December 3, 2013 · Posted in: 2013 Elections, Access to Information, Civil Society, Freedom of Information, General, Governance, Human Rights, In the News, Journalist Killings, Local Government, Media
LESS THAN A WEEK after the commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity across the globe and the 4th anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre that claimed the lives of 32 media workers, yet another journalist has been murdered in the Philippines.
Last November 29, four unidentified assailants took turns in shooting Joash Dignos, 48, a political commentator at dxGT Radyo Abante in Maramag town, Bukidnon Province. Dignos was going to the rest room of a restaurant along Sayre Highway in Valencia City, some 1,500 kilometers south of Metro Manila, when he was murdered.
Dignos died on the spot with at least 22 bullet wounds, most of which were concentrated on his head and the upper-left part of his torso.
The murder comes in the wake of Malacañan Palace’s pronouncements that the spate of media killings “are not that serious.” That remark earned Palace spokesmen the ire of media organizations and advocates of freedom of expression and of the press.
In its December 3 issue, SunStar Cagayan de Oro quoted Valencia City police chief P/Supt. Roy Aque Magsalay as saying the suspects “could have been hired to kill Dignos.” The Valencia City police have already released an artist’s sketch of two of the four assailants.
“The police found 12 empty shells of .45 caliber pistols used by the gunmen. Dignos had 22 gunshot wounds on his body. They also found a .22 caliber pistol inside the pocket of Dignos’ shorts,” the report reads.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in its media alert issued right after the incident, recalled that on June 2, this year, “two unidentified men lobbed a hand grenade at the dxGT studios, partially damaging the station and leaving a utility man hurt.”
“The June 2 incident happened at around 8:10 am, while the station was airing a recorded edition of “Bombardeo,” Dignos’ commentary program,” the NUJP alert reads.
In a phone interview, Tuesday, NUJP Mindanao Safety Office coordinator JB Deveza said it was likely a work-related media killing since it was “a well-planned hit.”
“This time, Dignos had been attacked by four gunmen. Wala gi-alang alang (It was a well-planned hit),” said Deveza.
Mars Medina, dxGT program manager described Dignos as a hard-hitting critic of incumbent Valencia mayor Jose Galario Jr. Medina added that Dignos had started pre-taping his commentary programs since he started receiving death threats on his cellphone.
Local news agencies in Northern Mindanao say that Dignos had been discussing the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Sandiganbayan’s guilty verdict against Galario on graft charges just before he was killed.
Last year, the graft court found Galario guilty of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and handed down a seven-year prison term and disqualified him from public office.
However, Galario ran and won as mayor of Valencia in the May 2013 midterm elections. In his last commentary on air, Dignos questioned the delay in the issuance of a Sandiganbayan warrant against Galario who continued to serve as city mayor despite the High Tribunal’s order.
In its December 3 issue, the Mindanao Gold Star Daily quoted Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) former president Hugo “Jerry” Orcullo as enjoining local media to pursue the issue Dignos raised in his commentary program. Dignos started his broadcasting career in Cagayan de Oro in the 1990s.
“One of the ways media can honor the memory of Joas is to seriously look into the issue he had raised, take it up and start a public discussion on the issue,” the local daily quoted Orcullo.
However, Galario—in an interview with SunStar Cagayan de Oro at his residence Monday—vehemently denied any involvement in the murder of Dignos.
Galario also argued that press freedom should be limited and on-air broadcasts should not dwell on personal attacks.
“Press freedom is not absolute. I believe in press freedom, but there should be a limit and personal attacks should not be part of it,” Galario said in the interview.
Galario also said in the same interview that the attacks aired on Dignos’ program were “too much.”
“I had been used to his tirades for about eight years. If I wanted him killed, I would have done that a long time ago. We had been civil. I never listened to his program. But people did tell me. I never wasted my time listening to him. I’d rather take care of my health and get well,” SunStar Cagayan de Oro quoted Galario as saying.
Monsignor Elmer Abacahin, COPC president condemned the killing and called on witnesses to contact the authorities immediately.
“We (media) will work to ensure that there will be justice,” Mindanao Gold Stary Daily quoted Abacahin as saying.
In a statement, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) Bukidnon chapter said that “the bullets that ended the life of Dignos proved the incompetence of the present administration here in Valencia.”
Dignos’ murder came exactly a week after a press briefing by Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” B. Coloma Jr. where he was quoted as saying that the number of media killings under the Aquino administration “is not really that serious.”
Media organizations had reacted angrily to Coloma’s statement. “Now, through Sec. Sonny Coloma, we have a very clear idea of how much press freedom and justice mean to this administration — zilch,” said a statement from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
For its part, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) took offense with Coloma’s pronouncement in the same press briefing that “some of those in Philippine media organizations’ lists of journalists and media workers killed were ‘fly by night’ or fake journalists.”
“(CMFR) includes blocktimers and those working in tabloids who may be sponsored by political and commercial interests, because whatever the quality of their work, they remain part of the free media community, exercising a crucial role in a democracy and equally protected by the Constitution,” the CMFR statement said. The CMFR serves as the secretariat of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, of which the PCIJ is a founding member.
In an emailed statement, Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia said that Dignos’ murder should prompt the Aquino administration to “revisit its views about media killings in the Philippines and, more importantly, ensure that this recent murder and the ones before it are investigated fully.”
“According to Philippine media groups, there are now as many as 24 journalists and media workers murdered during the administration of President Aquino. It is distressing that the president’s spokesman, Sonny Coloma, thought of these killings as ‘not that serious’ when, in fact, they tear at the fabric of the democracy the president’s mother helped to establish,” Kine said.
“It is insulting to the victims and their families that the Aquino administration has not only failed to deliver on its promise to end impunity for extrajudicial killings but also sought to downplay these attacks against media workers,” added Kine.
If his murder is proven to be work-related, Dignos would be the 24th media worker killed because of his job under the Aquino administration.