Grieving for Press Freedom

NUJP Statement :

Today, we lay to rest the first journalist slain in 2008 and the 56th under the Arroyo administration. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines joins the family, friends and colleagues of newspaper publisher and columnist Benefredo Acabal in mourning the murder of another member of the Philippine media.

Acabal published the tabloid Pilipino Newsmen and wrote a column under the name Freddie Yanco. Before putting up his own paper two years ago, he wrote for other tabloids, among them Toro, Saksi and Puntos. His murder orphaned four children, aged four to nine years old.

Acabal was brazenly chased and gunned down by a lone gunman in front of eyewitnesses in Pasig on April 7. While police investigations have yet to conclude if Acabal’s murder was related to his work, his friends and colleagues strongly believed it was. Acabal reportedly received several threats prior to his death.

The manner of his killing, in the heart of Metro Manila no less, highlights the level of impunity the murder of journalists and activists in this country has reached, and why the death toll under the Arroyo government – which long ago had already established itself as the highest under any administration, including the 14-year Marcos dictatorship – continues to rise.

While we recognize that there is no indication that the murder of journalists is part of official policy – unlike what international human rights experts have observed about the extra-judicial killings of dissenters – we contend that lack of official action on the slayings of our colleagues and the government’s repeated attempts to muzzle the press have emboldened those who would seek to exercise the ultimate censorship.

For so long as this administration fails to arrest, prosecute and convict the murderers, for so long as it persists to threaten us with laws designed to curtail the exercise of our calling, the blood of our colleagues will stain this government as much as it does the actual killers and masterminds.

We call on the public, our audiences and readers, to stand up with us to demand respect and protection for press freedom and the people’s right to know. Whatever the imperfections of the Philippine press are, it continues to serve as a crucial vehicle for the people to get the information they need to make informed decisions about their individual and collective lives.

As we prepare to commemorate World Press Freedom Day next month – commemorate, not celebrate – we once again declare, we will not be cowed.

References:

Joe Torres Jr., chairperson

Rowena Paraan, secretary-general

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