The ongoing deadly attacks on journalists in the Philippines are no less than a war against themedia. In just the past two weeks, the body count in this war has surged: three dead journalists and one wounded in attacks perpetrated by unidentified gunmen.
Unidentified attackers shot dead radio journalist Rogelio Butalid in Tagum City on December 11. Police suspect Butalid’s murder was linked to his on-air criticism on Tagum’s Radyo Natin, but have not arrested any suspects.
The previous day, unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle shot and wounded Jhonavin Villalba, a reporter for Aksyon Radyo, at his home in Iloilo City. Police have not released any details on the motives for the attack and there have been no arrests.
On December 6, unidentified gunmen shot dead Michael Milo, a commentator on DXFM in Tandag City. Exactly a week before that, on November 29, another broadcaster, Joash Dignos, was gunned down in Valencia City. Police suspect both attacks were linked to the victims’ on-air commentary, but there have not been any arrests in either case.
These attacks have raised to 12 the number of journalists killed so far in 2013. Altogether, some 26 journalists have been killed in the first 40 months of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, and no one has been successfully prosecuted in any of these cases.
The Aquino administration’s response has been discouraging. While officials say the government is committed to ending impunity for these attacks, they have nevertheless sought to downplay them. On November 22, a presidential spokesman described the killings of Filipino reporters as “not so serious.”
Such official inaction is unacceptable. The Aquino administration needs to declare that the attacks on journalists are a national catastrophe that threatens fundamental liberties. The police should give priority to investigations of journalist killings and look beyond the gunmen to the individuals ultimately responsible. They should probe threats against journalists to prevent and deter future attacks. The government also needs to work with media companies, particularly broadcast networks, on strategies to better protect journalists.
It’s time for the Philippine government to intervene in the war on the press rather than ignore it.