CMFR- MANILA – Legal experts and press freedom advocates from Asia, Europe, the US, and from as far as Latin America are flying into Manila this week to help find solutions to a long-festering crisis in the Philippines: the unabated and unsolved killing of journalists throughout the country.
Prosecutors, judges, human rights advocates and even high-level justices from such countries as Colombia, Guatemala, Argentina, Spain, the US, Indonesia, and the rest of Southeast Asia, are expected to meet with Philippine media, rights advocates, and members of the national legal community to address the topic of and to attend a conference on “Impunity and Press Freedom” in the Philippines from Wednesday, February 27 to Friday, February 29.
Welcoming the foreign experts, said the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and its Manila-based member, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), will be no less then Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, who will deliver the opening keynote address to the conference.
“The Philippines, unfortunately, is notorious for the number of journalists that have been killed in recent years and over the past two decades,” says Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the CMFR.
“It is one of the sad ironies this week, as we celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the People Power revolution. The Philippines free press – side by side with human rights advocates – is under the gun, and this crucial pillar of our democracy has remained vulnerable to lawlessness, weaknesses in the judicial system, and general apathy of the national government.”
CMFR notes that no less than 70 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which along with the Open Society Insitute (OSI) is supporting this week’s conference, in 2006 called the Philippines one of the “most murderous” places for journalists anywhere in the world.
During the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo alone, CMFR says at least 33 journalists have been murdered in the line of duty. There have been few arrests, and zero conviction of the masterminds behind the murders.
“That’s what impunity means,” SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay says. “The word comes from the Latin ‘impunis’ which means ‘unpunished’. It refers to the absence of justice that perpetuates a cycle of even more violence and injustice. It is a word that they contend with in such places as Colombia and Argentina, and it is a problem that we all must solve if Philippine democracy is to survive.”
The Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2005 defines impunity as: “the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”
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