not to pass any legislation or issue any executive order that will curtail press freedom and freedom of expression, and it will move to decriminalise libel at the first sitting of the new Congress.
- The Government of the Philippines cooperates with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and media owners to develop and implement a sustained training program for police, military and government employees and elected office holders on the rights of journalists pursuant to the above international legal instruments. The program is fully resourced and activated by 1 December 2010.
- The Government of the Philippines, in cooperation with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and media owners, initiates and conducts a series of public meetings in all provinces of the Philippines to raise awareness among the broader public of the rights of journalists in serving the public interest, and the Government’s commitment and responsibility to defend and uphold these rights. The meetings will form the basis of a national public awareness campaign in support of media freedom, democracy and human rights in the Philippines.
Again, we respectfully request that you use your authority as President to act on the grave concerns held by the IFJ and its affiliates around the world for the welfare of our colleagues in the Philippines, in the spirit of serving the best interests of all citizens of the Philippines.
Finally, the IFJ believes that media employers must commit themselves to providing journalists, especially those in the provinces, with fair treatment. Collective agreements between managements and workers in all media organisations should be concluded to provide for stability, safety and security in employment conditions. Structures of self-regulation and accountability toward the media audience should be strengthened. The media should aim to speak for all of the Philippines communities, rather than cater to narrow constituencies and special interests.
General Secretary, IFJ
June 9, 2010
Senator Benigno S. Aquino III
Rm. 526, 5th Floor
Roxas Blvd, Pasay City
Via fax: (632) 552-6601
Dear President-elect Aquino:
With your recent election to office, we are looking forward to engaging with your administration on press freedom-related issues in the years ahead. It is our particular hope that you will translate your strong electoral mandate into a firm commitment to end the culture of impunity that has resulted in the extraordinarily high number of media killings in the Philippines.
In your campaign speeches and press interviews, you promised repeatedly to break from the corruption that has plagued previous governments and create an independent commission to investigate the various allegations of corruption and misgovernance leveled against outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration.\
We recommend that you immediately launch a probe into the circumstances surrounding last November’s Maguindanao massacre, the single deadliest attack against the press anywhere in the world since CPJ started monitoring violations in 1981. Thirty-two journalists and media workers were among the 57 people killed in the election-related violence that has implicated members of the politically influential Ampatuan clan.
Despite the local and international outcry condemning the killings, indications are that the judicial process may be compromised by political considerations. In April, acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra dropped charges against two top suspects—Zaldy Ampatuan, the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his uncle, Akmad Ampatuan, former mayor of Mamasapano—against the advice of the public prosecutors working on the case.
Although Agra later reinstated the charges on the basis of newly submitted evidence, his willingness to intervene by overruling the Quezon City Regional Court that is hearing the case underscored how vulnerable judicial processes can be to political pressures in the Philippines. There have also been reports by a highly regarded press group, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, that family members of victims have been approached with offers of money to drop charges against Ampatuan clan members.
With these developments in mind, we urge you to provide full support and ample resources to the relevant Justice Department agencies to ensure a free, fair, and speedy trial in this landmark case. It is our strong belief that convictions of the masterminds and the assailants involved in the Maguindanao massacre would be a meaningful first step in breaking the cycle of murder and impunity that has taken so many media members’ lives in the Philippines.
Our concerns about the deteriorating press freedom situation in your country unfortunately are not confined to the Maguindanao killings. Unpunished media killings are endemic: CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, released in April, ranked the Philippines as having the third-worst record in the world for bringing the killers of journalists to justice—trailing only Iraq and Somalia. It is a record unbefitting Asia’s oldest democracy, and should be addressed immediately.
Your predecessor initiated a unit of the Philippines National Police, known as USIG, dedicated to investigating and resolving media and other extrajudicial killing cases. Regrettably, the USIG has been unsuccessful in achieving substantial convictions in 62 of the 68 journalist murder cases recorded since 1992, according to CPJ research. CPJ believes that only partial justice was reached in the other six cases.
Task Force USIG member Police Chief, Henry Libay told CPJ in July 2009 that the mishandling of evidence and a lack of witnesses willing to testify were major impediments to serving justice. He said that witnesses shied from the courtroom out of fears of reprisal, lack of financial support, and a general distrust of law enforcement.
We understand that your administration will face obstacles in reversing these trends and breaking the culture of impunity that has resulted in so many media killings, but this should not be an excuse for inaction. A sincere government commitment to press freedom and the protection of journalists is essential to achieving the democratic aspirations embodied in your strong mandate to rule and reform.
Again, we look forward to working with you and your administration on protecting journalists and journalism in the Philippines.