Media freedom in the Philippines continues to deteriorate

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) fears that the dangerous circumstances confronting journalists in the Philippines are further deteriorating. The arrest of two journalists in Butuan City for libel continues a campaign against freedom of expression, whilst suspected murderers of a journalist in Pagadian have yet to be reprimanded.

Ma. Cristina Casion and Franklin Caliguid were arrested during a press conference at 9am on February 2, near Butuan City hall.

The two journalists for the Philippine Daily Inquirer were apprehended for libel charges, filed by ex-Mayor Daisy Plaza, after Casion published a Letter to the Editor that condemned the ex-Mayor in Mindanao Newswatch.

The letter written by Mario Abiso, published by Caison when editor-in-chief of the now closed Mindanao Newswatch, alleged the mayor had taken a bribe from a local construction company, Adfil in exchange for awarding it a contract. The letter went on to further claim that the bribe had been used to pay for the Mayor, her husband, the incumbent mayor in Butuan City and several of her office staff on a trip to China.

Plaza has denied the contents of the letter and filed a libel case against Caison and Caliguild in response to the letter.

The disparaging letter motivated ex-Mayor Plaza to embark upon an aggressive campaign against the media, targeting any media agencies or staff that may have expressed disapproval of the ex-Mayor or her policies. Following the release of an arrest warrant, Plaza ordered the Mayor’s Action Network to pursue Ma. Cristina Casion and Franklin Caliguid.

“The use of libel charges will have a detrimental impact upon press freedom, further impinging upon journalists’ right to voice their opinion freely,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.

“We implore the ex-Mayor to drop the charges against Ma. Cristina Casion and Franklin Caliguid, and terminate her campaign of harassment against the media,” said Warren.

Concern for the safety of journalists in the Philippines is further provoked by the failure to reprimand the suspected murderers of journalist Edgar Amoro.

Edgar Amoro was shot and killed in a school in Pagadian on February 2, 2005. Although the murder was witnessed by many, all refused to provide information due to fear of reprisals. Reports confirm that the suspected murderers, “Madix” Maulana and Norhan Ambol, have continued to live openly and freely in Pagadian since Amoro’s death, despite warrants for their arrest.

The failure of police to act upon the warrant raises concerns about the protection of journalists in the Philippines. Authorities both target the media and allow perpetrators of violence against journalists to exist with impunity. “The IFJ is calling upon the Philippine Government to take steps to improve the rights of journalists and uphold a just democracy. The murderers of Amoro must be arrested,” said Warren.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries