It was sad that the annual commemoration of the right that has enabled democracy to exist, freedom of the press, came and went without any form of commemoration in the Philippines. Not only that, instead of a fitting celebration, PNoy himself appeared to have belittled the value of a free press when he responded, on the occasion of Obama’s visit, that most of the victims of media killings are not “work related”.
Again, it was unfortunate that the killing of journalists, high up in the US State department’s list of concerns about the Philippines, took a back seat to the EDCA, which was the subject of intense pubic debate. But the President’s nonchalant way of dismissing media killings as “non- work” related, deserves equal condemnation as the one-sided and Anti-Filipino EDCA.
To begin with, the President’s remarks reflects ignorance on how the human rights community perceives media killing. This is hardly surprising given his ignorance too of the law on state responsibility when he adamantly refused to take responsibility for the Hong Kong tourists massacre and the killing of the Taiwanese fisherman off Batanes. While ordinary mortals can, perhaps, be forgiven for their ignorance, PNoy is President and should have known better.
His view is opposite to the view expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, who has long said that the killing of journalists is prima facie work related. This is because it’s simply unworkable to distinguish between the official role of journalists from their personal lives. Journalists, like priests, lawyers, or any other professional, should practice in their every day life the ideals and high standards dictated by the practice of their profession. Journalists are responsible for contributing inputs in the free market place of ideas. Their inputs are then used by the public in assessing the truth and in forming their opinions. This is why their roles are crucial in a democracy Without a free market place of ideas; we do not know what the truth is. Without a market place of ideas, there will be no debates on what the truth is.
This is why journalists are targeted in the first place. The killing of journalists is the ultimate form of censorship imposed by those who fear the truth. The fact that we are the most murderous country in the world for journalists reflects the prevalence of the worse form of censorship. PNoy’s justification that they are not work-related adds ignominy to the killings because the state, which is duty bound to put an end to these killings, is instead justifying them.
Does it make it any less worrisome if these killings are in fact not work related? Certainly not. The duty of the Philippines under human rights law is to protect and promote the right to life. The killings of journalists add ignominy to the breach of the right to life. The fact that the victims may not have been killed because of their profession does not make the killings any less a breach of an international obligation.
In any case, the President’s declaration also highlights his administration’s lack of political will to address these killings. The fact that the administration’s point to the Ampatuan prosecution as proof of its discharge of duties is a cause for alarm. Five years after the gruesome murder, no has been punished for it. The Ampatuan massacre therefore, contrary to the Palace claim, is further proof of breach of the same obligation. It is testament to his administrations failure to accord the victims an adequate remedy under domestic law, which should be just and expeditious.
Vergel Santos was right. What can we expect from a President who prior to his assumption of office- never held a real job. The Presidency requires extensive work experience and the wisdom derived from it. This President has neither the experience nor the wisdom for the job.
Meanwhile the killings continue. Just yesterday, we had the 27th victim of media killings under PNoy. At the rate journalists are being killed, they will soon be a rarity in our society.
It is crystal clear that under this administration, Press Freedom cannot be celebrated. We can only mourn for every journalist that is killed. There’s bound to be a lot more of them with the prevailing sense of impunity.
This article first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/05/08/world-press-freedom-day/