17 Sep, Tuesday
25° C

Philippine Govt Must Do More to Protect Journalists

Photo by the Associated Press


THE exceedingly violent murder of radio broadcaster Fernando Batul last Monday in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, was another unfortunate reminder that journalists, especially those who like to uncover graft and corruption, are at high risk for their lives in the Philippines. This has earned the Philippines the dubious distinction of being the second most dangerous place in the world for journalists, coming only after violence-raked Iraq.

Now Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has come out with another of his whacky statements saying that the government does not mind if legitimate journalists arm themselves for self-protection. I say whacky, because in which country of the world are civilians supposed to arm themselves for their own protection? Perhaps only in Iraq which is experiencing a violent civil war, but nowhere else.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines agrees with me, saying that the arming of journalists is not the solution. It points out that many of those journalists already killed were armed and that this did not save their lives. Instead, the NUJP is calling upon Gonzalez to do his job better and bring those responsible for these murders to court.

The secretary of justice even had the gall to downplay the number of journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986, which stands at 79, by saying that many of those murdered were killed as the result of drunken brawls or fights over women, and had nothing to do with being a journalist.

Well, all of the murders of journalists in the Philippines that I’ve read of usually took place when the victim was on his way to work in the morning, and not in a bar at night. That alone should put to rest Gonzalez’s attempt to deflect responsibility from a government that is obviously not doing its job of tracking down the culprits of such crimes and prosecuting them in the courts of law.

Gonzalez’s constant tagging of government critics as disgruntled leftists is becoming tired and is making the Justice Department a laughing stock in the eyes of foreign observers. Just a few weeks ago, the secretary said that the Batasan-Five should just return to the hills and join arms with the Communist guerillas. This week, he called the highly-reputable Amnesty International a leftist group masquerading as a human rights group, after Amnesty criticized the Philippines in its annual report for the continued unsolved killings of journalists and activists in the country.

Although I don’t want to believe it, perhaps the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is looking the other way while organized death squads pick off activists and journalists who are critical of the government. It certainly seems like it, despite the protestations by Gonzalez and others that the government is doing everything it can to hunt down these murderers. I don’t think the families of the victims will ever believe this until many of the culprits end up in jail for a very long time.

Update: A Puerto Princesa cop was arrested late on Thursday in Manila and tagged as a suspect in the murder of Batul. At least four separate witnesses have pointed him out as one of two gunmen who pumped 12 bullets into the body of the journalist, according to this INQ7.net story. The report says that Police Officer 1 Aaron Golifardo had been on the verge of being fired from the police force for alleged involvement in previous murders, and that he cried today while denying involvement in the Batul murder during questioning.


Arresting Estrada Supporters in Gestapo Fashion

THE KIDNAPPING and subsequent arrest of five supporters of deposed President Joseph Estrada on Monday by military intelligence agents, and their secret detention until Wednesday, point to increasingly Gestapo-like tactics of the Arroyo administration in dealing with its perceived enemies.

Virgilio Eustaquio, chairman of the Union of Masses for Democracy and Justice (UMDJ), Dennis Ibuna, Jim Cabauatan, Ruben Dionisio and Police Officer 3 Jose Curameng of the Quezon City Police Intelligence Division were taken from Eustaquio’s house in Quezon City by plainclothes military and police agents who did not identify themselves.

Their families were naturally in a panic, but were turned away from Camp Aguinaldo on Tuesday when they went there looking for them. Unknown to them, they were indeed being held there.

Just hours before they were presented to the press on Wednesday, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita denied knowing anything about their case and said the administration had nothing to do with their disappearance. What nonsense!

What is more worrying than Ermita’s feigned and unbelievable ignorance, is the charge of having been tortured that Dionisio managed to scream out to the press before he was carted away by alarmed policemen. The Daily Tribune ran a picture of him holding up his T-shirt to show the many bruises he suffered at the hands of interrogating intelligence officials, who probably wanted him to confess to being a leftist hitman. He also said that they had applied electric shocks to his genitals.

Are these the tactics of a democracy? Certainly not. Senior State Prosecutor Emmanuel Velasco had the nerve to tell journalists that Dionisio had not been tortured and that “it was normal for accused people to claim torture.” How ridiculous! This is an insult to all people who have ever been tortured, and more so to Dioniso. How did he get those many marks on his torso? Did he beat himself just to accuse government agents of torture? I hardly think so.

The good news is that the five were ordered released on Thursday by the Department of Justice. But they are still going to undergo a formal investigation of the charges of rebellion that were filed against them, which claim they were plotting the murders of several Arroyo Cabinet members as well as the overthrow of the Arroyo government.

The government better have good evidence against them, or its high-handed tactics of kidnapping and torturing suspects will certainly backfire against them.