Attacks on the Press 2001: Philippines

Despite a tumultuous political culture plagued by corruption, social unrest, poverty, and ethnic conflict, the Philippines steadfastly adheres to a tradition of free expression that makes it one of the most open societies in Asia. The constitution guarantees press freedom, and few government regulations control the print or broadcast media. The Philippine press proved stronger than ever in 2001.

In early January, President Joseph Estrada was forcibly ousted through a combination of popular protest and military intervention amid charges of corruption and abuse of power, many of which originated with reports prepared by the respected Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo succeeded Estrada.

In October, retired newspaper publisher Eugenia Apostol received the Knight International Press Fellowship Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center for Journalists in Washington, D.C., for her role in using the press to help oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001.

The next month, prominent businessman Raul Concepcion called on the government to consider “whether the (country’s) free-wheeling democracy and press are a deterrent to economic growth.” As a longtime supporter of democratic reform and the chairman of the largest trade and industry group in the country, Concepcion’s question made headlines. Journalists and government officials answered him forcefully: President Arroyo, herself frequently criticized by the press, countered that, “In the context of press freedom, I’d rather say that [some] reports are wrong and that I am irritated than clamp down on the freedom of the press.”

However, in the strife-torn island of Mindanao, where separatist Muslim guerrillas are battling the Philippine army for control of several areas, journalists are frequently attacked. Both the military and the guerrillas, principally the Abu Sayyaf, a radical group that engages in hostage-taking and has been linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, also use local radio commentators to score propaganda points against one another.

Outspoken commentators may find themselves in lethal danger. In May, unidentified gunmen murdered radio announcer Candelario Cayona in Zamboanga City. He had recently received an on-air death threat from an Abu Sayyaf spokesman. Including the January murder of radio reporter Roland Ureta in the province of Aklan, 37 journalists have been killed since democracy was restored to the country in 1986, making the Philippines one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism. No one in the Philippines has ever been convicted of murdering a journalist.

January 3

Roland Ureta, DYKR Radio

Radio journalist Ureta was gunned down on the night of January 3 when two motorcycle-riding men waylaid him en route from Kalibo, the capital of Aklan Province, to the town of Lezo.

Ureta was program director of the radio station DYKR, an affiliate of the Radio Mindanao Network. Police estimated that he was killed within an hour of leaving the radio station, where he had just hosted “Agong Nightwatch,” his evening radio program.

Ureta was apparently murdered as a result of his radio commentaries, which included pieces about local government corruption and police involvement in the drug trade.

February 23

Mohammad Yusop, DXID Radio
KILLED (motive unconfirmed)

Yusop, a commentator for the radio station DXID in Pagadian City, was shot in the back of the head by two men on a motorcycle while he was riding in a three-wheel pedicab. He died on the spot.

Yusop hosted a religious program and was not known to have broadcast any controversial reports. The station manager at DXID, owned by the Islamic Radio Broadcasting Company, said that he was not aware of any threats against Yusop, and no group claimed responsibility for his murder.

May 30

Candelario Cayona, DXLL Radio

At about 6 a.m. on May 30, three unidentified men ambushed Cayona, a radio commentator for the local station DXLL, as he left home on his motorcycle to host a morning broadcast. Cayona died on the spot from four gunshot wounds, including two to the face. The assailants, all identified as young males, fled the scene.

Cayona was an outspoken commentator who often criticized local politicians, the military, and Muslim separatist guerrillas. The journalist had recently received several death threats, including an on-air threat that was phoned in by Abu Sabaya, spokesman for the guerrilla group Abu Sayyaf. Although Cayona reported the threats to station officials, he was not escorted by a bodyguard on the morning of the attack.

Cayona is the second DXLL staffer to be murdered in recent years. In 1998, Rey Bancayrin, another outspoken commentator for the station, was actually killed on the air when two unidentified gunmen burst into the studio and shot him dead.

May 31

Joy Mortel, Mindoro Guardian
KILLED (motive unconfirmed)

Mortel, a reporter for the Mindoro Guardian, was killed in her home in Barangay Talabanhan, Occidental Mindoro Province, according to local press reports. Two unidentified armed men reportedly shot Mortel after a heated argument. She died from multiple gunshot wounds.

The motive for Mortel’s murder remained unclear at year’s end. Local police told the Manila Times that communist rebels had targeted Mortel because of her allegedly questionable financial dealings relating to local cooperatives she had organized in the region. However, police did not exclude the possibility that the murder was related to her journalism.

June 6

DYHB Radio

A bomb exploded in the early morning hours of June 6 outside DYHB Radio Station in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental Province, injuring two bystanders and a security guard and tearing a three-meter hole in a wall.

DYHB is known for its hard-hitting reports on local crime and drug syndicates, according to the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). The station had also broadcast reports on the military’s battle against Abu Sayyaf, a separatist guerrilla group that at the time was holding 13 Filipino and American hostages. DYHB is part of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), which aired interviews with Abu Sabaya, spokesperson for the separatists.

The station manager at DYHB linked the bombing to the station’s coverage of the Abu Sayyaf hostage crisis, although local journalists argued that DYHB’s coverage of crime and corruption could also be a factor, according to CMFR. Local police said the ingredients of the bomb would be available only to bomb experts or the military.