Area: 300,000 sq.km.
Languages: Tagalog, English
Head of state: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Journalists in the Philippines have paid a high price for their outspokenness. Six of them were killed in 2004 for doing their jobs. Seven others were murdered but the motives remained unclear. Despite everything, the Philippines press remains one of Asia’s freest.
The wave of brutality and murder unleashed against the press in 2004 prompted an unprecedented outcry within the profession. On 9 December, thousands of journalists rallied to pay tribute to their murdered colleagues. Simultaneously, dozens of radio stations observed a one-minute silence. A collective editorial was also published throughout the press, radio and TV. It read: "The Philippine press will remember 2004 as a year of infamy. With every murder of a journalist, or a judge, an environmentalist, an anti-corruption activist, a human rights worker - democracy dies a little".
In the two preceding weeks, a photographer and a radio director were killed, a TV presenter escaped a murder attempt, a reporter received a death threat and two journalists out reporting received a warning from soldiers.
The year began with the murder on 11 February, de Rowell Endrinal, a political commentator on local DZRC radio in Legaspi, central Philippines. Like most other journalists who were killed in 2004, he frequently exposed corrupt local politicians and criminal gangs. This was also true of Herson Hinolan, director of Bombo Radyo in the central town of Kalibo, who died from seven bullet wounds on 15 November. The journalist had exposed illegal gaming and the fact that some soldiers were protecting drug-traffickers.
Journalists on the hundreds of local radio stations who do not shy from controversy have been the chief targets. A station only has to broadcast an investigation or a hard-hitting editorial on some local case involved financial or political interests for a journalist to receive death threats or be shot dead by hired killers.
Murder attempts and physical attacks have also enormously increased. In September, Gary Fuertas, of Bombo Radyo, was beaten up in Midsayap on Mindanao Island in the south, because of his reports into drug-trafficking. In November, Eric Tenerife, presenter on cable TV Progressive Channel in Bacolod City, on Negros Island in the centre, narrowly escaped a murder attempt in which three shots were fired at this car.
In the face of these incidents the government came up with some solutions that were immediately rejected by the profession. The chief of police suggested a relaxation in gun laws to allow journalists to protect themselves. A spokesperson for the president said in May that radio journalists should do more to check their reports to avoid inciting violence. One parliamentary deputy pledged a sum of money for any suspects apprehended.
Impunity undermines the country
Under national and international pressure Gloria Arroyo’s government, re-elected for six year in May, put more police onto the murder cases. In February, she promised the families of murdered journalists that her administration would not rest until those responsible were brought to trial.
On the ground, police set up a "task force" after every murder and the government also created a national task force responsible for crimes against journalists, headed by the officer Nicasio Radovan. He made several promises that any witnesses who came forward would receive protection.
This produced some quick results. Significant progress was made in at least four of the murder investigations. Guillermo Wapile was arrested, in September, for the murder of DXKP radio journalist Edgar Damalerio, also editor of local Zamboanga Scribe in Pagadian in the south. With help from former colleagues, the ex-police officer managed to escape from prison in 2003. He continued to make death threats against the journalist’s family and against witnesses. A trial is due to be held in 2005.
But impunity continues to undermine all efforts, encouraging killers and those who give them orders to commit further offences. In August, a ranking police officer acknowledged that he had only been able to find those responsible in 19 of the 55 murders of journalists committed since 1984. The South East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) has further pointed out that no case brought before the courts resulted in a conviction.
Caught in the crossfire between soldiers and guerrillas
Relations between the press and the security forces - frequently accused of human rights violations - have in no way improved. Some reports have angered the army, which has grown closer to the United States in the fight against terrorism, a priority established by the Manila government. Officials have accused the press of showing armed opposition movements in a good light.
Political violence, linked to communist and Islamist guerrillas, has not spared journalists either. In November, a photographer with the Mindanews agency Gene Boyd Lumawag, was shot dead while reporting on Jolo Island, an Islamist bastion in the country’s south. A member of an armed Islamist group is believed responsible.
On their side, the local authorities do not welcome the growth of independent local radio stations. In February, the municipal council in Cauayan City refused to accredit Bombo Radyo citing bureaucratic reasons. A local journalists’ union leader fulminated against the inability of "local potentates and officials to accept journalists reporting what they see and hear."
The Gloria Arroyo government, under pressure from a very influential Catholic church, has tried to impose moral control of the media. In May, the government body responsible for film and television programme classifications banned television from showing positive images of lesbians, whom it said, were "an anomaly of nature".
6 journalists was killed
7 journalists were physically attacked
and 9 journalists threatened