Friday, June 11, 2010

Flies and Freedom

The following editorial on journalism and the rising number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines was published in the second issue of The Chain 2007-2008, covering August - December 2007, released January 2008 with the theme ‘sensibility’. This piece, along with the editorial of the publication's preceding issue (also penned by the blog moderator), won for The Chain the ‘Best Editorial Page Award’ in the 3rd SanAg Campus Press Awards by the University of San Agustin Publications, February 2008.

Journalists and advocates of truth are dropping dead like flies in this country – and this is not just any country, but one that is globally renowned as Asia’s pioneer of democracy, where freedom of the press and human rights are supposedly given full respect. Since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took her seat in Malacanang in 2001, a little over fifty journalists and media men here in the Republic of the Philippines have been violently killed and murdered, and often in broad daylight.

So grim is the case of journalism here in the nation that we have been labeled as the deadliest country for journalists to work in by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. On the other hand, in the Fifth Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index which surveyed journalistic conditions in 168 countries, the Philippines appallingly only ranked at 142nd, due to the “continuing murders of journalists and increased legal harassment in the form of libel suits” such as those filed by our dear First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

In this age of inexorable hostility, perhaps it would be better if we remind ourselves what “journalism” and “freedom of the press” really are all about. As generally defined by dictionaries, journalism is the business of writing for, editing, or publishing periodicals; in a more figurative sense, it is the broadcasting of truth – whether or not one desires it, whether or not one is affected by it, or whether or not one is compelled to do it. And that is the very reason why we have the so-called freedom of the press – the government-given right for organizations and every citizen to write and publish those writings freely and publicly. It is, after all, the business of journalists to tell the truth and to do so unconditionally.

Sadly, exactly the opposite is transpiring within the very lands of this ‘cradle of democracy’. What is worse is the fact that almost all of these killings are left unsolved up to this day. Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno has confirmed this truth, saying in a November statement that only one of these killings has seen the conviction of a murderer (a case dealt with in 2006 by a Cebu regional trial court). Even with the government’s Melo Commission and Task Force Usig, we are yet to hear of another person being arrested, convicted of one (or even a number) of these murders, and dumped in prison. And in a recent Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) report, it was revealed that nearly 90% of those killed in the line of duty since 2001 (or the start of the Arroyo administration) were actually exposing graft and corruption.

With a reeking pile of murdered journalists and a CMFR statement exposing what those who were killed were exposing, the rational Filipino already has enough reason to believe that the government has something to do with these unlawful deaths. After all, since when have Malacanang’s and those of its dear sovereign’s actions been productive, or at the very least, helpful enough when it comes to terrorism and extrajudicial killings?

In her speech before the United Nations General Assembly last September, during the height of the crackdown of peaceful protesters and the ruthless killings of monks by the Burmese military junta, President Arroyo called for Burma to return to the path of democracy. She then added that the Philippines is “the most democratic country in our region,” where there is “no tolerance for human rights violations at home and abroad.”

It appears that our President did not realize what she had said. And in that case, she cannot blame Burma for ignoring her appeal to end the violence. After all, whose regime is it that has the highest number of extrajudicial killings in the entire world, more than that of the Marcos dictatorship? In fact, recent surveys and analyses have even linked majority of these killings with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

Evidently, the government is doing very little in solving these slayings. Unsurprising, considering that we have a President who seems incapable of doing her job, a First gentleman who continues to be a backstage wealth amasser, a corrupt military, and a crumbling justice system. If our present government and military continue to uphold prejudice and irresponsibility, the death of press freedom and headlines bearing more journalistic killings in this country are already incorporated in our dismal future.

Unless we take immediate action and unite against these evils, the future holds nothing more different compared to what is presently transpiring. Unless we work together in restoring morality in this predominantly Christian nation, we shall continue hearing of the deaths of the innocent and the virtuous. And unless we produce responsible leaders who have the ability to command the respect of the people, and politicians who have the integrity to stand up for what is right, then journalists and advocates of truth will continue dropping dead like flies in this “cradle of democracy.”

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