Monday, June 25, 2007

NUJP: A greater issue is whether this government is truly committed to democracy and freedom

If anything, the brazen murder on Monday of Radyo ng Bayan reporter and operations supervisor Vicente Sumalpong in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi and the wounding of his colleague, Vema Antham, highlights once more the government's failure to act decisively to staunch the rampant bloodshed that has cast doubts on its ability and commitment to defend democracy and freedom.

Sumalpong was the fourth journalist murdered this year, the 53rd since this administration came to power in 2001 and the 90th since the supposed restoration of democracy in 1986. He is also the second member of the government-run network to be killed this year.

It is ironic that this latest assault on press freedom comes only 10 days after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asked media to "help" her build her legacy in the last three years of her term, going so far as to suggest how the press should spin reportage, commentary and even editorial slant to fit the image she wishes to be remembered by.

Doubly ironic because the deaths of our colleagues since 2001 have, indeed, helped Arroyo build a legacy - that of having the highest media death toll under any presidency, including the 14-year Marcos dictatorship, and more than the combined total of her three predecessors.

Again, we stress that we are not implying that the killings of journalists are part of any official policy.

But we also again reiterate our assertion that government inaction in stopping the killings and bringing those responsible - gunmen and masterminds both - to account makes it no less culpable than if it had actually pulled the trigger. For this inaction has bred the culture of impunity that has encouraged those who wish to silence press freedom in this country to carry out their attacks with increasing brazenness.

The issue here is not just the safety and lives of journalists. A greater issue is whether this government is truly committed to democracy and freedom.

Unless we see concrete action against journalists' killers and unless we hear an unequivocal order from the president to stop the deliberate targeting of the press, which we have long demanded from her, that commitment will ever be in doubt.

Joe Torres, NUJP chairman

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