THE Philippines was second only to Iraq as the most dangerous place for journalists in 2005, two international media watchdogs, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), said today.
Worldwide, last year was a deadly one for journalists with 47 killed, most of them deliberately targeted because of their work, according to CPJ. “Kidnappers in Iraq, political assassins in Beirut and hit men in the Philippines made murder the leading cause of work-related deaths among journalists worldwide in 2005,” the US-based watchdog said. (Read the CPJ report here.) The killers, CPJ added, targeted journalists "to silence them for their criticism or to punish them for their work."
RSF, however, had a higher casualty count, with 63 journalists killed and 1,300 others physically attacked or receiving threats. It said last year’s total was the highest since 1995. It reported six journalists killed in the Philippines last year because of their work, while several others were murdered for unknown reasons. “Their enemies were no longer armed groups but politicians, businessmen and drug-traffickers ready to silence journalists who exposed their crimes,” said the RSF report.
The reasons for the different figures have to do with how different groups determine who they count and how updated they are with their reporting. CPJ has apparently not included the killings in November and December, and includes in its list only the following (click on the links for details of individual cases):
- Marlene Garcia-Esperat, Midland News and DXKR, killed March 24, Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat
- Klein Cantoneros, DXAA-FM, killed May 4, Dipolog City
- Philip Agustin, Starline Times Recorder, killed May 10, Dingalan, Aurora
- Rolando "Dodong" Morales, DXMD, killed July 3, Polomolok, South Cotabato
RSF, however, also includes the following more recent killings:
- George Benaojan, DYDD Bantay Radio, killed December 1, Talisay City, Cebu
- Roberto Ramos, Katapat, killed November 20, Cabuyao Laguna
More controversially, the RSF list also included school teacher Edgar Amoro, a part-time commentator/reporter for Radio DXKP in Pagadian City. Amoro was killed because he was a key witness to the 2002 murder of journalist Edgar Damalerio. (He does not make it to the list of the CPJ or the local media watchdog, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility or CMFR, because he wasn’t killed because of his journalistic work.)
In December, Damalerio’s killer, policeman Guillermo Wapille, was sentenced to life imprisonment, marking the first time in many years since a journalist’s killer was sentenced and jailed. Media groups welcomed the sentencing, saying that it was victory for press freedom in the Philippines, where the impunity with which journalists’ killers are able to get away with their crime has been cited as a major reason for the high casualty count.
The CMFR and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists have done an extensive research on the murders and found that most of those killed were radio broadcasters, many of them block timers who buy air time so they can express their views. The study also found that only about a third of all those killed were regularly employed by their newspapers or broadcast stations. Most of the journalists were killed either in their offices or their homes or on their way from one to the other. The vast majority of the victims were writing or broadcasting for small news organizations outside Manila. Few of the slain broadcasters were working for the major radio networks or their affiliates. Many were not even accredited by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the national broadcasters’ association. They were the least protected and least influential, therefore most vulnerable, targets.
The CMFR has totaled 60 killings since 1986, a lower figure than that used by another media watchdog, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which listed 73 journalists killed in the last 20 years and 10 just in 2005. The NUJP and its international affiliate, the International Federation of Journalists, count all journalists who were killed violently, regardless of the circumstances of, and the motives for, their slaying. Even victims of ordinary crime are recorded. The CMFR, RSF and CPJ have more rigorous criteria: the victim has to be a working journalist at the time of death and the killing must be directly related to his or her work. The CMFR counts seven murders this year, excluding Amorro who is on the RSF list, but including Arnulfo Villanueva, a columnist of the Asian Star Balita who was gunned down in Naic, Cavite on February 28. Villanueva, however, was no longer a columnist at the time of his death.
Regardless of who is doing the counting, however, the casualty count in the Philippines is scandalously high, considering the country is not at war. Media groups attribute this to weak law enforcement as well as a culture of violence and impunity.