The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), organized to address the numerous and unremitting attacks against journalists and news organizations around the country, condemns the killing of Davao City broadcaster Juan “Jun” Pala September 6, 2003.
Pala, 49, was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding gunmen while he was on his way home from the adjacent Vista Verde Subdivision where he had been visiting a friend. He survived two earlier attempts in his life on June 14, 2001 and April 29 this year. The FFFJ notes that Pala was a controversial figure, who was also a politician deeply involved in the activities of the vigilante group Alsa Masa, but that he was nevertheless apparently targeted as a radio commentator.
As in many other countries of the developing world, the media in the Philippines tend to have in their ranks individuals involved in politics as well as government service, among other occupations, interests and concerns.
Pala was in this category of practitioner. In many cases, these practitioners are unfamiliar with the media professions’ ethical and professional standards, and their practice is often seriously flawed.
Nevertheless, the FFFJ believes that the killing of any one for his or her media practice – no matter how imperfect that practice may be – affects the whole media community and is seriously damaging to Philippine democracy.
The FFFJ feels the need to issue this clarification in light of criticism from other media groups that to protest the killing of Pala is to somehow sanction his activities as a politician and vigilante spokesman, as well as his alleged corrupt practices as a broadcaster.
The killing of journalists for their work is the most direct form of assault on press freedom, and the democracy that guarantees it. The FFFJ is thus alarmed by the increasing frequency with which journalists in the Philippines are being killed. Pala is the sixth journalist killed this year, doubling the average of three journalists killed annually. This year’s number of assassinations so far and that of 1987 are the highest ever recorded per year in the Philippines. Pala’s murder brings to 42 the number of journalists murdered since 1986. No one has been convicted for any of the slayings.
The five other journalists killed earlier this year were John Belen Villanueva, Jr. of Legazpi City (April 28); Apolinario “Polly” Pobeda of Lucena City (May 17); Bonifacio Gregorio of Tarlac City (July 8); Noel Villarante of Sta. Cruz, Laguna (August 19); and Rico Ramirez of San Francisco, Agusan del Sur (August 20).
The FFFJ is deeply concerned with the implications of the killings of journalists – now already of crisis proportions – for human rights, the people’s right to know, and for democracy itself. It calls on all media and press organizations, non-governmental formations, and the public to demand quick police action on Pala’s as well as other cases, and to express their support for a free press and opposition to media repression in the clearest terms possible. The killing of journalists should not be the concern only of the media and press community, but of every citizen.
The members of the FFFJ are the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), as well as individual members Ermin Garcia, Jr., Sunday Punch publisher, and Danilo Gozo, publisher of Philippine News.
The FFFJ represents a national effort by the journalism community to protect journalists in crisis and works in coordination with international groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Article 19. Global Campaign for Free Expression, and the Southeast Asian Press alliance (SEAPA).