Statement on the threats received by Ms. Maritess Vitug

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemns the threatening messages sent to our colleague, Newsbreak editor-in-chief Marites Danguilan Vitug, and demand that authorities not only protect her at all costs but also move to investigate the threats and those responsible for making them.

The threats came after the release of Vitiug’s controversial book, “Shadow of Doubt,” which touches on critical issues involving the Supreme Court.

According to a news report on abs-cbnnews.com, the first of two messages, from a cellular phone with the number 09091348825, mentioned the pen being mightier than the sword then said: “But the sword kills faster than the word.”

“The second message was more explicit: ‘Kaya pala maraming napapatay na journalists dahil katulad mo. May katwiran pala si Ampatuan na pagpapatayin ang mga journalists. Sana nakasama ka dun, malay mo malapit na. (Your kind is one of the reasons why journalists are being killed. Ampatuan has valid reason to kill those journalists. I hope you were one of them. You’ll never know, it could be sooner)’,” the report added.

Several members of the Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao province stand accused of masterminding or carrying out the November 23 massacre of 58 persons, including 32 media workers, in the town that bears their name.

According to the abs-cbnnews.com report, the sender’s phone number could no longer be reached.

The report quoted Vitug as saying she made the threat public “because this is the best protection.”

Vitug’s book was launched last Tuesday. Before this, she was slapped with a libel suit by Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco for an article she wrote last year.

Surely, Vitug is not the first, nor will she be the last, Filipino journalist whose work people will disagree with.

But that she is threatened with death because someone has obviously taken offense at what she has written again highlights the culture of impunity that has emboldened those who wish to silence a dynamic and critical Philippine press to impose the ultimate form of censorship on those whose only sin is to strive to deliver the truth as best as they can to their audiences.

Indeed, Vitug did right to make the threats public. The pattern of media murders in this country shows such threats have invariably preceded the actual attack. But even if the threats are intended more to intimidate than to warn of any actual harm, they are no less odious.

If anything, Vitug deserves praise for the courage to focus the spotlight on an institution that, for all its importance in our national life, very few of our people actually know and understand. This, after all, is the role journalism plays in any genuine democracy – that of stripping away the mystique that often surrounds the way government and its instrumentalities work so that the people may judge whether that government is true to its mandate to serve them.

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