Journalists – giving their lives for the truth
By Fr. Shay Cullen
The Philippines is quickly becoming the killing fields for journalists, reporters, and writers with 14 killed in 2013; ten of them by suspected assassination squads. According to the International News Safety Institute (INSI) based in the UK, this makes the Philippines the third most dangerous place in the world for news reporters after Syria and Iraq.
Four died on the job during the Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that hit Tacloban with full force last November 8, 2013. I write this on International Day for Press Freedom on May 3 and can say that the Philippines is becoming one of the most dangerous places for writers and journalists in the world. It’s frightening to learn that 1054 journalists have been killed worldwide since 1992, and 76 of them were cut down by gunfire or stabbed to death in the Philippines.
Towards the end of 2013, three radio journalists were shot dead in Mindanao. A fearless reporter for a Manila tabloid, Rubylita Garcia, 52, who exposed police corruption and had a heated altercation with a senior police officer a few weeks ago was shot dead in her home only last month on April 27 in front of her children. Before she died, she gave the name of alleged police mastermind. However, none of the killers have been identified, caught or brought to justice. The shooter of Gerardo Ortega was convicted but the politicians suspected of being behind it are still in hiding.
Most of the killings of journalists are to silence the exposé of corruption which is epidemic in the Philippines and since President Aquino and his Justice Secretary and Ombudsman are making serious headway in charging Senators and Congressmen and others for massive plunder and the wholesale theft of public funds, media exposés do have powerful repercussions and so the guilty resort to murder to have them silenced; although 26 is the total number of journalists killed since Aquino assumed office in June 2010 and only one killer has been brought to justice.
Politicians in many countries fearing the exposé by media of corrupt practices including the Philippines, have enacted increasingly strict laws to restrain and intimidate the media, making on-line libel a criminal offense with long prison sentences. Anyone speaking truth to power, as they say, are in some danger of retaliation. The prophetic mission to stand with the downtrodden and speak the truth against corruption and human rights violations is a dangerous calling.
Human Rights Watch based in New York claims that the government of President Aquino administration has made little progress to bring the killers of journalists to justice. Impunity for the masterminds who order and pay for the killings is the bane of the nation. The President is not as powerful as people think and investigations are blocked by local police, and even by judges in some cases. The culture of silence and fear protects the killers and their masters.
Death Squads are allegedly unofficially available to kill anyone that might threaten their clean public image of powerful wealthy people, politicians and even officers. Even priests, pastors and social activists trying to get human rights and justice for oppressed people and communities are murdered by these killers. Most are known within the police and military establishment, some are protected but none dare expose them. The majority of government officials are said to be decent, honest people but they are in fear of their lives too if they reveal any anomaly, kick backs or corrupt practices in the government departments or military.
The World Council of Churches made this statement in 2006, “since 2001 more than 740 people who have worked with and for the poor in the Philippines have been assassinated in extra-judicial killings. They include journalists, lawyers, leaders of people’s organizations, human rights activists and church workers. The killings have intensified since 2004 : 21 church workers, including 9 pastors and priests have been killed since 2001. Most of the attacks have been committed by unidentified men shooting from unmarked vehicles or motorcycles.
Paramilitary groups armed by the military, and even members of the military and police, have been implicated in these killings. While a few suspects have been detained briefly, no charges have yet been issued in relation to these killings”.
Father Tullio Favali, Father Salivator Carzedda, and Father Fausto Tentorio, all of the Italian missionary society PIME, Father Rufus Halley on 28 August 2001 of the Columban Missionary Society and many more over the years. Father Fausto was gunned down in North Cotabato in October 2011. Most of the killers or those who planned and ordered them killed have never been arrested.
We call on the international social media, all bloggers who are safe from retaliation, to take up the cause of justice and expose the terrible crimes against journalists and human rights workers and to expose corruption to the world in the brilliant light of truth. firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.preda.org
(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
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