The most deadly country for journalists last year was not Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan, or even China or Russia. It was the Philippines — a democracy — where a severely lacking criminal-justice system, paired with government corruption and inefficiency, has contributed to a “culture of impunity.” Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, 140 journalists have been killed. This month the trend continues as three more journalists have been murdered.
On June 14, radio broadcaster Desiderio “Jessie” Camangyan, 52, was hosting a local singing competition. A gunman approached him from behind and shot him. His wife and six-year-old son were in the audience to watch the bullet rip from the right side of his ear through his eyes and nose. Camangyan was known for his reporting on the illegal logging industry.
Scarcely a day later, broadcaster Joselito Agustin, 37, was riding his motorcycle with his nephew. He was shot four times and died the next morning in a local hospital. His nephew survived after taking a bullet in the leg. Agustin’s on-air commentaries often centered on corruption and lawlessness.
And on June 19, Nestor Dedolido, 50, a newspaper reporter, was murdered, shot six times while buying a pack of cigarettes. Like Camangyan and Agustin, Dedolido had criticized local politics and corruption.
To comprehend the risks Filipino journalists take, it’s worthwhile to see the scope of the violence from last year’s Maguindanao massacre. On November 23, 2009, at least 31 journalists, many of them women, were raped, brutalized, and murdered, allegedly by a militia run by a powerful political clan. A photo album here depicts some of the gruesome details, but much more nauseating coverage can be found elsewhere online.
Therefore, it is also worth mentioning the June 14 killing of Suwaib Upham, a witness to the Maguindanao massacre. Upham sought government protection, but it was never granted to him. Likewise, other witnesses to the massacre have had their homes burnt by unidentified arsonists.
Benigno Aquino, elected president in May, derives his popularity in part from the legacy of his mother, dissident-turned-president Cory Aquino, who opposed the Marcos regime and who has been considered the mother of democracy in the Philippines. Benigno Aquino could further his mother’s legacy by prosecuting those who kill journalists and stepping up efforts to prevent the murders. On the other hand, ignoring it threatens the fabric of the country’s democracy.
But the United States could also help by calling the Philippines to task. The U.S. embassy in Manila has condemned the murder of Upham. But it’s a shame that no statement can be found on its website about the Maguindanao massacre or about the recent murders of journalists. In President Obama’s next exchange with Aquino, this is one human-rights issue that should not be ignored.