EDITORIAL - Protect media, protect democracy

The Philippine Star

Formal charges are expected to be filed today against those behind the murder of broadcaster Percival Mabasa, better known as Percy Lapid. This is impressive work in a country that has constantly ranked among the top 10 worst in the Global Impunity Index, not just for the high number of journalist killings, but also for the failure to resolve most of the murders.

Broadcast journalists and writers aren’t the only ones targeted. Less than a week after the Nov. 2 observance of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, an editorial cartoonist and public school teacher was gunned down on Saturday night in Lebak town in Sultan Kudarat.

Police are still trying to capture the killers of Benharl Capote Kahil, who was on his way home when he was waylaid along a village road in Barangay Pasandalan. Kahil, also a coordinator of a special arts program at the Lebak Legislated National High School, was reportedly shot multiple times.

Kahil had won several awards in editorial cartoon competitions organized by Pitik Bulag, a group that uses visual arts, notably cartoons and comics, as part of the #FactsFirstPH campaign against disinformation. Kahil’s entries highlighted women’s and children’s rights as well as injustice.

For relatives of another murder victim in Sultan Kudarat, justice remains elusive. Radyo ni Juan manager Benjie Caballero died a month after being shot five times on Oct. 30, 2019 in Tacurong City. He was reportedly critical of a powerful clan in the province. Ironically, Caballero headed Sultan Kudarat’s provincial task force on media security.

Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 journalists worldwide have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The killers have gone unpunished in nine out of the 10 cases, UNESCO said. Only 13 percent of cases recorded by UNESCO were considered judicially resolved. In 2020, 274 journalists were imprisoned – the highest total in three decades. Harassment of women journalists and online violence against women in media are also on the rise, UNESCO said.

Percy Lapid was believed murdered by someone who resented his scathing commentary on his radio show. Probers are still trying to determine if the murder of Kahil was related to his editorial cartoons. Only the capture of those behind his murder will establish the truth.

With the theme of protecting media to protect democracy, UNESCO is pushing efforts to improve measures to end impunity and keep media workers safe. It pointed out: “Threats of violence and attacks against journalists, in particular, create a climate of fear for media professionals, impeding the free circulation of information, opinions and ideas for all citizens.”

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