New President must dismantle “media predators” and stop impunity

The inclusion of government militias as one of the international top predators of journalists must serve as a wake-up call for the new government to exert political will to immediately dismantle them and show that the government is there to deliver justice to their victims, the human rights monitor Barug Katungod Mindanao said.

Bishop Felixberto Calang, convenor of Barug Katungod Mindanao, said the report of the Reporters Without Borders is an alarm that must shake the incoming administration after the May 10 elections to act decisively on the existence of militias that serve at the behest of local politicians who themselves have become warlords.

The Reporters Without Borders, in time for the observance of the World Press Freedom Day, in a report named the Philippine militia as one of the treats to Filipino journalists, citing as an example the Ampatuan Massacre that killed 32 journalists on November 23 last year.

It was also the most gruesome pre-election related act of violence in a single day. It was blamed on the Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao, headed by Datu Andal Ampatuan, governor of the Province, and his sons who also hold public offices.

“These predators of press freedom have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists,” the Reporters Without Borders said.

For Calang, acting on this with a sense of urgency will not only save the Philippines from international shame but also lives.

“This is a challenge that must be taken with a great sense of urgency and political will. The new government must show that it is not a clone of the present administration—one that tolerates violence and culture of impunity by cleansing itself and its minions of the responsibility over cases of human rights violations,” Calang said.

The new administration, he said, must start where the Arroyo government stopped and failed: to end the culture of impunity and prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations under 9 years of the regime.

“While the world have seen how the suspects of the Ampatuan Massacre were supposedly jailed, the hands of President Arroyo are almost clandestinely working to free them out of jail—them who are the reasons why she headed the most distrusted administrations in recent history,” Calang.

The culture of impunity, Calang said, thrives in a condition where the government promotes political patronage, allows the militarization of the civilian bureaucracy including the national budget, and uses foreign military aid for recruiting and training paramilitary groups and targeting civilians in failed counterinsurgency campaigns.

“The logic is simple. A president like Gloria Macapagal-Arroto who is hugely indebted to a warlord like the Ampatuans will fail in curbing the violence that the clan is espousing. And the Ampatuans are not only the warlords of Mindanao and of the Philipines. This only means one thing—that there is no hope that the justice will be served to all victims of human rights violations under the watch of the president,” Calang.

Calang added: “Press freedom is a fundamental freedom especially under repressive administrations. It should be a shame for the Arroyo government that in a country touted by many as having the most vibrant and free press in Asia after the Marcos Dictatorship, it has become the most dangerous place for journalists in the world. This will serve as one of the catastrophic legacies of the Arroyo government in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

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