Friday, June 02, 2006

Restore press freedom and end culture of impunity -- FFFJ

The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc. (of which the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility is a member and serves as its secretariat) held a press conference today in Palawan on the killing of broadcaster Fernando "Dong" Batul. The coalition also came out today with a media release on the spate of journalist killings in the country.

Batul, Third Journalist Killed in 40-Day Period -- FFFJ

As we prepare to bury yet another colleague felled by bullets, we are at the same time alarmed that Palawan radio commentator Fernando ‘Dong’ Batul, was the third victim in just a span of 40 days, to be killed because of his work as a journalist.

The popular Palawan broadcaster was waylaid by three assailants last May 22. He is the first journalist to be murdered in the said province, previously considered as one of the most peaceful areas in the country.

To further put insult to the already badly-injured press freedom condition in the country, one of the alleged perpetrators or assailants came from the ranks of the authorities, whose task is to protect the people, including the journalists.

Since democracy was restored in 1986, some 59 journalists have been killed because of their media work. Of these cases at least nine officers – four government officials, three policemen, and two military officers – are among the murder suspects.

In the case of Batul, PO1 Aaron Golifardo had been implicated as his killer. We hope that true to their word during last Thursday’s media dialogue with the Philippine National Police (PNP), this suspect will be slapped with both administrative and criminal charges, and that the wheels of justice will move at a faster pace.

The death of Batul could perhaps have been prevented had the police acted on the fact that Golifardo was already implicated in the killing of another person in Puerto Princesa on March 1, 2002.

However, despite the charges, which includes failing to support his family, Golifardo managed to stay in active duty until the recent killing took place.

Even the Mimaropa Police Chief Superintendent Delfin Genio admitted that the “dismissal case against (Golifardo) has been pending for some time now” as quoted by a Philippine Daily Inquirer report. Four years had elapsed, before Golifardo was finally dismissed.

It is not a hidden fact that the media have had their own share of mistakes, but the responsibility of providing a working environment free from the culture of violence and impunity that have been hounding the journalists, should be held by the government.

Although some journalists have not been objective and ethical in their media practice, there is no single reason to silence them, more so kill them. Yet, scores journalists had been downed because of their penchant for truth, despite being objective and backed by hard facts.

Crusading journalist Marlene Esperat was gunned down because of her methodical exposés on the multi-million scam and corruption inside the Department of Agriculture.

Batul earned the admiration of his listeners because of his fearless criticism and exposés of local government’s corruption and even ethical malpractice of other media practitioners. Yet, his attacks were not based from hearsays, but came from journalistic research and investigation.

We call on the government and authorities to put on more pressure in pursuing the suspects, including the masterminds, in the killing of Batul and scores of other journalists. Only with these efforts will the real resolution to the cases be attained.

The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc. (FFFJ) was organized specifically to help journalists who are under threat and to assist the families of those who are killed in the line of duty. The members of the FFFJ, composed of the organizations named below, are keenly interested in ensuring that justice is done to Fernando Batul.

We think that pursuing the case against his killer is one of the key steps in restoring press freedom and ending the culture of impunity, with which the murderers of journalists have been getting away with their crimes. We, along with other media organizations, are committed to following up this case for as long as it takes, and to helping the Batul family in their efforts and in their struggle with the country’s often-frustrating law-enforcement and justice system.

Center for Community Journalism and Development

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Philippine News

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas

Philippine Press Institute

The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) was organized to address the numerous attacks against journalists and news organizations around the country. Although these attacks are monitored by international groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Article XIX, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), these incidents receive scant notice in the Philippines until recently. The situation has been described as a “culture of impunity,” constituting a major scandal among press freedom advocates around the world.
The FFFJ represents a national effort to protect journalists in crisis and works in coordination with the international groups mentioned above, providing them with information on the cases in the Philippines which they follow-up and take up as cases for special advocacy.

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