The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges the incoming administration of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines to make a public commitment to defend journalists’ right to safety and to undertake immediate action to end the country’s notorious culture of impunity.
The IFJ and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), also call on the Philippines Congress to ratify the Freedom of Information Bill which is to be deliberated in the Congress tomorrow. It will be the last opportunity to pass the Bill before the Congress ends its session. If the Bill is not ratified tomorrow, it will have to be re-filed before the new Congress.
“It has taken 14 years, or four Congresses, for the Freedom of Information Bill to reach this far. Failure to ratify tomorrow will set the whole process back yet again. We urge Congress representatives not to let this happen, and to make the Bill law,” a visiting IFJ mission team said.
In the Philippines this week, local journalists advised IFJ representatives that they expected continuing risks for media personnel despite the conclusion of national elections in May. Post-election tensions and the failure of the outgoing administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prevent and act on long-term violence against journalists remain key concerns, notably in Mindanao in the southern Philippines.
During the IFJ’s visit to a new regional safety office established by the NUJP in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, local journalists stressed that provincial and district power holders and clan leaders continue to apply intimidation and violent tactics against media personnel, in the absence of appropriate counter-action from central authorities.
In the month up to the May 10 elections, the office responded to sundry threats and cases of intimidation as well as several serious incidents, including the illegal detention of seven journalists on Camiguin Island from May 9 to 11. The office intervened quickly to gain the release and safe passage of the journalists from the “custody” of Camiguin Governor Jurdin Jesus “JJ” Romualdo and his supporters, who had detained the group as they sought to report on alleged vote buying in the area.
However, local journalists fear similar incidents may continue post-election as provincial power-holders jostle for control and test the new administration. They note the slow judicial process to prosecute those who initiated and carried out the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Maguindanao province, Mindanao, last November 23.
“In view of anti-media intimidation and violence throughout the election campaign, and concerns that such incidents will continue, the Commission on Elections, local governments and the Commission on Human Rights must conduct a full, impartial and prompt investigation into all attacks on media personnel during the campaign,” the IFJ mission team said.
The IFJ and the NUJP regret that Aquino was unavailable to meet their representatives this week to provide a personal assurance that he would ensure political, army and police leaders act to end the culture of impunity for violence against journalists, and to take all necessary actions to provide justice to the families and colleagues of the Maguindanao victims.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide