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Philippines President Benigno Aquino cracks down on extrajudicial killings

Report by watchdog claims Philippines ranks third in killings of journalists

Gulf News

Manila: The presidential palace said it is working to address extrajudicial killings in the country amid a report by an international watchdog that the country ranks third in the number of killings victimising journalists.

“We will continue our efforts to stop the crimes against journalists,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in response to a report by the New York-based international Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) which claims that the Philippines ranks behind Iraq and Somalia in the number of mediapersons killed over the past several years.

The CPJ annually publishes its Impunity Index report, which “identifies countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes.”

According to the Impunity Index 2013, the Philippines has an index rating of 0.580, indicating unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants.

Lacierda said the government of President Benigno Aquino III is taking “significant steps” concerning extrajudicial killings. He said Aquino had already created an inter-agency committee in order to deter such activities and other human rights abuses.

Inter-agency committee

He added that Aquino had created an inter-agency committee (IAC) through Administrative Order No 35 last November to investigate human rights abuses by state and non-state forces and ensure a focused probe and speedy resolution of all unsolved and new cases.

“But again, let me also explain that when we look into each particular incident, we also look into the motives, and then we’re able to segregate those that are politically motivated or have other reasons,” Lacierda said.

Extrajudicial killings have long been a problem in the Philippines.

The CPJ said the lack of security for witnesses is a key problem in combating such crimes.

“Authorities in the Philippines have yet to make headway in the prosecution of dozens of suspects in a politically motivated massacre in Maguindanao province that claimed the lives of more than 50 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in 2009. Three witnesses in the Maguindanao case have themselves been murdered, one of them dismembered and mutilated,” the CPJ said.

Government ineptitude

“Each time a witness is killed, it affects the morale of other witnesses by showcasing how inept the government is in ensuring their safety,” says Michaella Ortega, daughter of Gerardo Ortega, a radio commentator opposing mining activities in Palawan province in western Philippines.

“She knows the cycle of intimidation and impunity well. The investigation into the 2011 murder of her father, prominent radio host Gerardo Ortega, was dealt a severe setback when a key witness was killed in jail,” the CPJ said.

According to the CPJ, 73 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992.