PH under fire for unsolved killing of journalists
ILIGAN CITY—The Philippines is one of four countries that are at the center of a global campaign for freedom of expression even as the local journalism community has just lost another member to unidentified killers.
Jose Bernardo, a reporter and broadcaster for dwBL radio station in Manila, as well as a reporter for dwIZ radio, also in Manila, was shot repeatedly by one of two men riding a motorcycle outside a restaurant in Quezon City on Saturday and died later in hospital, police said.
No suspects have been arrested in the attack, which also wounded a restaurant worker, and authorities said they were checking whether it was linked to Bernardo’s work as a journalist.
The global freedom of expression campaign runs from Nov. 2 to Nov. 23.
In December 2013, the United Nations declared Nov. 2 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Nov. 2 is All Souls’ Day in Christian countries, including the Philippines.
Nov. 2 was chosen because it was on that date that two reporters of Radio France Internationale (RFI), Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, were killed in Mali in 2013.
Nov. 23 marks the sixth year after the attack that claimed the lives of 58 people, 32 of them journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, in the Philippines. The Maguindanao massacre was the worst single attack on the press.
In a statement, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a global organization representing more than 300,000 journalists, said its annual campaign, along with other freedom of expression networks, sought to “hold world governments and de facto authorities accountable for impunity records for crimes targeting journalists.”
“Murder is the highest form of these crimes but all attacks targeting journalists that remain unpunished must be denounced… There can be no press freedom where journalists work in fear,” the IFJ said.
The IFJ campaign puts specific emphasis on the Philippines, Mexico, Ukraine and Yemen owing to the gravity of the situation in these countries.
According to the IFJ, on a global scale, only one in 10 cases of media deaths are investigated.
“Impunity not only endangers journalists, it [also] imperils democracy and the right for the public to know. It is more than time for bringing those who kill the messengers to justice and we must relentlessly hold governments accountable for this,” said Jim Boumelha, president of the group.
He urged IFJ affiliates to get involved in the campaign “to show solidarity to those who struggle for telling the truth and their loved ones.”
“The calendar gives us enough reason to remember. But every killing is enough reason to rage,” said Rowena Paraan, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
In the Philippines, the IFJ notes that not a single killer has been convicted for involvement in the Maguindanao massacre. More than 190 people are accused in the crime, 18 of them surnamed Ampatuan.
“The [Maguindanao] massacre remains the key focal point of the Philippine media’s battle with impunity, but it must be stressed that the killing of journalists didn’t start on
Nov. 23, 2009, nor did it end there,” the IFJ said.
“The fallout for the media continues—as do journalist murders with shocking regularity… which makes the country the deadliest for journalists in Southeast Asia,” the group said.
The NUJP has recorded 32 journalist killings since the 2009 massacre, five of these in 2015. These brought to 169 the number of journalist killings since 1986 when the Philippines regained press freedom after the fall of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
“This year there was a small breakthrough when the two accused masterminds in the killing of journalist Gerry Ortega were arrested in Thailand on unrelated charges. They have since been deported to and detained in the Philippines while awaiting trial for their role in the 2011 murder of Ortega,” IFJ said, referring to the arrest of former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron Mayor Mario Reyes.
Threats by text
In the case of Bernardo, police said on Monday that the broadcaster had received “threatening text messages” before he was shot on Saturday.
Bernardo’s cell phone was submitted to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group for “digital forensic examination,” the report said.
Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police, said investigators had yet to determine whether the attack on Bernardo was related to his work.
Mayor said investigators had learned that Bernardo was not a regular reporter at dwIZ.
According to earlier reports, Bernardo told his family that he was going to Quezon City to meet someone.
A witness said Bernardo was parking his motorcycle in front of a restaurant on Zabarte Road, in Barangay Kaligayahan in Novaliches district, when a man walked up to him and shot him in the head and body.
After the shooting, the gunman walked to a motorcycle driven by another man and the two sped away, heading toward Caloocan City.
If the attack was job-related, Bernardo would be the 170th journalist to be killed in the Philippines since 1986.
In the line of duty
In Mexico, 50 journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty since 2010. Of these cases, 89 percent remain unsolved, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission said.
In Yemen, the IFJ has recorded 15 journalists killed since 2011. Ten of the journalists died in 2015. None of the perpetrators has been brought to justice.
In addition, 14 reporters remain captive as a consequence of the fighting between the Houthis, the Saudi-led coalition and al-Qaida terrorists.
In Ukraine, the IFJ cited eight killings, 125 intimidations, 322 assaults, 162 attempts of censorship and 196 cases of impeding journalistic activities since 2014.
Of 54 investigations launched, only three cases have reached the courts.
In 2000, the body of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze was found beheaded in a forest outside Kiev.
In 2015, the IFJ recorded 86 journalist killings throughout the world.
Last year, a journalist was killed every 10 days, the IFJ said. Most of the journalists—94 percent—were men, and citizens of the countries where they were killed. Only 6 percent were foreign correspondents.
The group said 41 percent of the slain journalists worked for newspapers.
In South Asia, India and Bangladesh are also countries of special concern. Of the 86 journalist killings this year, 23 are in the region.
India has seen six journalist murders this year while five bloggers have been killed in Bangladesh.
“In Bangladesh where the press is not free, bloggers fill the gap of informing the public,” Jane Worthington, deputy director of IFJ Asia-Pacific, said.
In 2014, 39 journalist killings were recorded in the region, with Pakistan topping the list with 14, also the highest in the world. With reports from Jaymee T. Gamil in Manila and from AFP
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