As Filipino journalists mark World Press Freedom Day today, the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) urges President Benigno Aquino III to move decisively against the forces of impunity that have continued to imperil free expression and freedom of the press in the country.
“The killings targeting journalists have not stopped,” said CenterLaw Executive Director Romel Bagares. “And we have yet to see an effective law on freedom of information become a reality.”
Meanwhile, libel has remained a criminal offense in the Philippine statute books, the lawyer added.
He also said the Ampatuan massacre case has already cleared the 500th day-mark with the families of the victims still unsure about obtaining swift justice.
“As one of the founding institutions of a Southeast Asia-wide network of groups espousing freedom of expression, CenterLaw wishes to remind the President that he was elected into office by a groundswell of support from people who want to see real change happen in Philippine society,” Bagares said.
Centerlaw, a member of the Southeast Asia Media Legal Defense Network, has brought a slew of complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the repeated failure of the Philippines to abide by its obligations under human rights law to provide effective remedies against impunity directed at journalists.
It has a pending complaint against the continued criminalization of libel in Philippine law. Early this year, it also took up the cudgels before the UN human rights body on behalf of the families of five Mindanao journalists whose murders had remained unsolved.
The Center has alleged that Mindanao-based journalists William Yap Yu, Dennis Cuesta, Maricel Vigo, Juan Pala and Fernando Lintuan were all killed in separate instances across a time span of eight years, from 2000 to 2008 but until now, none of the murderers had been brought to justice.
Meanwhile, the Center used the case of broadcaster Alexander Adonis, who was jailed for libel against former House Speaker Prospero Nograles, as a springboard to question the criminalization of libel in the Philippines before the UN human rights body.
CenterLaw utilized the ‘Individual Communication’ procedure under the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in both situations.
“We hope the President realizes that the trial of the century in the Philippines – the Maguindanao massacre case – is a cornerstone of this administration’s fight against impunity,” said the lawyer, who had worked as a journalist for eight years before shifting to law. “We would like to see him make policy directives that stress the importance of this case to his administration, including official government support for the families of the victims.”