Text by Khim Joshua Raymundo
November has proven to be a month of endless calls to condemn the prevailing culture of impunity on media and state neglect.
UP Diliman College of Mass Communication (CMC) students capped off the month-long campaign to end impunity, entitled Break Free, by holding a cultural protest on Friday, in commemoration of the Ampatuan-Maguindanao massacre in 2009 where 58 people were killed, including 32 journalists.
They subsequently held a candle lighting program at the CMC FOI Garden for all the victims of media killings since 1986 when democracy in the country was “restored.”
Break Free is a campaign held annually in November to commemorate the massacre and condemn the culture of impunity in the country. It is a series of events that include an exhibit, protests and fora.
The events aim to raise public awareness on media repression and how the justice system fails to hold the perpetrators accountable. Break Free was initiated in 2013 by members of the Union of Journalists of the Philippines – UP (UJP-UP), comprised mostly of CMC students.
Nine years after the tragedy, justice is still elusive for the families of the Maguindanao massacre victims. There were 197 people indicted for multiple murder, but only 103 are currently undergoing trial, including the principal accused, Andal Ampatuan Jr. The decision of the Regional Trial Court is expected to come out in the first quarter of 2019, according to an Inquirer report.
In a forum entitled “ULYAW: Forum on Impunity and Media Repression,” Karapatan Legal Counsel Atty. Sol Taule said that nine years without justice for Ampatuan massacre victims exemplifies the pervasive culture of impunity in the country. The lawyer seeks to hold House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable for the massacre, which occurred during her presidential term.
“Peasants and national minorities comprise most of the victims of human rights violations (HRVs) in the Philippines. Not just in Arroyo’s term. Even Marcos and so forth. The country’s human rights issue goes beyond presidential terms,” Taule said.
Aside from professional journalists and national minorities, campus journalists also experience impunity through the repressive policies of the university administration.
UP Solidaridad National Chairperson Beatrice Puente stated that insufficient funding and administrative intervention are the common problems being faced by publications within UP.
She commends student publications who still respond to their mandate in spite of repressive rules that prevent them from reporting.
“Masyadong maraming isyung panlipunan para tumigil tayong mag-report. Kaya dapat matuto rin tayong tumindig para sa karapatan natin sa malayang pamamahayag,” Puente said.
CMC Assistant Professor Dr. Diosa Labiste, meanwhile, spoke out against administrative intervention in the previous Philippine Collegian Editorial Exam, wherein the Board of Judges barred two students from taking the exam due to their graduating status. However, in the previous years, there have been cases of graduating students who were still allowed to take the test.
Labiste believes the case should be judged in favor of the students.
She also commended the initiative of students to hold the annual commemoration of the Ampatuan massacre, “even if the priorities of the CMC administration are different.”
The CMC administration did not allow students to hold the events in any of the venues in the main building due to simultaneous events in the college.
Labiste said, “It’s a shame that we’re not allowed to use even the Freedom of Information (FOI) garden.”
The speakers of the forum included CMC Associate Professor Danilo Arao, Assistant Professor Dr. Diosa Labiste, College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines National Chairperson Jose Mari Callueng, UP Solidaridad National Chairperson Beatrice Puente, and Karapatan Legal Counsel Atty. Sol Taule.
An exhibit entitled “Look Closer” which portrays media repression in the country, was also set up in the college. It displayed a body sketch of a journalist, a police line at one edge of the exhibit, and 157 evidence markers depicting the number of media workers slain since 1986 when democracy was supposedly reinstated.
“Despite the struggles of raising awareness on the issue and the sheer prevention of allowing such campaigns to flourish, we stay committed to our roles as Alagad ng Midya: to forward a media that is for the masses, for the people that have long suffered the terror of this state,” UJP-UP Chairperson Jefferson Losito said. TNP
Photo by Quin Astilla