World Press Freedom Review
10 Journalists were killed in 2006
2006 World Press Freedom Review
By Maureen MacNeill
The words of Voltaire, "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong," could not apply more to the government of President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo in the Philippines.
Journalists in the Philippines take their lives into their own hands every time they report on controversial issues in the country, which has the dubious honour of being the second-most dangerous country in the world to practice journalism, based on the annual number of murders.
The litany of murders and attacks has escalated over previous years (there were 9 murders in 2005). About 50 journalists have died since the Arroyo government took power in 2001, many more than under the 14-year Marcos dictatorship. Official numbers of murders and cases solved do not match with those of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). The government has become famous for not protecting journalists and for not bringing the murderers of journalists to justice: Moreover, in 2006, the government itself contributed to a climate for journalism that can only be called unbearable.
From the numerous libel lawsuits launched by Arroyo’s husband against the press, to her call for martial law in February, to acts of intimidation and harassment, Arroyo’s contempt for the press is clear.
A weak attempt in August to bring journalists’ murderers to justice over a 10-week period resulted in the sentencing of defendants in four cases, but in no case were the masterminds behind the murders sentenced. In some cases, it is alleged that government officials themselves played a hand in journalists’ deaths.
The NUJP has stated that there has been a recent rise in criminal defamation complaints filed by public officials and their associates. The 43 cases filed by the president’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo – which would amount to US $ 2,872,919 – were the final straw for Filipino journalists, who on 28 December filed a civil class action against him.
The legal action has been supported by other journalists and media organizations, such as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Daily Tribune, to name a few.
The suit asks for about US$ 305,630 in damages for loss of income, anxiety and other problems allegedly caused by Arroyo’s suits. Mr. Arroyo has been accused in various publications of vote buying for his wife in the 2004 election, money laundering, influence peddling and demanding illegal gambling payoffs. If the case is successful, the money will be used for a press freedom fund.
".... the damage Mr. Arroyo’s suits against journalists has caused and may further cause is not limited to the erosion of press freedom. They are also a threat to Philippine democracy, given the crucial role of the press on behalf of the sovereign citizenry. This intimidation must be stopped, not only for the sake of press freedom, but for the sake of democracy itself," stated the CMFR.
The NUJP, along with Filipino journalists, their international colleagues, and hundreds of free-expression advocates, have also signed a petition for Congress calling for decriminalization of defamation in the Philippines in the wake of the libel suits by Mr. Arroyo. The law on libel is, "an outdated law that has been used not so much to protect the innocent as to shield the guilty," said NUJP. Under the country’s current laws, libel is a criminal offence, and anyone convicted can be sent to jail for up to six years, or fined. Other extreme examples of libel abuse include the laying of 10 charges in one day against publishers and journalists of three Cavite-based newspapers by local governor Erineo "Ayong" Maliksi. Another example is the July conviction of Abante Tonite columnist and TV broadcaster Raffy Tulfo to 32 years in jail and a US$ 285,000 fine on 14 counts of libel for articles written about a customs officer nearly a decade ago.
In another incident on 4 October, columnist and publisher of the Asian Star Journal and Asia Star, Balita Rudy, Apolo and three members of his editorial staff were arrested for defamation following reports of alleged corruption surrounding a local government rice purchase. The defamation complaints were filed by provincial governor Erineo Maliksi, according to freedom advocacy groups.
Journalists have also expressed strong concern and started a petition in January over suggestions the government may amend the Bill of Rights in the Philippine constitution in such a way that would weaken freedom of expression guarantees. The NUJP has said the government-appointed Constitutional Commission wants to water down a free speech clause fashioned after America’s, which says, "No law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances."
The Commission would like the provision to read, "No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of freedom of speech, of expression....," a move the NUJP said could curb free expression and dissent, and leave the bill open to misuse by political leaders. In a small victory, the Philippine Supreme Court on 4 May rejected President Arroyo’s reasons for declaring a "state of emergency" in the country in February, and stated that the related raid on a newspaper and threat of sedition charges against the media were a violation of the Philippine constitution.
Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban has stated that the Arroyo government, "may be testing the outer limits of presidential prerogatives and the perseverance of this court in safeguarding the people’s constitutionally enshrined liberty.... They are playing with fire and, unless prudently restrained, they may one day wittingly or unwittingly burn down the country." President Arroyo declared a "state of emergency" on 24 February for a week, enacting a new Presidential Proclamation (PP1017) granting herself the right to arrest without warrant, to prohibit street protests and to raid the media. She claimed it was necessary to suppress "lawless violence" and to thwart an alleged coup attempt. The court compared Arroyo’s PP1017 to former President Marcos’ Proclamation No. 1081, under which martial law was imposed in 1972.
The court wrote, "....the assailed PP1017 is unconstitutional insofar as it grants President Arroyo the authority to promulgate ‘decrees’ and totally ignore Congress." The decision also stressed attempts to impose standards on media or any form of prior restraint on the press, as well as a raid without warrant on the Daily Tribune and seizure of its articles for publication were all unconstitutional.
On the day the "state of emergency" was declared, the Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Justice (DOJ) and National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) launched several crackdowns against media organizations, the most prominent of which was the raid on the Daily Tribune. The opposition newspaper had been publishing reports critical of the Arroyo administration. During the raid, some 15 police officers took mock-up copies of the paper’s Saturday edition, as well as several story drafts and photos. Military troops were also posted outside ABS-CBN and GMA, the country’s two biggest broadcasting networks. During the enactment of PP1017, the NTC laid down government rules on coverage and threatened to close or take over television stations, if they refused to obey.
Several other newspapers, current affairs television programmes and writer-columnists were arrested or put under surveillance, according to CMFR. Meanwhile, the NUJP Web site was hacked, resulting in its temporary shutdown. Following the "state-of-emergency," media organizations and journalists joined together to file a petition in the Court of Appeals against the PNP, DOJ and NTC to prohibit "executive-branch officials from censoring the media."
The 8 March complaint sought to prohibit the government’s imposition of content-based prior restraint on the press, and asked for degrees or rulings that bar the media from airing or broadcasting news or commentaries deemed "subversive" by the government to be quashed. Further harassment of the media, took place on 21 August when Philippine National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales warned of the possible communist infiltration of the country’s media. "There are big possibilities that...there are some practitioners being courted by enemies of the state and probably successfully," said Gonzales at a state-sponsored forum. He added media organizations are a communist target because they can easy be used to release propaganda. In the month before, the Philippine National Police said a communist group was using certain media organizations (national and international) as a front to undermine the government.
The grisly and long list of murders in 2006 is a sad indictment of the government’s complete lack of concern for journalism and journalists’ safety in the Philippines.
Rolly Canete, a local radio programme host for three radio stations, was shot dead in Pagadian on 20 January by unidentified gunmen who sped away on a motorcycle. Canete hosted shows on behalf of a parliamentarian Antonio Cerilles and his wife, provincial governor Aurora Cerilles.
A day later, on 21 January, "Central Luzon Forum" columnist Graciano Aquino was shot to death at a cockfight arena in Barangay Poblacion. He had earlier reported for dzRH. Local police blame members of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Philippines for the attack.
A columnist who wrote for several local newspapers, Orlando Mendoza, was ambushed and shot by unidentified gunmen while going home on 2 April in Tarlac City. Mendoza, worked for the Tarlac Patrol and was vice-president of the Camp Marabulos Press Club and director of the Tarlac chapter of the Central Luzon Media Association (CMLA), according to several media watchdogs. He had also worked in the local Department of the Agrarian Reform office, a government agency dealing with land reform in the Philippines.
A newspaper columnist died from gunshot wounds after being attacked outside of his home on 3 May in suburban Manila. Nicholas Cervantes wrote for the Daily Tribune and the Mindanao Daily Inquirer and was also an agent for the government’s internal revenue bureau, where he had received death threats for his work, according to his family. Fernando Batul was shot dead in late May on his way to the radio station dyPR on Palawan Island, where he worked as a commentator. Authorities stated he was killed for criticizing a brutal policeman, who was later arrested and is due to be tried. Although the PNP claimed to have "solved" the case with the arrest of police officer Aaron Golifardo of the Palawan police force, Batul’s family and colleagues believe someone else could be behind the death.
