"The spirit of impunity has been with us for many, many years."
Less than three weeks after the Presidential Task Force on Media Security celebrated its fifth anniversary, a reporter for an online news service was shot dead in his home in Bansalan town in Davao del Sur.
Orlando Dinoy, a reporter for Newsline Philippines and anchor for Energy FM, was shot six times by a gunman who barged into his apartment, local police said.
It was a grim reminder that much more needs to be done to make this country safe for journalists, who play a key role in holding government officials accountable in a democracy.
Dinoy was the 21st journalist killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said.
The killing came a day after the international watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) included the Philippines again in its annual Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists have been killed and the perpetrators remain free.
The Philippines ranked seventh on the list this year, joining war-torn states and authoritarian regimes topped by Somalia with 25 unsolved cases.
Next in descending order based on the number of deaths are Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and Afghanistan.
At sixth place is Mexico, while in the eighth to 12th spot are Brazil, Pakistan, Russia, Bangladesh, and India.
The executive director of the task force on media security, Undersecretary Joel Egco, vows that justice will be done in the Dinoy case, but also says the country’s inclusion in the CPJ Impunity Index was not surprising, given that court case against the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre—in which 32 journalists were killed in 2009—remains unresolved.
The CPJ report covered a 10-year period from August 2009 to August this year, hence the inclusion of the Maguindanao massacre, he added.
Next year, he said, “the massacre case will be out of the equation,” either because it will no longer be under the CPJ’s 10-year period or if a verdict is finally promulgated—leading to a “much better and improved ranking for the Philippines.”
All this may be true, but an improved ranking in the Impunity Index is no consolation to the families of the 21 journalists who have been killed under the Duterte administration.
The paroxysm of violence that was the Maguindanao massacre was an aberration in its sheer scale and audacity on the part of the killers, but the spirit of impunity that made it possible has been with us for many, many years—and moving it out of some arbitrary review period does nothing to change the situation on the ground.
What the task force should address is the recent finding that state agents—including the police and military, and local and national officials—were linked to more than half of the 223 cases and threats against members of the media since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, based on consolidated data from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
While we listen to the government vows to bring Dinoy’s killer to justice, these are the statistics that worry us most.