UP academics urge Aquino to end ‘regime of impunity’

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

ILIGAN CITY -- Communication academics of the state-run University of the Philippines (UP) have assailed government “for its failure to provide a condition in which journalists could work without facing reprisals.”

“The UP College of Mass Communication (CMC) stands with media organizations and human rights groups to demand the end to sustained harassment and violence against media practitioners,” read a December 20 statement from college officials, faculty and staff.

“We pledge to tirelessly support their efforts to demand that justice be served to all victims of media violence. We seek an end to a regime of impunity,” they added.

Leading the signatories to the UP-CMC statement were Dr. Roland B. Tolentino, College Dean; Prof. Danilo A. Arao, Associate Dean; Prof. Lucia Tangi, chair of the Department of Journalism; and Prof. Roehl L. Jamon, director of the UP Film Institute.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) observed “Black Friday” on December 20 in protest of the recent spate of media killings in Mindanao and an attack on another journalist in Iloilo, all happening within the span of two weeks.

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 motive; broadcaster Michael Milo of Tandag City in Surigao del Sur on December 6; and radio blocktimer 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.

If proven to be work-related, Butalid and Milo would be the 160th and 161st journalists killed, respectively, in the line of duty since 1986, based on the NUJP count.

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

“As we marked the International Human Rights Day last December 10, we were also reminded that the freedom of expression is still under attack in the Philippines with the recent cases of violence against community journalists. We are deeply concerned about the nature of these attacks, the frequency of their occurrence, and the brazenness with which they were carried out,” the UP-CMC stressed.

“The government’s recent statement that it is committed to promote human rights and the people’s right to know was never matched by actions to ensure an environment where the media can freely perform their tasks vital to a democracy, that is, to circulate opinions and hold powerful persons accountable,” it added.

“Statistics on media murders released by press organizations suggest that the state of press freedom has deteriorated in the country,” it added.

Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) said the media murders “undermine the special role of media in fulfilling the right to freedom of opinion and expression as a platform to channel public opinion and to access information that must be kept free from interference and safe from attack.”

“Because of impunity, the reputation of the Philippines for press freedom is dubious for threats to physical safety effectively put a gag on free reporting,” explained SEAPA in a statement.

“We refuse to accept that unabated killings and a culture of impunity should be a terrible price paid for press freedom... The Aquino administration must send a clear message that killings will no longer be tolerated and that those responsible must face the full weight of the law,” the group added.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 21, 2013.

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