The level of press freedom in the Philippines, like the character of the press itself, varied widely by locale. Manila, the capital, has a flourishing press with approximately 25 daily newspapers, and reporters there operate in an environment largely free from government interference. In rural areas outside Manila, however, where radio is the dominant medium because of an undeveloped infrastructure and high illiteracy rate, the military, powerful local families who maintain feudal-like control of the areas, large corporations, and the government subjected reporters to serious abuses. Working conditions for journalists were particularly grim in the southern island of Mindanao, where the Muslim separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has been waging a violent struggle for autonomy.
The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in September, but the accord has yet to be implemented and fighting continues. Reporters are often caught between the interests of Muslim separatists, Christian groups opposed to an independent Muslim state, and government forces. Ferdinand Reyes, who frequently wrote about official corruption and human rights abuses in the Philippines, was shot and killed at his office in Dipolog, Mindanao. Two local reporters, Ali Macabalang and Nash Maulana, were shot in Cotabato, Mindanao, while traveling in a jeep near Macabalang's home.
Ferdinand Reyes, Press Freedom, KILLED
Reyes, editor in chief of the weekly newspaper Press Freedom, was shot in the head by an unidentified gunman as he sat at his office desk in Dipolog, about 425 miles south of Manila. The gunman then fled with an accomplice on a motorcycle. An attorney as well as a journalist, Reyes frequently wrote columns about official corruption and human rights abuses in the Philippines. He had also organized demonstrations against government policies that he considered unfair, such as the expansion of the value-added tax. Reyes had reportedly received death threats in the past, in response to his articles and activities. In a letter sent to the Philippine government the day after Reyes' assassination, CPJ called for a prompt and thorough investigation.
Ali Macabalang, Reuters, ATTACKED
Nash Maulana, Philippine Daily Inquirer, ATTACKED
A gunman shot Macabalang, a stringer for Reuters, and Maulana, a correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the country's largest daily newspaper, as they sat in Macabalang's car in the southern city of Cotabato. Macabalang sustained a neck wound, while Maulana was shot twice in the leg. Macabalang, who also heads the media affairs division of the government of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, appears to have been the intended victim in the attack, which occurred less than 200 yards from his home. He escaped more serious injury by accelerating the car as the gunman approached. Following the attack, the assailant fled on foot. Both men were taken to a nearby clinic for treatment. Cotabato lies in a region of Mindanao where Islamic rebel groups have been waging a violent campaign for self-rule.
Roberto Berbon, DZMM, KILLED
Berbon, a senior editor for the radio station DZMM, which is owned by the largest television and radio network in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, was shot and killed. At least two unidentified gunmen, armed with an automatic rifle and a pistol, fired several shots at Berbon in front of his house in Imus, 16 kilometers south of Manila. A stray bullet also wounded Berbon's wife, Sabrina, in her right thigh. The assailants fled immediately after the shooting, driving off in a waiting car. No motive has been established for the murder, but local media speculate that it may be linked to Berbon's leadership of an anti-crime organization. CPJ, which is continuing to look into the case, called on the Filipino government to vigorously investigate Berbon's slaying and to publicly disclose its findings.
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