“FLAWED” forensic investigations and a cash-strapped witness protection program only exacerbate the state of impunity in the Philippines, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In an article by CPJ consultant Elisabeth Witchel published in the CPJ website, Witchel said these two elements were the main drivers behind the spate of killings of media workers in countries like the Philippines. Witchel zeroed in on the media murders in the Philippines and Pakistan as prime examples of how a culture of impunity is exacerbated by the failure of governments to adequately respond to these crimes.

The New York-based CPJ is an independent, non-profit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.

Witchel also stressed that these failures by the government only put witnesses in even greater danger, and undermine efforts to bring perpetrators to justice.

Because of this, Witchel said that witnesses are now in as much danger as the journalists being targeted.

According to the CPJ, there have been 348 journalists killed for their work around the world in the last 10 years. One in 10 of these cases have any suspects been brought to trial and convicted.

“Killing witnesses has become an all too easy and effective method of stymieing justice in the many cases of journalists murdered around the world. With poor standards for forensic evidence the norm in many countries where repeated targeted violence against journalists takes place, witness testimony is crucial to pursuing convictions,” Witchel writes.

“Authorities often fail to grant witnesses adequate protection. Their stories also reveal something about those killers–thugs and masterminds who wield such immense power and influence that they are able to manipulate justice through corruption, violence, and fear,” she added.

Witchel zeroed in on what the Philippine government has done on the Ampatuan Massacre case.

“Many expected that such ruthless, large-scale carnage would surely be a tipping point–a wake-up call for the Philippine government to prove its justice system is viable. Yet, four years later, there have been no convictions. The targeting of witnesses and family members has been a major factor behind this failure,” she said.

These challenges are amplified in the Ampatuan case. Attorney Prima Quinsayas, a private prosecutor in the Ampatuan case who has also received threats multiple times over the past few years, pointed out that the sheer number of individuals charged tests the capacity of the witness protection program. “It would be humanly impossible for a few eyewitnesses to identify the almost 200 accused and account for their actions that contributed to the accomplishment of the crime,” she told CPJ.

Quinsayas said that a “perennial lack of funds” has plagued the program and that she is concerned that the 25 million Philippine pesos (US$580,000) the government initially budgeted for witness costs for the case are nearly used up,” Witchel states.

Quinsayas is also legal counsel of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, a network of media organizations that support victims of media killings. The PCIJ is a founding member of the FFFJ.


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