LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—European Union Ambassador Guy Ledoux called journalists “true defenders of human rights” but in the Philippines, the continuing attacks against media workers and the government’s failure to legislate the Freedom of Information Act remain a concern even after the country has transitioned its way out of an authoritarian rule to democracy.
Journalists perform alongside lawyers, activists, politicians, and others in defending human rights but they continue to fall victims to extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances since 2001, said Ledoux in his keynote speech delivered at the 8th National Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines held here over the weekend.
The NUJP elected its new set of officers in the same congress, six of whom are reporters and provincial correspondents of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Ledoux, who was appointed head of the EU’s delegation to the Philippines two years ago looking into media killings, said about 11-14 Filipino journalists had been killed since June 2010 but the murder cases continue to remain unsolved and the masterminds allowed to walk free.
“The EU recognizes the current administration’s efforts to eliminate extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances and to prosecute those responsible. But at the same time we observe that journalist killings do still happen with the latest killing taking place on November 8, 2012,” he said.
Ledoux cited the November 2009 Maguindanao Massacre that left 58 casualties among them media workers as “one of the worst act of political violence (with) the largest number ever slain on a single day anywhere in the world.”
“The trial,” he however said, “is proceeding very slowly.”
He also lamented that the Philippines, even as its constitution recognizes the citizens’ rights to access official records and documents, remains one of the countries without its own Free Access to Information Act, which would have been a “tool” to support the administration’s fight against corruption.
“There was hope earlier this year that the evolving discussion on the draft of the (Act) would eventually lead to its adoption by the 15th Congress before the mid-term elections. It didn’t happen,” he said.
The two-day congress that ended Sunday also paid tribute to the victims of media killings that numbered to 153 since 1986, according to NUJP.
“These candles would eventually die down and we would need a bigger candle to light our way to justice,” said Patria Ortega, widow of slain Palawan broadcaster Gerardo Ortega, as they lit candles and offered prayers for the victims of rights abuses.
Other press freedom groups, among them the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, also expressed solidarity with the NUJP and the families of slain journalists in its fight for justice.
Meanwhile, NUJP elected the following new set of officers:
Chairperson–Rowena Paraan, NUJP Media Safety Office, formerly with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ);
Vice chair–Alwyn Alburo, GMA-7;
Secretary general–Rupert Mangilit, NUJP Media Safety Office, formerly with GMA-7;
Deputy secretary general–JB Deveza, correspondent, Inquirer Mindanao, NUJP Mindanao Safety Officer;
Treasurer–Jo Clemente, Inquirer Northern Luzon correspondent; and
Auditor–Ryan Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao correspondent.
Elected directors were Nonoy Espina, InterAksyon.com; Inquirer’s province-based staff reporters Nestor Burgos (Iloilo-Visayas), the immediate past chairman, and Julie Alipala (Zamboanga City-Mindanao), and Inquirer correspondent Redempto Anda (Palawan-Southern Luzon); Chino Gaston, GMA-7; Fred Villareal, Punto Central Luzon; Bobby Labalan, Media Solutions; Cong Corrales, PCIJ; and Sonny Fernandez, ABS-CBN.