Broadcaster Roger Mariano was on his way home Saturday night when he was gunned down. He died instantly after being shot several times in the back by M-16 rifles. He is the 47th Filipino journalist murdered in the Philippines since democracy and a free press restored in 1986.
Around three journalists on the average have been killed each year. Recently, the number of journalist killings is increasing dramatically. The attack on Mariano follows the killing of four journalists within a span of two weeks.
“In the past we have three journalists being killed a year, now we have six. It is bad, very bad,” said Sheila L. Coronel, Director of Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
The latest incident was on August 13 when an unidentified gunman ambushed radio commentator Edward Balida in the public market in Valencia City, Bukidnon Province. Balida, a broadcaster for the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN), survived the gunshot wound.
Journalists, according to Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) report, are targeted by politicians and by the people they write upon. Obviously, these killings are related to the freedom of the press and to silence the journalists. Balida told CMFR he believes that the shooting was an assassination attempt in response to his commentary against drug trafficking. Angelito Paraguya, RMN station manager, confirmed that Balida has been a vocal supporter of the government’s anti-drug crusade, which may have angered local drug gangs.
Last year, radio journalist Rico Ramirez, was killed in Agusan del Sur apparently by the drug underworld he had criticized. Ramirez, who worked for the radio station DZSF, was shot dead by two gunmen, who fired at him from behind about 100 meters from his place of work. The station manager, Max Tutor, who saw what happened, said police had not found any clues so far. But Ramirez’s criticism of local organized crime and drug traffickers suggested these circles were responsible.
Ramirez, Balida and Mariano have been killed because of their work, but so far no one has been prosecuted for the murders.
“The police don’t do the job well and the government are slowly to react.” Coronel pointed her fingers to the lack of law enforcement.
Professor Luis Teodoro agreed with Coronel.
“Nobody is being punished since 1986. There are suspects of the killings, but never have people been jailed for this crime,” said Teodoro, a columnist and professor of communication at University of Philippines.
To get the police attention and the government reaction to this cause, he admitted that it needs a political clamor. The crucial thing for journalists to do is keep pressure on authorities to find and bring the killers to justice.
“In this country, if there is no political clamor, the government will not do anything. Look at the Angelo de la Cruz case,” he said.
Iraqi militia took hostage Angelo de la Cruz, a Filipino truck driver, in Baghdad last month. The political clamor and media attention pushed the government to withdraw the troops from Iraq.
“Media reports should continue. Don’t allow the police a moment’s peace. We need to push police that the one and only way to stop the killings is to get the killers,” he stressed.
Ermin Garcia, a veteran journalist and media adviser, said that no one should get away with the killings of journalists. Right now there are so many journalists is being killed because the convict can get away, without being charge, without being arrested.
Today situation is completely different with 1966, when Garcia’s father (a journalist) was killed. The government acted quickly and promptly. The mastermind and the perpetrators were arrested three days after the killing and were convicted in the court.
“It takes 20 years before another journalists was killed. It means the message was clear that the government protected journalists safety,” he said.
Garcia called on the Philippines government to exercise its political will by bringing the perpetrators to justice and declaring an end to the culture of impunity, which has allowed these attacks to continue.
“I am still looking the announcement from the president directing the chief police and the NBI to look into this cases,” Garcia added.
But, actually, the government and the police have taken several steps in dealt with journalist killings. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last week offered two million-peso rewards for the captured of the killers of every journalist murdered in the last five years. There have been no takers so far.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) had set up The Task Force Media to conduct special investigation on related journalists murder cases. But The Task Force Media is still “in the process of investigating” so the public has to wait for the results.
The government also had made proposal of arming legitimate journalists. Regional police commanders were encouraged to “help facilitate” the issuance of permits to carry firearms to journalists outside the residence. This proposal put journalists in pros and cons.
“The government’s proposal of arming journalists is worthy of approval in the wake of widespread cruel killings of the members of the Fourth Estates,” said Leonardo Basilio, publisher of Mirror Scribe.
Dianne Garcia, a broadcast journalist in Baguio City, bought a gun for protection. She admitted that the killings of provincial media practitioners have made her fear for her own safety. With a gun in the left hand and a microphone in the right hand, Dianne has this message to would-be attackers: Don’t dare hurt me.
On the other hand, the PNP Director General Hermogenes Ebdane proposal to arm journalists is considered as a primitive idea.
“It is a patent abdication of the police force’s responsibility to protect citizenry and enforce the law”, write editorial of Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Journalists, as Luis Teodoro mentioned in an interview with the writer, are not necessarily the most responsible people on this side of the planet. They are not immune from yielding to the sense of power of a gun.
“Once armed, what’s to stop certain journalists from whipping out their guns and firing at who ever they suspect?,” he asked.
Odina Batnag, correspondent of Jiji Press, made it clear that journalists should not bear arms. Police solution to relax permit-to-carry-firearms requirements for journalists has dangerous consequently. It is likely to add to the violence rather than to subtract from it.
“They should not make the war between journalists and the people they write about,” she said.