This week marks another dark period for press freedom in the Philippines, with the murder of a colleague, the attempted murder of another and a libel case filed by a governor against yet another.
Carmelo Palacios, 41, field reporter of the government-run Radyo ng Bayan, was found dead in Sta. Rosa town, Nueva Ecija, Wednesday morning, his body battered and shot in the chin. He was the 51st journalist to be killed under the Arroyo administration's increasingly blood-drenched watch, and the third this year.
Director Geary Barias of Task Force Usig has said there is reason to believe the murder of Palacios was an offshoot of his being a "hard-hitting, no nonsense reporter" and "anti-crime crusader."
A day after, Delfin Mallari Jr., correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the host of a local radio program and editor of the local paper Ang Dyaryo Natin, was shot and wounded in an ambush in Lucena City.
Colleague Johnny Glorioso of dzMM and Mallari's co-host and fellow editor, said they have all the reason to believe the attempt on Mallari's life was "politically motivated."
In Cebu City, Leo Lastimosa, station manager of local ABS-CBN radio, was slapped with a libel suit by Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia because of his exposes on alleged scams committed during the preparations for the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations there.
And in Albay, dzRH reporter Jun Alegre was arrested yesterday and jailed over a 10-year-old libel case.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemns these latest assaults on our colleagues and on press freedom as a whole.
Indeed, the assaults on journalists and not just press freedom but freedom of expression and the people's right to know as well, have been coming more often and becoming more brazen.
In the case of media, while there remains no indication that this is part of a broad, concerted effort, unlike the assaults on other sectors, the fact nevertheless remains that the continued assaults on
our colleagues and on our freedom and liberties are abetted by a climate of impunity that is the result of official inaction, antipathy and, in many cases, even outright hostility.
This is borne out by last year's attempts by government to clamp down on the media during the ill-conceived state of national emergency, the multiple libel cases filed against 46 journalists by no less than the president's husband, the sedition charges filed against the Tribune and the comments from sundry government and security officials, notably Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, that a number of our slain colleagues may have deserved their fates -- as if there were any justification for murder.
Again, as we mourn our fallen, see to our wounded and give succor to the embattled, we challenge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to do the one singular act that will prove that her administration is not abetting this climate of impunity that is steadily and with gathering speed and brazenness battering at our most basic rights and liberties -- issue a categorical order to put an end to the killings and assaults, to get the perpetrators, and declare the decriminalization of libel an urgent measure.
We urge our colleagues to remain steadfast and band together and call on the people whom we serve to help send a strong signal to those who would deprive them of their right to know that, no, we will not surrender.
Jose Torres Jr.