PNP’s Usig scored anew on media killings

QUEZON CITY -- Task Force Usig of the Philippine National Police (PNP) lacks focus in solving journalist killings perpetrated by many, at times, at large and well-connected masterminds imbibing the culture of impunity.

But for Police Senior Inspector Al Paglinawan of the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management and Task Force Usig, they can only do so much to address media killings whose investigations have either gone cold due to law enforcers' lack of investigation skills and the seeming lack of training in handling various pieces of evidence.

The task force with only a handful of investigators, created in 2004, is not only focused in speeding up investigations and coming up with air tight case against perpetrators of media killings as it also handles murders of political activists, labor leaders, foreign national deaths and enforced disappearances.

Paglinawan said since they started monitoring cases of media killings, they have logged and validated dome 43 work-related cases, 32 or 74 percent of these with cases filed in court, eight or 19 percent cold cases, two cases closed and two cases under investigation.

But journalist groups such as the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines and other monitoring groups such as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility have disparities in their numbers with those of the police.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in its 2013 Impunity Index ranks the country third worldwide only next to Iraq and Somalia in terms of unsolved media killings. This despite President Benigno Aquino III’s pledge to reverse impunity in media killings has given the country the third spot worldwide in its fourth consecutive year with 55 journalist murders that have gone unsolved in the past decade.

For once, the biggest single blow to Press Freedom in the country, the Ampatuan Massacre which caused the killing of some 32 journalists and media practitioners is not considered as a work-related violence by the PNP but is still being tagged as an election related violence.

For Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalist legal counsel Prima Quinsayas, the Aquino administration is not serious in solving these cases of media killings, firstly, as the country’s chief executive has failed to make a three-word pronouncement such as his administrations will "Stop Killings Now."

Even the Commission on Human Rights has different numbers on their monitoring of media murders. Lawyer Banuar Falcon of CHR’s legal and investigation division said since 2001 to 2012, they have monitored 44 cases and 77 victims of media killings.

Unlike the PNP, Falcon said they do not distinguish between work related killings or not and stressed that media murders "killing a media practitioner already forfeits the public right’s to know something."

This apparent disparity in media killing statistics among government agencies and media groups and President Aquino's lack of commitment to end the killings have caused a drag in the resolution of cases against perpetrators, says Quinsayas.

Paglinawan explained there are parameters to classify cases as work-related or not. But for FFFJ lawyer Quinsayas, if the police really want to solve the cases perpetrated against the media, they will have to look beyond these parameters.

She adds the weak Witness Protection Program in the country has also discouraged witnesses to show up in court, often for fear of perpetrators often holding important and influential positions in a certain area.

She said if only government agencies tasked in hastening the conviction of media killers get their acts together and remove the bureaucracy that has slowed down the conviction of perpetrators, there will come a day when all cold cases will no longer be stuck in files of the PNP and ongoing cases of media murders will gain fruition in the courts until conviction of the perpetrators.
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