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To combat Philippine impunity, Aquino needs new tactics

Aquino takes the oath of office in Manila. (AP/Bullit Marquez)

It’s too soon to expect a turnaround in the Philippines’ miserable record of attacks on journalists. President Benigno Aquino was sworn in just two weeks ago. The problem of unprosecuted journalist murders—the Philippines ranks third on CPJ’s Impunity Index—is embedded in a political culture of widespread violence and little law enforcement. That hasn’t changed, and here are two cases that illustrate the situation.

In the first case, two journalists in Negros Occidental received death threats through text messages. The Philippines media widely carried the story from the online news site The Visayan Daily Star on Wednesday. It quoted one of the journalists, Larry Trinidad of Radio Mindanao Network, as saying he received a text message on Monday saying he will be killed by Saturday. “Tumba ka na sa Sabado. Ikaw himuon sample sa media killing (You will be dead by Saturday, you will be an example of media killing)," the message read, according to the TV broadcaster GMA.

And on Monday, Jaime Lim, 41, the Negros bureau chief of a regional newspaper, got a death threat through a text message from an unknown sender. “Tumba ka na, ikaw himuon sample sa media killing (You will be dead, you will be an example of media killing)," according to GMA.

Negros Occidental is part of a larger island in the Philippines Central region called Visayas. It’s poor with an economy based on sugar cane. In the capital, Bacolod City, Senior Superintendent of Police Celestino Guara told journalists to arm themselves. According to GMA:  “He advised those who received death threats to avoid being complacent. Last week, Guara recommended arming of media people because of the successive killings of their colleagues, especially those who are under threat.”

Although he brings to office a widely supported reform agenda (Aquino won 78 percent of voting precincts), the new president must confront a pervasive culture of violence and lawlessness—one in which police tell journalists to carry weapons if they want to be safe. There have been many pledges from Aquino before and after he was sworn in about the attacks on journalists and the lack of prosecutions in virtually all of the cases. If he is to begin to turn around that culture, the president should start soon, with a full plan aimed at addressing a system that allows citizens, including journalists, to be threatened with impunity. 

It’s too soon to expect change, but it’s not too soon to see new tactics being put in place to counter the violence directed against journalists. And that hasn’t happened yet. 

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