(photo from President Aquino’s official Facebook page)

PRESIDENT BENIGNO S. AQUINO III again drew the ire of media organizations and an international human rights group for his recent statements on the murder of newsmen in the country.

This time however, the President wasn’t just getting criticism for government’s failure to address media killings. He also got it for his apparent unfamiliarity with that one infamous crime that put the Philippines on the world map.

The President gave a wrong figure on the number of journalists killed in the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, known worldwide as the worst single case of media murders in the world. The President said that “something like 52” journalists were killed in the Maguindanao Massacre, when there were 32 media workers who were murdered in that incident.

The President was responding to a question by a US journalist on the large number of media murders during his administration. The question was asked of the President during a joint press conference with visiting US President Barack Obama earlier this week.

“President Aquino, as a journalist, I’d like to ask you why 26 journalists have been killed since you took office?” Fox News reporter Ed Henry asked the President Aquino during his joint press conference with President Obama.

News reports said the President explained that government had already created a special group to investigate extralegal killings.

The President also stressed that Filipino journalists are free to criticize government officials, and that stifling criticism is not the policy of his administration.

“All you have to do is to turn on the TV, the radio, or look at any newspaper to find an abundance of criticisms. Having said that, investigations have been done,” the President said.

In response to Henry’s question on journalists’ killings, Aquino said: “Now, as far as journalists are concerned, perhaps the track record speaks for itself. The Maguindanao massacre involved something like 52 journalists, and there are presently something like over 100 people who have been indicted for this crime and are undergoing trial.”

In an emailed statement late Tuesday, NUJP said it is appalled at “how the chief executive can get the numbers wrong on what the whole world acknowledges as the single deadliest attack on media ever, the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.”

The NUJP took offense at Aquino’s reply as “it boggles the mind how he, as leader of this country, can fudge the figures so badly on one of the most heinous crimes in Philippine history.”

NUJP added that Aquino “flippantly” explained the snail-paced progress in addressing media killings by saying that government does not “reveal the discoveries by our intelligence agencies and security services, perhaps we are very sensitive to personal relationships by the people who are deceased who were killed not because of professional activities, but shall we say, other issues.”

“After repeated demands for justice from victims’ families and colleagues have been met with nothing but silence, he finally — and very publicly — insinuates that those who fell were killed because they possessed less than savory credentials, a blanket insult to the departed that he claims his vaunted ‘intelligence agencies and security services’ concluded from, as our American colleague pointed out, the arrested suspects in only six of 26 cases,” the NUJP statement reads.

In an article in the website of Human Rights Watch, HRW Asia Divison researcher Carols Conde said that the American reporter’s question “touched on a literally life-and-death issue for Filipino reporters.”

“Although one of Aquino’s key campaign promises was to end impunity for the killings of journalists and activists, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported in November 2013 that 23 journalists had been killed in Aquino’s first 40 months in office,” said Conde.

In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2010, President Aquino pledged that his administration would work to end the reign of impunity and that his administration would usher in an era of “swift justice.”

Aquino’s reply to Henry’s question “dodges the inconvenient truth that police have failed to fully investigate the majority of these cases,” Conde said.

The NUJP said that Aquino has shown to an international audience that his “tuwid na daan” slogan “is nothing but an empty soundbite” and called his leadership a “hollow shell tottering on a foundation of lies.”

“Rest assured, Mr. Aquino, that we remain committed to truth-telling and will continue to let our people and the world know who you really are,” the NUJP statement ends.

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