19 April 2010
Philippines Presidential Candidates Must Defend Journalists
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on all candidates running for President in the Philippines to make a public commitment to overturn the country’s culture of impunity for the killing of journalists and to observe and respect the independence of the judiciary.
The call comes as the Philippines Government announced it would drop charges of multiple murder against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan.
The pair have been implicated in the massacre of 58 people, including 32 members of the media, in the southern province of Maguindanao on November 23.
“Less than a month before national elections on May 10, and five months after the massacre, this sudden announcement is alarming for what it says about the commitment of power-holders to end the culture of impunity for the killing of journalists,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
The IFJ believes the decision, made by the Philippines’ Acting Secretary for Justice, Alberto Agra, suggests political interference in the judicial process.
The Ampatuan family is known for its support of the Government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and for involvement in voting irregularities that benefited President Arroyo in 2004 and 2007.
“The IFJ urges the Arroyo administration not to tarnish its record further by impeding justice at this late stage in its term of office,” Park said.
“The Government must allow the judicial system to determine the guilt or innocence of the two accused.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippine (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate, said in a statement, “It is not for us to proclaim the innocence or guilt of either Ampatuan . . . But neither is it for Agra to do so. Not after the charges have been formally filed in court. Not after the judge has issued a commitment order against them.
“It should now be for the court to judge the innocence or guilt of the 197 persons accused of planning or carrying out the massacre.”
The IFJ also calls on the presidential candidates to disclose what steps they will take to ensure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippines National Police are fully trained in understanding their responsibility to provide safety and security for journalists, in accord with the Government’s obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738.
The IFJ further urges the Philippines Department of Justice to ensure that all court proceedings regarding the Maguindanao massacre are transparent and that the public is permitted to scrutinise the conduct of the trial. A dedicated website should be set up to publish all court documents and proceedings, and broadcasts of the massacre trial must be permitted.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide