President’s Diplomatic Faux Pas Highlights Lack of Concern for Media Killings

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins with our affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in expressing deep disappointment at President Benigno Aquino III’s disrespectful response to a question about media killings in the Philippines during a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama on April 28.

When asked why, under his watch, 26 journalists have been murdered and only six suspects in six cases arrested, Acquino incorrectly stated the details and facts around 2009’s Magindanao massacre where 32 journalists lost their lives in a horrific assassination and subsequent mass burial. The incident remains internationally the single deadliest attack on media ever.

Despite admitting that he did not “have the figures right here” before him, it is deeply disturbing that President Aquino, as leader of his country, can mistake the figures so badly when referencing one of most heinous crimes in the history of the Philippines.

NUJP Chairperson Rowena C. Paraan said: “President Benigno Aquino III’s reply clearly illustrates how much our leader really cares about media murders and extrajudicial killings in general -- zilch.”

President Aquino went on to attempt to explain the lack of progress in solving media killings by claiming “we do not reveal the discoveries by our intelligence agencies and security services, perhaps we are very sensitive to personal relationships by the people who are deceased who were killed not because of professional activities, but, shall we say, other issues.”

Paraan responded: “After repeated demands for justice from victims’ families and colleagues have been met with nothing but silence, he finally – and very publicly – insinuates that those who fell were killed because they possessed less than savoury credentials, a blanket insult to the departed that he claims his vaunted “intelligence agencies and security services” concluded from, as our American colleague pointed out, the arrested suspects in only six of 26 cases.”

“While it may be true that there are those in our ranks targeted for reasons other than the work they do, such a wholesale aspersion cast on the victims practically amounts to an attempt to justify their murders. Really, Mr. Aquino, if corruption or any other sin of moral turpitude justified murder, wouldn’t the graft-ridden halls of government be the first to undergo a purging?”

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the IFJ calls on President Aquino to act to address the dire state of impunity in the Philippines or continue to draw the ire of the global community.

The IFJ’s acting Asia Pacific director Jane Worthington said: “The Maguindinao massacre has become the centrepiece case for the international struggle against impunity and those killed are honoured annually on the anniversary on November 23. The fact that the Philippines’ president cannot get the facts right on this very significant case, which has been campaigned on heavily during his watch, is beyond comprehension.”

“The President went on to deliver a critique inferring that these murders were somehow deserved. The fact is this government has so far failed to bring the killers and masterminds of the massacre to justice. Any critique would be best directed inward to the state which was supposed to be responsible for protecting journalists under its human rights obligations and further to securing justice for victims. To date, it has failed on both counts.” 

Ten journalists have been murdered in the past 12 months in the Philippines, making the country one of the most dangerous for journalists in the world.

Worthington said: “The environment of fear and intimidation in the Philippines must come to an end. It is President Aquino’s responsibility to ensure that journalists in his country are free and able to go about their work without fear of retribution.”