Two grenades, which did not detonate, were thrown into Batul’s home on April 24, and a note was left warning Batul to "hold his tongue." Batul told Reporters without Borders (RSF) that he had criticized corrupt officials on his radio program.
Two other journalists were murdered by Mindanao motorcycle assassins while returning to their home on 19 June, said CPJ. They were gunned down in Kidapawan City in front of the house of a provincial board member, according to a GMA News TV report. George Vigo, who contributed to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) news agency, was executive director of the People’s Kauyahan Foundation Inc., an NGO promoting peaceful dialogue, and presented a youth programme on radio dxND. His wife Maricel Alave-Vigo, hosted the weekly programme "Congress Affairs" on radio dxND and worked for a congressional representative. Both were also human rights activists, and had helped create the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE).
Police identified three members of the communist guerrilla group NPA as the killers, but the victims’ colleagues disputed the allegation and accused police of ignoring the real suspects.
An arrest was also made in the killing of Orsolino’s cousin, Prudencio Melendres, a photojournalist who was killed in Malabon Coty on the morning of 31 July. Melendres worked for tabloids Tanod and Dyaryo ng Bayan. Four unidentified men shot him down on his way to work in Gozon Compound, Tonsuya Village, Malabon City.
The Northern Police District Chief believes the cousins’ murders may be related to each other because the men were both members of the Letre Urban People Homeowners’ Association and the Camanava Press Corps (where Orsolino was a former president). It is reported that Melendres had helped residents acquire land on which they were considered to be squatters.
In the same short period, on 18 July, broadcaster Armando "Racman" Pace was shot in the head and chest by two motorcycle attackers. He died later in hospital. The assassination took place in Digos City on the southern island of Mindanano near the dxDS radio station where he worked. The 51-year-old leased time from the station to comment for "Ukadyang," a programme addressing development issues, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Before he worked on "Ukadyang," Pace worked as a commentator for other local radio stations, in which he often criticized local politicians and drug trafficking in Mindanao. He had often been threatened for his outspoken commentaries. Three suspects were arrested and released in the murder, which remains unsolved.
Also in July, Ralph Runez, a camera operator with television station RPN-9 was mortally shot in front of his home in Calloocan City while he was being robbed, said the NUJP. Police announced they had arrested four suspects for the 28 July murder, including two corrupt police officers.
An advocate of peasants’ rights was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in Sitio Torkia, Barangay province on 27 November. Antony Licyayo was carrying his young son when he was shot in the head. Licyayo was a community radio producer, a chair of Kaguimungan, a local peasant’s alliance, and was heavily involved – along with the Kaguimungan – in Radyo Cagayano, a community broadcaster in Baggao, Cagayan Valley. The station produced outspoken reports about peasants’ rights, and highlighted corruption. In July 2005, the station was attacked by eight armed men who tied-up staff and burnt the station down. A few months later, a Kaguimungan peasant leader was murdered.
One of two main suspects have been arrested in the murder case of tabloid reporter Albert Orsolino, a Saksi Ngayon photojournalist who was murdered in Caloocan City on 16 May. An unidentified witness tipped police off to Ramon Rivera, a Navotas jail guard who was later arrested. Orsolino had been known for covering controversial stories.
On 7 December, radio host Ponciano Grande was shot and killed at his farm in Barangay, Sta. Arcadia, and Cabantuan City in front of his wife, who claimed the assailants were two teenage boys. The pair had jointly hosted a radio program on DWJJ in Nueva Ecija. The 53-yearold had earlier written a column for local weekly newspapers The Recorder and the Nueva Ecija Times, and was former director of the Nueva Ecija Press Club.
Radio reporter Andres Acosta, who had reportedly been receiving death threats, was stabbed to death on 19 December in the town of Batac, north of Manila. Acosta, a reporter at dzJC Aksyon Radyo, collapsed on his motorcycle while trying to get to hospital after being stabbed in the head and body.
