Again, the working journalists of the Philippines mark World Press Freedom Day not in celebration of its vibrant existence but by renewing our vows to continue struggling to bring it to full fruition and remembering our many colleagues who have lost their lives in its pursuit.
If there is anything to celebrate on this day, it is the bravery and persistence with which independent Philippine journalists insist on exercising freedom of the press and of expression in the service of the people’s right to know despite the many dangers they face, not least of which is death.
Indeed, the 64 journalists who have lost their lives since the ascension of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to power in 2001 – the worst record of any administration, including the 14-year Marcos dictatorship – is glaring proof of how, according to the International Federation of Journalists, press freedom is eroded by government “censorship, hypocrisy, and neglect.”
The IFJ was, of course, speaking of governments in general. But it could very well have been singling out the Arroyo government, whose inaction and general apathy towards the murder of journalists has nurtured the culture of impunity surrounding these killings and emboldened those who seek to silence the critical press.
In fact, in what amounts to an admission that it is unwilling or unable to stop the murder of journalists, the Philippine National Police has launched a harebrained scheme to train media practitioners to protect themselves – through firearms proficiency.
Not surprisingly, since aside from not acting to end the killings and bring the perpetrators to justice, this administration is the only one after the dictatorship to attempt the wholesale muzzling of the Philippine press, as it did during the state of national emergency of 2006 and the mass arrest of journalists covering the military mutineers who took over the Manila Peninsula Hotel in November 2007.
It is especially galling and hypocritical for some officials of this administration to even try to explain the killings of journalists as the offshoot of corruption and a lack of ethics among the victims.
For, if corruption and lack of ethics were a justification for murder, they should be the last people to invoke this.
Like many of our countrymen, we, too, have despaired of ever finding justice under this administration.
But this despair, far from cowing us, has only steeled our resolve to continue serving our people’s right to know and defending and advancing freedom of the press and of expression in our country. This much we owe to our fallen colleagues. This much we owe to our people. This much we owe to our country.
Nonoy Espina, NUJP vice chair
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