Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Slain body of Badrodin Abbas, a local
radio commentator in the South who was
killed by unidentified gunmen early this year.
(photo from http://www.esic.org/ )

The recent listing of the Philippines as the most dangerous peacetime country for journalists in the so-called impunity index of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is another huge setback to our country's reputation in the international community. When it comes to negative ratings, sadly the Philippines is always among the topnotchers.

But we are not concerned here about reputations only. More importantly, we are concerned that our country continues to slide down from a civilized path, where the reign of terror tightens it clutches as one journalist after another suffers violent death. The killing of journalists is without a doubt a tool to silence the media and stifle press freedom; those who orchestrate the killing of media men want their dastardly acts to serve as object lessons to other journalists that criticisms or other negative publicity against them will only have fatal consequences.

According to CPJ, there are 24 unresolved murders of journalists for the past ten years in the Philippines that makes it the sixth most dangerous country for media men. The other top five countries in the list are Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Columbia - countries which have been in armed conflict for years. The saddening fact is that, compared with these countries, the Philippines is not in armed conflict as these countries are. Sure, we continue to wage a fight with communist rebels in the countryside and Moro Islamic rebels in the South, but these conflicts do not rise to the level that these other countries are in, aside from the fact that the killing of journalists in our country are not related to these problems.

The culture of violence in our country continues to propagate because, as observed by the CPJ, killers ply their nefarious trade with impunity by evading arrest, escaping prosecution or avoiding conviction - which speaks a legion about the ineptness of our criminal justice system, that includes our law enforcers, prosecutors and the courts.

In trying to parry the blame on the government for this alarming situation, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde accuses journalists of partiality or partisanship in their work. He said that journalists lack objectivity and end up becoming spokespersons of politicians. Assuming this to be true, does that mean that those who are opposed to politicians being catered by journalists or hurt by the views of the biased journalists are justified in killing them? Is it now suddenly the fault of these journalists that they are dead? Come on, Mr. Secretary. I'm sure you could say someting better than this. This may not be the intended meaning of your statement, but the way it is worded it surely conveys such an insensitive meaning and reflects badly on your qualifications as a press secretary.

Besides, in several developed countries the media is openly partisan by favoring one political party over another or reporting along certain ideological lines. Rupert Murdock's Fox News, for example, is openly conservative and does not mince words in attacking President Obama and the Democrats, as does MSNBC in taking on liberal views and criticizing Republicans. But are the lives of the journalists or reporters of these news networks ever in peril? And how about political journalists, such as radio and TV commentators, whose job is to air their comments or views about current political issues. Do they not become necessarily biased by taking a particular position?

The danger in the Philippines is that there is so much lawlessness because a lot of criminals don't get apprehended or even if they do, the wheels of justice grind so slowly that the effectiveness of the justice system is seriously compromised. Add to this are corrupt prosecutors and judges that allow these malefactors to walk. Oh - and I forgot to mention - life is so cheap in the Philippines that for as low as P5,000.00 one can hire an assassin. Lest I be misunderstood, I do not relish saying these awful things; I say them with dread and great concern at how deep our country has fallen on the precipice.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how this alarming problem can be solved. The answer is right in front of us: an effective criminal justice system, which means a clean police force that is efficient in crime solving, a prosecution service in the caliber of Patrick Fitzgerald that respects no holy cows in extending the arm of the law to wrongdoers, and courts that swiftly administer justice and are impervious to corruption.

Indeed, these are things easier said than done, but they are achieveable for others have approximated, if not fully accomplished them. Now, if our leaders are not up to the task - which is apparently the case now - then they have no business governing.

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