International Mission Demands Arroyo Protect Media as Elections Loom

Philippines President Gloria

Macapagal Arroyo and her Government must take all necessary measures to provide

local media with protection ahead of upcoming elections, says the International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and other members of an international

solidarity mission that investigated the November 23 massacre of 58 people in

the southern Philippines.

 

Among those killed were 32

journalists and media workers.

 

“The massacre underlines the

terrible dangers that Filipino journalists face. It also highlights the

inability and unwillingness of the State to ensure the protection and safety of

journalists who are seeking to perform their duties,” the mission members say

in their report, Massacre in the

Philippines: International Solidarity Mission Rapid Assessment, released

today.

 

The mission conducted its investigations

in the Philippines

from December 5 to 10 in association with the National Union of Journalists of

the Philippines (NUJP), an affiliate of the IFJ. The team included representatives

from leading journalists’ rights and press freedom organisations, including the

IFJ, Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Committee to

Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Media Support (IMS), International

News Safety Institute (INSI), the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of

Information (ISAI), Australia’s Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the

Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA), the Thai Journalists’ Association (TJA),

and Union Network International (UNI).

 

“Power-holders in the Philippines

must act urgently on all the recommendations of the mission’s report to reverse

once and for all the country’s shameful culture of impunity for the murders of

journalists, tragically underscored on November 23,” IFJ General Secretary

Aidan White said.

 

As the mission report went to press,

the toll of media personnel killed in the massacre was revised up to 32, as it

was confirmed that Saksi News photographer Jepon Cadagdagon was among

the victims in Maguindanao province, Mindanao. The toll of 32 media personnel includes

31 whose bodies were recovered, as well as Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay who remains

missing.

 

The mission team says that it holds

grave concerns for the safety of Filipino journalists as the investigation and

prosecution of the accused takes place in a tense environment ahead of national

and presidential elections due on May 10.

 

“This massacre, coming at the very

beginning of the 2010 election process, not only undermines that process but

has dealt a cruel blow to democracy and free media in the Philippines,” the

mission members say in their report.

 

They call on the Government to

ensure media is able to report fairly and freely on the election campaign

without undue risk. It also stresses concerns about judicial and forensic

processes in view of the political ties between the Arroyo administration and

the Ampatuan family in Mindanao.

 

Although at least 100 gunmen are

believed to have been involved in the massacre, Andal Ampatuan Jr, the son of

the clan patriarch, is the only person to be charged and brought before a court

in direct connection to the massacre. He is pleading not guilty.

 

Among other significant concerns

highlighted in the report is the role of Major General Alfredo Cayton, the

Commander of the 6th Infantry Division in Maguindinao at the time of the

massacre. The mission urges a full investigation into Cayton’s role and actions

preceding the massacre.

 

Cayton, who denied requests for a

military escort to accompany the convoy that was attacked on November 23, was

stood down immediately after the massacre. However, he has since been promoted

to Vice Commander of the Philippine Army.

 

The mission further calls for an

investigation into reports that several members of the Philippine National

Police were involved in the massacre.

 

It stresses that under United

Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006), the Government of the

Philippines is required to ensure its security forces provide the protection

due to citizens in areas of conflict within national borders, including media

personnel.

 

The mission, which Arroyo declined

to meet, further recommends:

 

­     The Government and local authorities must undertake all

necessary measures to fully investigate the massacre and to ensure all evidence

is properly preserved and available.

 

­     The Government and local authorities must provide all

necessary measures for the protection and safety of witnesses, investigators,

prosecutors, lawyers and judges.

 

­     Families must be provided with legal support to pursue the

prosecution of perpetrators.

 

­     Observers and human rights groups must have full open access

to legal proceedings.

 

­     The Government is urged not to reimpose martial law ahead of

the May 10 elections.

 

The mission report will be officially

released in the Philippines

today at the launch of an organisation of families of journalists killed in the

massacre, Justice NOW! The NUJP and Justice NOW! will conduct a press

conference in Koronadal City, South Cotabato,

where many of the families live.

 

In Quezon City, the November 23 Movement, which

has been convened by the NUJP, will hold a candle-lighting vigil, among other

activities to mark two months since the massacre.

 

The report is available at: http://asiapacific.ifj.org//assets/docs/203/037/15d11cb-013d725.pdf

 

For media

inquiries, contact:

 

Rowena Paraan, NUJP:

+63-910-495-0095

 

Nonoy Espina, NUJP: +63-9088-650-213

 

Mike Dobbie, IFJ: +61-401730195

 

Oliver Money-Kyrle, IFJ: +32 473 97

38 37

 

Ranga Kalansooriya, IMS: +94-112-781-970 /

771-674-167 / 777-704-053

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide