The Philippines: Palace assailed over comment on journalist killings

MANILA, Philippines—The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday assailed Malacañang for downplaying the killing of journalists in the Philippines, noting that yet another broadcast journalist was shot dead on Friday in Bukidnon.

Barely a week after Palace spokesperson Herminio Coloma dismissed the summary execution of journalists in the country as “not so serious” and insinuated that the body count had been bloated, motorcycle-riding gunmen in Valencia City killed broadcaster Joas Dignos of dxGT radio.

Dignos, 48, known for his critical comments against local officials on his weekday show ‘Bombardier,’ died from gunshot wounds in the head.

The killing worsened the country’s record as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, press and human rights groups the group said on Saturday.

HRW said 24 journalists had been killed since President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010 and promised to mitigate the murders.

HRW Deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine accused the Aquino administration of insulting the victims and downplaying the problem, citing the remarks of Coloma.

Inflated count

Coloma said the number of journalists and media workers killed during the first three years of President Aquino’s administration from 2010 to 2013 had been inflated because “a driver of a network, employees of fly-by-night newspapers and a blocktimer selling skin whiteners” were included in the count. The numbers had not been validated to include only the killings of bona fide media practitioners, he said. The problem was “not so serious,” he had also said.

Coloma made the statement during a press conference on Nov. 22, on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Nov. 23, 2009, Maguindanao massacre where 32 journalists and media workers were among 58 people murdered allegedly by the powerful Ampatuan clan in the southern province.

HRW said Coloma’s remarks were “distressing.”

“The killing of another Filipino journalist yesterday 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,” Kine said in a statement.

Culture of impunity

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Dignos had received death threats and had even stopped his live broadcasts, resorting to using recorded commentary instead due to safety concerns.

In June, a grenade was hurled at the dxGT station while one of Dignos’ commentaries was being aired.

The killings of numerous journalists and broadcasters in the Philippines have been blamed on the country’s culture of impunity where powerful people feel free to commit abuse without being punished.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines as the third worst in its “impunity index” of countries that fail to fight violence against the press.

It said at least 72 journalists had been murdered since 1992, not counting the case of Dignos.

The Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 26 passed a resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, among other things, setting Nov. 2  as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.