President-elect Rodrigo Duterte errs in declaring that most journalists are being killed for being corrupt and in implying that only corrupt journalists have been killed in the Philippines. While corruption is a continuing problem in the press and media, it is simply not true that most of the journalists killed in the line of duty were killed because they were corrupt. On the contrary. Most of those killed were in fact exposing corruption and criminal activities in the communities, and for their social and political advocacies. The Pagadian city journalist Edgar Damalerio was killed in 2003 for exposing wrongdoing in the local government; Marlene Esperat was killed in Tacurong city for exposing anomalies in the Department of Agriculture; and Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega was killed for his environmental advocacy in Puerto Princesa.
While Duterte did not say so, his statements about corruption among journalists could be misinterpreted as justifying the killing of supposedly corrupt journalists. Such an interpretation could lead to more killings of journalists, including those who are merely doing their mandated task of reporting and commenting on matters of public interest, thus undermining the fundamental right of the people to information as a crucial factor in their struggle for change and democratization. This is in fact what the killings are already doing; every journalist killed represents one more voice less in the public discourse necessary to explore the solutions to corruption, criminality and other problems of Philippine society.
We challenge the incoming Duterte government to rise above the Aquino and other administrations that have either ignored or minimized the impact on Philippine society and governance of the killing of journalists and that have done little or nothing to stop the killings. We urge Duterte himself to use his enormous political capital and the instrumentalities of government once he assumes power to see to the prosecution and punishment of the killers of journalists and their masterminds– to end the culture of impunity that continues to encourage those who would silence journalists by killing them. At the same time, given his commitment to halting contractualization, we hope that he can also stop that practice in the media professions and ensure just wages for all workers including journalists.
As for corruption among journalists, it persists as part and parcel of the corruption that afflicts government as well as the business sector. Only by reducing corruption in these sectors can corruption in media be minimized or ended, these sectors being the principal corruptors of media practitioners.
Despite the threats to our safety and lives, we join other journalists in reaffirming our commitment to the duty of providing the information and analysis an information-hungry public needs. While it is true that as long as impunity exists, no law and not even the Philippine constitution can protect us from bullets, as Duterte has declared, it is nevertheless our contention that like every citizen, we too are entitled to State protection. Journalists are not the enemy of the change Duterte has promised– it is the killers of journalists who kill to conceal corruption and criminality who are. It is they he must condemn, and, through the Department of Justice, prosecute and punish.
Altermidya is a nationwide network of independent and progressive alternative media practitioners in the Philippines that promotes journalism for the people. Manila Today is a member of Altermidya.