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Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Global Toolbox

It's time to help Filipino journalists

By Bruce C. Swaffield

It is time for us to do something. Now. The situation for journalists in the Philippines continues to worsen each day and each year. We have to help those in the media before more of them are hurt, arrested, shot, imprisoned or killed.

Five years ago, my first Quill column was about a broadcaster who was gunned down in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. “Philippines Loses Another Broadcast Journalist” (August 2005) involved Rolando “Dodong” Morales, who hosted a weekly program. Even though he had received numerous death threats, Morales continued to discuss issues such as illegal drug trafficking and allegations that local officials took part in frequent executions.

Soon after his program ended July 3, 2005, “Morales and a companion hopped aboard his motorcycle. They drove away from the station, traveling along the busy national highway near the town of Polomolok, located on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

“Suddenly, the pair was ambushed by eight persons riding four motorcycles and carrying M-16 rifles. The assailants opened fire. When Morales stopped and fell to the ground, the eight suspects got off their bikes and proceeded to beat him. Then they shot him again. The autopsy revealed that Morales had been shot at least 15 times.”

To this day, no one has ever been questioned, let alone charged.

That same year, six other journalists were murdered in the Philippines, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 33 journalists were slain throughout the country in 2009.

The fact that so many people in the media were killed in 2009 shows the immediacy of the situation. We can no longer sit back and accept what is going on in the Philippines. The need is urgent — for them and us.

Here are some recent reports from RSF and CPJ that offer four more reasons to get involved:

1. “‘Nothing seems able to stop the violence against journalists,’ Reporters Without Borders said today (Jan. 8, 2010) after learning that radio commentator Eugene Paet was wounded in a shooting attack yesterday in a the northern province of Ilocos Sur.”

2. “In the deadliest event for the press ever recorded by CPJ, 29 journalists and two media support workers were ambushed and brutally slain on November 23 (2009) as they traveled in Maguindanao province with a convoy of people who intended to file gubernatorial candidacy papers for a local politician. In all, 57 people were killed in a shocking display of barbarism apparently motivated by political clan rivalries.

3. “Reporters Without Borders is concerned for the safety of Ilocos Times columnist Steve Barriero following a 31 July (2009) grenade explosion outside his home near Laoag City in Ilocos Norte province, 400 km north of Manila, in which no one was hurt.”

4. “Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities deploy all the resources needed to identify, arrest and punish the perpetrators and instigators of radio journalist Godofredo Linao’s murder. Linao was gunned down yesterday (July 27, 2009) in Barobo, in Surigao del Sur province, on the southern island of Mindanao.”

Unfortunately, not much has changed in five years. Commenting on the state of the media in 2005, RSF said that, “Journalists in the Philippines pay a high price for their outspokenness, with the year marked by seven murders and as many murder attempts. Despite throwing more resources into the battle against this violence, the government is struggling to rebuild confidence.”

Part of our mission as members of the Society of Professional Journalists is, “To encourage a climate in which journalism can be practiced freely.” To me, that means fighting for freedom of the press both here and abroad. In “Out of My Later Years,” Albert Einstein wrote that, “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” I want to see the press be the same in the Philippines as in the United States.

What can we do to help our fellow journalists? First, we can support media organizations that defend and fight for freedom of the press throughout the world. Second, we can contact the United States Embassy to the Philippines at Political Section, U.S. Embassy, 1201 Roxas Blvd., Manila, Philippines 1000; Phone: (632) 301-2000, ext. 2263; fax: 63-2-301-2473.

We also can call the Embassy of the Philippines in Washington, D.C. The phone number of Ambassador Willy C. Gaa is (202) 467-9364 (or 9366).

If you want to go right to the top, send an e-mail to the president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, by visiting the government’s Web site and clicking on the button marked “The President.”

Perhaps one day, if we keep writing and talking about this problem, we will never see another headline like the one from 2005: “Philippines Loses Another Broadcast Journalist.”

Bruce C. Swaffield is a professor of graduate studies in journalism at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. He holds a B.S. from Kent State University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Miami. He is a member of the SPJ International Journalism Committee and may be contacted at brucswa@regent.edu.

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