Philippines still among worst countries for journalists

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
Philippines still among worst countries for journalists
Relatives and supporters of victims of the country's worst political massacre light candles during a vigil at a park in Manila on December 18, 2019, on the eve of a court verdict in the case. The alleged masterminds of the Philippines' worst political massacre will learn their fate December 19 when a Manila court issues its verdict, in a test of the justice system for a nation with a deep-seated culture of impunity.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — For the 16th consecutive year, the Philippines has remained on the list of countries where killers of journalists go unpunished.

The Philippines ranked eighth in the latest Global Impunity Index released by New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a slight improvement from seventh in the past two years.

The movement was due to the entry of Haiti in the index, which ranks countries based on the number of unsolved journalist murders in the past decade as a percentage of the country’s population.

The Philippines is one of the six countries that have appeared every year in the Global Impunity Index since CPJ launched it in 2008. The others were Somalia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and India.

The latest index took into account deliberate killings of journalists in retaliation for their work that occurred between Sept. 1, 2013 to Aug. 31, 2023.

From 14 unsolved murders in the country last year, the number rose to 20 in the latest index following the killings of Renato Blanco in Negros Oriental on Sept. 18, 2022; Percy Mabasa in Las Piñas on Oct. 3, 2022, and Cris Bundoquin in Oriental Mindoro on May 31, 2023.

Four other cases that were not included in the previous index were also now on the list after the motive behind their killings has been determined: Virgilio Maganes in Pangasinan on Nov. 10, 2020; Orlando Dinoy in Davao del Sur on Oct. 30, 2021; Audrey Estrada in Lanao del Norte on March 17, 2022, and Federico Gempesaw in Cagayan de Oro on June 29, 2022.

The latest index excluded the case of freelance photographer Mario Sy, who was in General Santos City on Aug. 1, 2013, as it is no longer within the 10-year period.

“The Philippines remains a dangerous place to work as a reporter, especially for radio journalists,” CPJ stated.

“While Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has adopted a more conciliatory approach toward the media since becoming president in June 2022, CPJ reported that a culture of self-censorship persists and Marcos’ change in tone has not yet been accompanied by substantive actions to undo the damage wrought to press freedom under the Rodrigo Duterte administration,” it added.

Data from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines showed that at least 23 media workers have been killed during the Duterte administration alone, with another three reported during the Marcos administration.

Not all were included in the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index as it only includes unsolved murders that are confirmed to be work-related.

The Philippines improved from fifth to seventh in the 2019 index after dozens of cases related to the Maguindanao massacre were removed as it was no longer within the 10-year timeframe for calculating the index.

CPJ said the partial convictions in 2019 also adjusted the status of the Ampatuan cases from full to partial immunity.

Globally, CPJ said the latest index documents 261 journalists murdered in connection with their work, with no one held to account in 204.

“A 78 percent impunity rate is a slight improvement on the 90 percent rate CPJ recorded a decade ago. But it should not be seen as a reason for optimism. Impunity remains rampant and the stark reality is that nearly four out of every five killers of journalists are still getting away with murder,” wrote CPJ editorial director Arlene Getz.

“Overall, CPJ has recorded the murders of 956 journalists in connection with their work since it began tracking them in 1992. A total of 757 – more than 79 percent – have gone wholly unprosecuted,” she added.

Syria topped the list with 14 unsolved murders, followed by Somalia with 11, Haiti with six, South Sudan with five, Afghanistan with 18, Iraq with 17 and Mexico with 23.

Following the Philippines were Myanmar with five, Brazil with 11, Pakistan with eight and India with 19.

Journalists killed in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine were not included in the latest index as the incidents do not fall under the period covered.

But a CPJ report released earlier this year noted that 20 journalists died by Israeli military fire in the past 22 years.

Israel is not listed in the impunity index because less than five journalists killed in the past decade were “classified as having been targeted for murder.”

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