Time for Aquino to show political will
Early this month of May, the Philippines and the world marked World Press Freedom Day. The celebration was highlighted by calls for the global observance of press freedom and the protection of members of the press.
The observance in the Philippines was made with deep concern as those accused of the Maguindanao massacre of November 2009 in which 38 media workers and journalists were mercilessly butchered have not been sentenced for the gruesome crime. Also, despite assurances of protection of journalists by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III., the killings of Filipino journalists have not been stopped. The Committee to Protect Journalists counts 77 Filipino media workers confirmed to have been murdered since 1992 in connection with their work, many of them during the Aquino administration.
There’s a ray of hope though — the country improved by a point to 86th place from the previous year in the latest Freedom of the Press ranking drawn up by Washington-based rights watchdog Freedom House although the Philippine press remained in the “partly free” category for the fifth straight year.
The United Kingdom, among other countries, for one, expressed its concern over the growing number of journalists being killed with impunity in the Philippines and in many places around the world. British Ambassador to Manila Asif Ahmad said the people must commit to keeping journalists safe so they are able to do their part without fear. “Democracy is not static, it needs nurturing and protection,” said Ambassador Ahmad. “The media is an important defender, “he said, adding press freedom is an essential building block of democracy, a principle shared by both the UK and the Philippines. “A big part of democracy is freedom of expression. “The power of media can shake the status quo, help bring down oppressive regimes, and effect positive and lasting change. Wielded with responsibility, a free press nurtures a working democracy.”
World Press Freedom Day is commemorated annually on May 3 to raise awareness on the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression. “Let journalism thrive” was the theme of this year’s observance of World Press Freedom Day. Freedom loving Filipinos should continue to respect and uphold press freedom and support the Filipino journalists amidst the threats.
Meanwhile, President Aquino shouldn’t take lightly his grim record on heightened journalist killings during his administration. If anything, this is the one most important task he should undertake and leave behind as a legacy of his presidency. It isn’t easy to ignore such criticisms as that of writer Phelim Kine who wrote after the murder of 48 year-old Abante reporter, Nerlita Ledesma following shortly the killing in France of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January this year, “…while the atrocity in Paris was a shockingly unprecedented attack on media for France, killings of journalists in the Philippines have become shockingly routine…” adding that journalism is a deadly line of work in the Philippines.
This widespread and enduring impunity in regard to the murders of Philippine journalists only shows Aquino’s lack of political will. Unfortunately, his apathy and the weak, absence even, of law enforcement send an unmistakable signal to corrupt public officials and influential and moneyed private individuals irked or threatened by the media that killing their media critics “carries little or no risk or arrest or prosecution.
It isn’t too late for Aquino to get aggressive on this issue. If he pursues the perpetrators of these killings and bring not only the killers but more importantly, their masterminds to justice, he could still leave his post with his name smelling like a rose. More important than his reputation and legacy though, is the restoration of an environment of genuine peace, justice and press freedom in his country. What can be a better reward than this?