Last Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014, 13:47 GMT

Philippines: Violence against journalists and activists dramatically increased since 1st UPR review

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 28 May 2012
Cite as Article 19, Philippines: Violence against journalists and activists dramatically increased since 1st UPR review, 28 May 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe2c33c2.html [accessed 21 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Philippines' human rights record will be reviewed for the second time on Tuesday 29 May 2012 before the UN Human Rights Council. ARTICLE 19 has called for the UN member states to raise concerns to the Philippines regarding violence against individuals exercising free speech and the culture of impunity, the absence of a right-to-information law, and the use of criminal defamation laws to silence critics.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group reviews the human rights records of UN member states once every four years. The Philippines was first reviewed by the UPR on 11 April 2008. Tomorrow, the Philippines will be amongst the first grouping of countries to undergo its second cycle of UPR reviews.

Since its first review, the level of violence against journalists and media workers has dramatically increased, situating the Philippines as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to work. The Philippines has become deeply rooted in a culture of impunity, and with this has come an erosion of respect for the right to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 has submitted the shadow report in the preparation of the review. In particular, we call on Member states at the UPR to place pressure upon the Philippines to:

  1. End violence against individuals exercising free speech, to fully investigate the murders of journalists and activists, and to promptly bring perpetrators to justice
  2. Approve the proposed 'Freedom of Information Bill"
  3. Repeal criminal defamation.

Violence against individuals exercising free speech, and the culture of impunity

The two years leading up to the Philippines' first review were marked with physical attacks and murder directed towards individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression, with at least six journalists killed in 2006 and two in 2007. However, ARTICLE 19 is of the view that the situation in the Philippines has worsened. The figures for murders have escalated since then, with 2009 seeing one of the worst incidents of media killings in recent history.

On 23 November 2009 in Ampatuan Town, a 58-person convoy, which included 32 journalists and media workers, was gunned down and bodies were strewn into a mass grave by approximately 200 armed men. The convoy was en route to register their local vice mayor as a candidate for the provincial governorship election. There are strong indications that the attack was politically motivated and ordered by senior members of the Ampatuan family, who are apart of a long-running feud with the local vice mayor. Sadly, what is now known as the "Ampatuan Massacre" is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger trend of violence employed by the Ampatuan family in silencing their opposition.

Although 196 suspects have been charged for the massacre, including members of the Ampatuan family, there are serious concerns over the independence and effectiveness of the court system. Two and a half years after the incident, there still have been no convictions and many suspects are still at large. Violence against journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders is endemic in the Philippines largely because the government has failed to effectively investigate and bring those responsible to justice.

Altogether, there were reports of approximately 38 cases of media related murders in 2009, 3 in 2010, and 7 in 2011. Furthermore, many indigenous rights defenders continue to be targeted and killed for their work since the Philippines' first UPR cycle.

Death threats and other threats against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders are critically serious in the Philippines, where the probability of such threats leading to murder is likely. Fear of reprisals has caused many to go into hiding, and has created a chilling-effect amongst community members and their ability to exercise the right to freedom of expression.

The absence of a right-to-information law

Media and civil society groups in the Philippines have been pushing for the passage of the "Freedom of Information Bill" for the last 14 years, however, the government's promises of increased transparency remain unfulfilled. 

There are concerns that the current version of the bill, if passed, would be more restrictive than previous drafts. Reports indicate that the Aquino Administration's version has more exceptions than information subject to mandatory disclosure, has an overbroad definition of national security, excludes the public during policy deliberations, and has inadequate protections on the right to privacy. 

The use of criminal defamation laws to silence critics

Journalists and media workers continue to face the threat of criminal defamation suits under Articles 353-359 of the 1930 Philippines Criminal Code. A conviction can amount up to four years in jail. Under this law, every defamation imputation is presumed to be malicious even if it is true. The burden is on the defendant to prove good intentions and justifiable motive to overcome the implied malice. Criminal defamation suits initiated by the powerful give them an unfair advantage against the media, and have led to an environment of self-censorship in the Philippines.

The Philippines Government must adopt legislation to repeal all criminal defamation provisions as soon as possible, and replace them with appropriate civil laws that are consistent with international guarantees to the right to freedom of expression.

Recommendations

In response to these concerns, ARTICLE 19 calls on the member states to take forward clear and strong recommendations to the Philippines government, namely:

  • Ban all paramilitary and militia forces due to their long history of human rights violations, including the killing of journalists, media workers and human rights defenders.
  • Ensure that the trials of all alleged perpetrators of the 2009 Ampatuan Town massacre are fully open and transparent so that the public may observe proceedings without hindrance, and take all steps to speed up the resolution of these cases and to make certain there is no political interference in any aspect of the cases as they proceed.
  • Issue a Congressional statement in the defence of the rights of journalists and the media covering armed conflict, and recognising the state's commitments to international standards on the protection of journalists, and acknowledge the vital role that journalists play in strengthening democracy.
  • Approve the proposed "Freedom of Information Bill" upon widespread consultation with all stakeholders.
  • Repeal all criminal defamation provisions.

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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