As we mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists today, we remember our fallen colleagues and continue to hope for justice for them.
We are hopeful for a swift resolution of the investigation into the killing of Orlando “Dondon” Dinoy in Davao del Sur over the weekend. Impunity for attacks on journalists highlights the urgent need for reforms in the justice system to send the message that perpetrators will be found, charged and held accountable.
We note that of 21 journalists killed in the Philippines since 2016, six were slain while the country was under quarantine against the pandemic. Lockdowns to keep the public safe from the COVID-19 virus have not protected our colleagues from attacks, which have included legal cases for reporting on the government’s pandemic response.
Apart from a slow justice system, foremost among the factors that contribute to crimes against journalists is an enabling environment where it is easy to brand media workers, especially those in the community press, as “press-titutes”, propagandists and enemies of the state, and by doing so, justify threats, harassment and worse against them.
Under the Duterte administration, for example, the president’s verbal threats against the media have often translated to official policy. Antagonism towards the press has also trickled down to his officials, many of whom are quick to accuse newsrooms and journalists of plotting against the government.
As we write this statement, a colleague — Cong Corrales of Mindanao Gold Star Daily — again faces revived allegations online that he is a member of the “Partido Komunista Terorista ng Pilipinas” over a story disputing military claims of a clash in Bukidnon. Allegations like these often invite online harassment and can escalate to physical threats and attacks.
UNESCO notes in a report released today that “journalists have been increasingly stigmatized and denigrated in public speech, sometimes by political figures”, a phenomenon that the UN Human Rights Council has warned “increases the risk of threats and violence against journalists and undermines public trust in the credibility of journalism.”
Despite that, complaints of curtailment of freedom of the press have been shrugged off as business and franchise issues. Meanwhile, cases of red-tagging and similar accusations are dismissed as made up for political purposes even when the risks that come with these labels are all too real.
In the face of these risks, we vow to continue fighting for justice and asserting press freedom. We owe it to the Filipino people to remain independent despite difficulties and challenges.