1 September 2006
Campaigning Against Impunity: An interview with the Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in the Philippines has been working tirelessly to address the unsolved attacks and murders of Philippine journalists and is currently campaigning for justice in the murder case of journalist Marlene Esperat. Nathan Lee, CMFR's Press Alerts Officer, was interviewed by Sheila Gruner, IFEX Campaigns Programme Coordinator, in early September 2006.
Q: How many journalists have been murdered in the Philippines?
As of 15 August 2006, our database lists 59 journalists/media practitioners killed in the line of duty since 1986. Three have been killed so far this year.
Q: Why is there such a high level of impunity in the country?
Based on our study, the lack of efficient law enforcement – especially in the provinces – and the relatively slow justice system contribute mainly to the high level of impunity in the country.
Q: What are the current cases CMFR is working on?
As part of a network of Philippine media organisations that conduct advocacy on press freedom cases, CMFR is currently working on assisting slain journalists' families in pursuing justice by pushing for decisive court convictions against the killers and their masterminds.
Among the cases CMFR has been watching closely are the ongoing trials of the murders of Marlene Esperat, Roger Mariano and Philip Agustin. We are aiming for at least one conviction this year.
In a different area of work (libel cases against journalists), we are gathering data on the number of cases filed against journalists in recent years. This year, as of 15 August, there have been at least 13 reported criminal cases filed against journalists, ranging from charges of libel to inciting sedition. This does not include a conviction upheld by the Court of Appeals in July 2005 against popular tabloid columnist Raffy Tulfo, who was slapped with 14 counts of libel (equivalent to 28 years of imprisonment). There have also been at least 10 libel cases -- involving no less than 44 journalists -- that have been filed by President Gloria Arroyo's husband.
Q: What kinds of advocacy strategies does CMFR engage in to bring attention to impunity cases?
CMFR looks into the circumstances behind the cases, and works closely with international media organisations, providing them with information on the cases for which they follow-up and give special support. (See the SEAPA backgrounder on “Culture of Impunity in the Philippines” http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/61045/)
We also report attacks on press freedom to government agencies (e.g., Philippine National Police, Department of Justice, etc.), international human rights advocates, and the media. In addition to these, CMFR has facilitated strategies to urge prompt police action and to raise funds for legal defence and assistance to victims' families.
As part of its advocacy, CMFR has conducted ethics and safety training as a way of protecting the press against violence. In discouraging the use of extra-judicial actions against journalists, CMFR has established community press councils in key areas of the country to accommodate complaints of ethical malpractice and abuse by media practitioners.
Q: What are the main successes and challenges that you have had so far in this advocacy work?
We recently recorded a successful prosecution in the case of Edgar Damalerio. His killer, ex-policeman Guillermo Wapile, was convicted to life imprisonment in November 2005, three years after the murder took place. Just eight months earlier, CMFR and its partner organisations successfully lobbied the Supreme Court to transfer the trial to a safer, more neutral court in Cebu City.
This year, the Supreme Court approved the transfer of the Esperat, Mariano, and Agustin cases to courts in Cebu and Manila, thereby increasing the chances of speedy and decisive trials.
Several challenges that we have been facing in our work include the apparent lack of cooperation from certain government agencies and the high number of press freedom attacks and threats, especially in the provinces.
Q: What kind of support can IFEX members and the international community offer?
Constant monitoring and corresponding pressure from the international community will help force the Philippine government to act decisively in resolving the attacks against, and threats to, the press and the journalists.