Other cases in which journalists were attacked but survived are also worth noting, as are examples of extreme harassment. Arnie Pullman, host of a radio show called "The Mayor’s Hour" was wounded after being shot outside MBC-Radio Natin in the town of Estancia on 1 December. An earlier assassination attempt had been made against Pullman in June 2005.
A reporter for radio station dyPR received death threats from a police officer who she had accused in a report of human trafficking, child kidnapping, abuse of power and corruption. Lourdes Escaros- Paet works in Puerto Princessa, Palawan.
On 11 November, police attempted to arrest journalist Mia Gonzales–vice-president of the Malacanang Press Corp–in the pressroom of the press corps office in the president’s palace. She is one of the 43 journalists being sued by the president’s husband. The attempt had an especially chilling effect because the incident took place in Gonzales’ workplace, which is also the home of her accuser, said NUJP.
The NUJP also claimed that Malaya columnist, Ellen Tordesillas, received death threats after writing an article on 12 November. She is also on the list of those being sued by Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Several staff members and the publisher of the paper were issued with arrest warrants following libel suits filed by Arroyo.
Media watchdogs have voiced frustration over the lack of action regarding the kidnapping of a journalist, which took place on 3 March. Anti-logging campaigner and radio host Joey Estriber was abducted outside an Internet cafe in Baler, Aurora province. He reportedly struggled with his kidnappers and called out before being bundled into a pickup with tinted windows. Estriber hosted "Let’s Talk About That" on DZJO. Although he disappeared only a few yards from a police station, police have never questioned witnesses.
Another attempted murder took place on 7 September, when Roger Panizal, reporter for tabloid newspaper Tiktik was shot in the neck and hand in Valenzuela, near Manila. He nearly died from the attack. Panizal allegedly identified someone known as "George the Devil" as his assailant; one detainee in the attack and the suspected organizer are both police officers. Meanwhile, broadcaster for government- run radio station Radyo ng Bayan dzRK Hazel Gup-ay has been in fear for her life since receiving death threats on her mobile phone starting on 31 July. The messages started after she wrote stories on the ambush of a militant leader, and worsened.
The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) condemned the burning of a community radio station in Cagayan province on 2 July. Radyo Cagayano dwRC 90.1 FM was broken into by eight armed men wearing ski masks, who poured gasoline in water containers over equipment and the building before setting it on fire. Six staff members were tied-up and gagged, and at least one was seriously injured in the arson.
Two journalists were wounded in separate attacks in May. Columnist and host of a local television programme in San Pablo city, Iring Maranan, was assaulted by a local city councillor on 16 May. The assault took place in front of over 100 people and was caught on camera. Paul Manaog, a reporter for radio station DWLL, was seriously injured after he and his wife were shot at in the town of Naga.
The town mayor of Valencia City, Bukidnon, threatened local radio station dxVR on 28 March, stating it should stop "airing commercial broadcasts or (performing) any acts pertaining to the operation of the radio station without authority or permit from the local government unit." The station had regularly criticized Mayor Jose Galario’s abuse of authority.
Some minor victories are also worth noting. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), along with other international bodies, provided legal funding which brought to justice those involved in the murder of Marlene Garcia- Esperat, who was killed in 2005. The convictions are welcome, but victory will not be complete until the two agriculture department officials who Garcia-Esperat had accused of misusing government funds, and believed to be the masterminds behind the murder, are also tried in court.
The anti-corruption campaigner and columnist for the Midland Review was shot in the head on 24 March 2005 in front of her two children in the city of Tacurong, Mindanao.
IFJ was also happy to note the dismissal of a libel case against three media workers in San Pablo City. Councillor Edgar Adajar had filed a libel case against Paul Manalo, Diretso Balita publisher, and two columnists, Iring Maranan and Dondie Banzuela after they printed stories and photos showing Adajar assaulting Maranan outside a city council session in May.
"It is totally ridiculous that a public official can beat up a journalist and then sue him for libel," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
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