NINE months after the killing of 32 journalists in the southern Philippines, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) met on Tuesday with justice officials in Manila and called on the government of President Benigno Aquino III to address pervasive impunity in the recurring murders of journalists in the country.

"We see the response to these killings in Maguindanao as a way to raise the level of the criminal justice system for all people in the Philippines, not just journalists," CPJ board member Sheila Coronel said.

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"The Philippines' ranking of third worst in the world on CPJ's Impunity Index, behind Iraq and Somalia, is an indicator of a faltering justice system that is badly in need of repair," Coronel said.

CPJ's Impunity Index features countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes.

The index, compiled annually, measures unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country's population.

The CPJ delegation met in Malacañang with Geronimo Sy, assistant secretary of the Department of Justice, and Richard Anthony Fadullon, assistant chief prosecutor in charge of the Maguindanao case.

Along with Coronel were Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz, Impunity Campaign Coordinator María Salazar-Ferro, and Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin.

"We received a positive response from the officials at Malacañang today. We now hope that this administration's positive political will is translated into wise policies and appropriate actions," Dietz said.

The November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre, CPJ research shows, overshadowed the modest gains Philippine authorities made by winning recent convictions in two journalist murder cases.

Last week, in an encouraging step, the judge hearing the Maguindanao case set a September 1 trial date for several defendants in the massacre, and promised to press ahead with the prosecution.

Since 1992, 66 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines, but there have only been five convictions, CPJ research shows. (CPJ/PR)