Impunity & Press Freedom

Article excerpt

MANILA, Philippines - Last year, our country became known as the most dangerous place for journalists. As many know, the number of unsolved killings continued to rise, and further exacerbated by the massacre of 32 media people in Maguindanao. In Mexico (which replaced the Philippines this year), the fingers of a journalist were crushed because he refused to reveal the source of his story about local drug lords. For openly criticizing people in power, our local journalists are killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen.The recent UNESCO-Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication roundtable series held in Manila, Cebu, and General Santos City focused on some of the social, cultural, political, and psychological aspects of impunity - complementing earlier forums held by the Ateneo Human Rights Center on the legal and judicial aspects, and that of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, on the effect of impunity on press freedom.Impunity has always been a concern as it is seen as a primary obstacle to the protection and promotion of human rights. The Ateneo Human Rights Center has documented several cases to illustrate impunity - the Kuratong Baleleng, the amnesty grant to RAM, 1987 coup attempts, Marcos human rights cases, involuntary disappearances (Bubby Dacer, etc.), among others.Impunity is defined as "exemption from accountability, penalty, punishment, or legal sanctions for perpetrators of illegal acts." It is the "commission of a violation against the right to life without accountability." Perpetrators get away with murder; no one is arrested or punished.Although the current inquiry focuses on journalist killings, the insights shared could well apply to other forms of violence and extrajudicial killings. It provides an appropriate context for understanding of today's events - hearings on the Maguindanao massacre and several cases filed in the courts and the Department of Justice, and the Truth Commission. In fact, a rationale for the Truth Commission is that it will be able to provide "closure" to many acts of impunity committed in the past.We must ask why people kill journalists. Does it have something to do with their persona, or is it because of the nature of their profession? Why are cases never solved and no killers brought to justice? Is it due to ineptness of our law enforcement agencies or is it an outcome of an inequitable power structure and corruption particularly in the justice system? …