The Philippines: Journalists rage on media killings, call on Black Friday

ILIGAN CITY — Media practitioners in various parts of the country observe a “Black Friday” today to protest the recent wave of attacks on members of the press.

The campaign, spearheaded by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), aims “to show a solid front against the spate of killings and attacks against journalists.”

The holding of “Black Friday” comes just days after the birth anniversary of nationalist writer and journalist Graciano Lopez Jaena on Wednesday that was observed by Iloilo media with a protest action to decry the attack against local reporter Jhonavin Villalba.

NUJP members are expected to be in black shirts, as they report for work in their respective newsrooms Friday. Those who are active on Facebook will have profile and cover pictures turned pitch black.

Stop bloodshed

“The bloodshed has to stop. Let’s do our part in keeping the pressure,” the NUJP said in a statement.

In a span of 13 days, three journalists were killed in Mindanao: radio commentator Joash Dignos of Valencia City in Bukidnon on November 29 for what is most likely work-related motives; broadcaster Michael Milo of Tandag City in Surigao del Sur on December 6; and radio block timer Rogelio “Tata” Butalid of Tagum City in Davao del Norte on December 11.

On December 10, unidentified assailants shot and wounded radio reporter Jhonavin Villalba of Iloilo city.

The NUJP said that its Media Safety Office in Mindanao is still establishing whether the attacks on Butalid and Milo were related to their respective work as broadcasters.

“If also proven work-related, Butalid and Milo would be the 160th and 161st journalists killed in the line of duty since 1986 (based on the NUJP count),” the group said.

19 media murders

So far, the NUJP has recorded 19 work-related media murders under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

Early this week, the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said the recent killings “reinforce the Philippines’ reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, and certainly Southeast Asia’s.”

“The country is the only one in Southeast Asia where killings of journalists happened in 2013 – with a chilling total of 12 dead,” stressed a statement of SEAPA.

“Not all journalist killings are work-related, such as the Milo murder, we have been informed. Killings, which include human rights defenders among typical victims, are usually a fallout of local political or economic disputes, which the national government seems powerless – if not disinterested – to curb,” SEAPA said.

It added that “urgent and decisive response (is) needed to curb media killings.”

The killing of Dignos came just a week after the observance of International Day to End Impunity on November 23, coinciding with the commemoration of the Maguindanao massacre, the world’s worst attack on the press.

The attack on Butalid came a day after the observance of International Human Rights Day.

Culture of Impunity

“In no other country is the phrase ‘culture of impunity’ better demonstrated, and its consistency of targeting members of the media community seriously erodes the Philippine press’s reputation of being among the freest in the region,” SEAPA noted.

“The Philippine government has effectively defaulted on its duty to protect the free press and freedom of opinion and expression with the unabated killings, and a low proportion of ‘solved’ cases, with no mastermind ever convicted,” it added.

Press freedom advocates were stunned by the November 22 comments of Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma that the media killings are “not so serious” and that “there is no more impunity” in the country.

“Coloma echoes the standard defensive reply of government when confronted with the issue of impunity… Government’s complacency over media killings reflects its low appreciation of the role of media in Philippine society,” SEAPA said.