DAVAO CITY – President Benigno S Aquino III reportedly promised to act on the spate of media killings in the last few weeks, in pronouncements he made over at the ASEAN Summit in Tokyo, Japan.
Human rights and media groups earlier slammed President Aquino’s inaction on the recent spate of journalist killings.
Aquino reportedly told journalists that “Now we cannot promise that there will never be any shooting (or) killing of anybody. What we can promise is we will never stop in trying to come up with the suspects,” adding that people must also learn to settle differences civilly and not take the law into their own hands.
The international watchdog Human Rights Watch earlier released a statement through its Philippine researcher Carlos Conde saying the Aquino administration’s response “has been discouraging”.
“While officials say the government is committed to ending impunity for these attacks, they have nevertheless sought to downplay them. On November 22, a presidential spokesman described the killings of Filipino reporters as ‘not so serious’,” said Conde.
Human Rights Watch said 12 journalists have been killed in 2013, including three recent killings in Mindanao in a span of two weeks.
Rogelio Butalid, a block-time broadcaster for Tagum City’s Radyo Natin, was shot dead after his program on the morning of December 11.
On December, gunmen shot dead Michael Milo, a commentator on dxFM in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur; and on November 29 broadcaster Joash Dignos was gunned down in Valencia City, Bukidnon.
Conde said police reports suspect that all three attacks were linked to their on-air commentary, but no arrests have been made.
Another broadcaster, Jhonavin Villalba of Aksyon Radyo Iloilo, was shot and wounded on December 11.
Conde urged the Philippine National Police give urgency to probe the killings and their masterminds.
“The police should give priority to investigations of journalist killings and look beyond the gunmen to the individuals ultimately responsible. They should probe threats against journalists to prevent and deter future attacks,” Conde said.
Conde further said that with the spate of killings, “the Aquino administration needs to declare that the attacks on journalists are a national catastrophe that threatens fundamental liberties.”
The media group National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also slammed Aquino for failing on his promise to bring justice to killings.
“(T)his government, which came to power on the promise of justice and human rights and “daang matuwid” (a straight path) chooses not only to downplay the enormity of the problem but denigrates the victims by deigning to dismiss some of them as ‘not legitimate’,” says NUJP Chairperson Rowena Paraan.
Paraan said Aquino has the penchant to take on media for its “negativism” and highlighting incidents such as the Yolanda tragedy and pork barrel.
But Paraan urged Aquino to take action on the impunity of killing journalists and activists.
“But we are dying here, your government’s inaction perpetuating the impunity with which not just we but so many others – activists, environmentalists, lawyers, indigenous people, the religious–continue to be murdered while your administration turns a blind eye and a cold heart to the bloodshed,” said Paraan.
The human rights group Karapatan said there had been 152 people victims of extrajudicial killings under Aquino’s presidency since June of 2010. Most of these suspects, reportedly, had not face court.
Bayan Muna representative and former journalist Carlos Zarate said such failure to prosecute perpetrators “is indicative of how little, if any at all, importance that the Aquino administration is making to stop this murderous rampage and end the state of impunity in our country.”
Zarate and fellow Bayan Muna representative filed Resolution 526 on Thursday at the House of Representatives urging the Aquino government to “carry out comprehensive and concrete actions to bring the perpetrators before the bar of justice.”
The NUJP in an earlier statement said protecting journalists will lead to greater safety and protection of all human rights.
“(T)he gains made to stop journalist killings will not protect journalists alone, but will effectively redound to the greater public safety of all citizens,” their statement said.