CPJ meets Philippine officials, urges anti-impunity policies

Manila, August 24, 2010–Nine months after the killing of 32 journalists and media workers in the southern Philippines, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists met today with justice officials in Manila and called on the government of President Benigno Aquino to address pervasive impunity in the recurring murders of journalists in the country. 

“We see the response to these killings in Maguindanao as a way to raise the level of the criminal justice system for all people in the Philippines, not just journalists,” said CPJ board member Sheila Coronel, a prominent Philippine journalist now at New York’s Columbia University. “The Philippines’ ranking of third worst in the world on CPJ’s Impunity Index, behind Iraq and Somalia, is an indicator of a faltering justice system that is badly in need of repair.”

CPJ’s Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. The index, compiled annually, measures unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.

The CPJ delegation met at presidential offices in Malacañang Palace with Geronimo Sy, assistant secretary of the Department of Justice, and Richard Anthony Fadullon, assistant chief prosecutor in charge of the Maguindanao case. Manuel Quezon, undersecretary in the presidential office of the press secretary and a former journalist, led the Malacanang team. Along with Coronel, CPJ representatives included Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz, Impunity Campaign Coordinator María Salazar-Ferro, and Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin.

“We received a positive response from the officials at Malacañang today. We now hope that this adminstration’s positive political will is translated into wise policies and appropriate actions,” Dietz said.

The November 23, 2009, Maguindanao massacre was the deadliest event for the press since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed records on journalist deaths. Those journalists killed in Maguindanao were ambushed as they traveled with a convoy intending to file gubernatorial candidacy papers for local politician Esmael Mangudadatu. Most of the bodies were dumped in a mass hillside grave near the town of Ampatuan. Those accused in the killings are a part of a militia on one side of a long- running feud between two rival political clans competing for supremacy in the area.

The massacre, CPJ research shows, overshadowed the modest gains that Philippine authorities had made by winning recent convictions in two journalist murder cases. Last week, in an encouraging step, the judge hearing the Maguindanao case set a September 1 trial date for several defendants in the massacre, and promised to press ahead with the prosecution.

Since 1992, 66 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines. There have only been five convictions, CPJ research shows. CPJ continues to investigate the June killings of three journalists to determine whether they are work-related.