LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—European Union (EU) Ambassador Guy Ledoux called journalists “true defenders of human rights,” but he said the continuing attacks on media workers in the Philippines and the government’s failure to pass the freedom of information bill remained a concern even after the country had transitioned from authoritarian rule to democracy.
Journalists perform alongside lawyers, activists, politicians and other groups in defending human rights but they continue to fall victim to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, Ledoux said in a speech at the 8th National Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) last weekend.
The NUJP elected a new set of officers at the congress, six of whom were 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 to look into media killings, said 11 to 14 Filipino journalists had been killed since June 2010 but the cases remained unsolved and the masterminds allowed to walk free.
“The EU recognizes the current administration’s efforts to eliminate extrajudicial 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 Nov. 8, 2012,” he said.
Ledoux cited the massacre in November 2009 of 58 people in Maguindanao, among them media workers, as “one of the worst acts of political violence (with) the largest number ever slain on a single day anywhere in the world.”
“The trial,” however, “is proceeding very slowly,” he said.
While its Constitution recognizes the citizens’ right to access official records and documents, the Philippines remains one of the countries without a free access to information act, which would have been a “tool” to support the administration’s fight against corruption, Ledoux said.
“There was hope earlier this year that the evolving discussion on the draft of the (FOI) would eventually lead to its adoption by the 15th Congress before the midterm elections. It didn’t happen,” he said.
The two-day congress that ended Sunday also paid tribute to the 153 victims of media killings since 1986.
Need for bigger candles
“These candles would eventually die and we would need a bigger candle to light our way to justice,” said Patria Ortega, widow of slain Palawan broadcaster and environmental activist Dr. Gerardo Ortega, as the journalists 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, expressed solidarity with the NUJP and the families of the slain journalists in their fight for justice.
Meanwhile, the NUJP elected the following set of officers: Rowena Paraan, NUJP Media Safety Office, chair; Alwyn Alburo, GMA-7, vice chair; Rupert Mangilit, NUJP Media Safety Office, secretary general; JB Deveza, Inquirer correspondent, Mindanao Bureau, deputy secretary general; Jo Clemente, Inquirer correspondent, Northern Luzon Bureau, treasurer; and Ryan Rosauro, Inquirer correspondent, Mindanao Bureau, auditor.
Elected directors were Nonoy Espina, InterAksyon.com; Inquirer’s province-based reporters Nestor Burgos (Iloilo-Visayas), the immediate past chair, and Julie Alipala (Zamboanga City-Mindanao) and 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.