MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Tuesday criticized as “unfair” a report from a New York-based media watchdog listing the Philippines as among the world’s most dangerous places for journalists due to many unresolved murders since 1998.
At least 24 killings of Filipino journalists have remained unresolved since 1998, said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ called on the government to prosecute and punish those behind the murders.
In its latest “Impunity Index” report, the CPJ ranked the Philippines No. 6 in a list of 14 countries with high numbers of unresolved killings of journalists against the size of the population.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said it was not true the government had ignored these killings in the country, saying 26 of 31 cases were now either being tried in lower courts or under prosecutors’ review.
“We view with discomfort the manner the Philippines is once again put in a bad light on its commitment on the promotion and protection of human rights,” Ermita told reporters.
“The allegation by the CPJ is an unfair depiction of what is happening based on measures that are inadequate. These incidents have all been properly attended to.”
No quick convictions
The retired military general said at least four people had been convicted and 26 others were facing charges for the murder of at least 31 Filipino journalists since 2001.
“The low conviction rate has been misconstrued as a slack in the country’s justice system. This is a misconception because we always conform to the rule of law. The government will not force quick convictions simply for the sake of announcing achievements,” Ermita said.
The CPJ said it was standing firm on its “impunity index” because the data-based report “belies the claim of an exaggeration.”
RP peacetime democracy
“What is striking is that the Philippines is one of the only countries in the top half of this list that is a stable and a peacetime democracy,” the CPJ said.
Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sri Lanka remained at the top of the list, but these states are virtually in a state of war, the CPJ added.
Local media groups said about 78 to 100 of more than 130 journalists killed since 1986 died while doing their job. Only five of those cases led to the conviction of gunmen—but not to any alleged mastermind.
In a statement Tuesday, a mission from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) that visited the country on March 21-24 expressed fears that the killings of media people in the Philippines could spread to other countries in the region.
“We believe that the culture of impunity that is deeply rooted in the Philippines could be replicated in other countries in the region unless there is a common effort to dismantle it in the Philippines,” the group said.
SEAPA noted an increase in violence against journalists and media workers in Malaysia and Thailand last year. This includes harassment, mob attacks on journalists and media premises, killings and legal sanctions to suppress free expression.
The alliance also feared an escalation of the killings of media people in the Philippines as the 2010 election nears.
SEAPA called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “to take the steps necessary to prevent that unfortunate development.” With reports from Alcuin Papa and Reuters