THE PHILIPPINE Constitution lists press freedom as a basic right of Filipinos,
on par with the right to life, the right to freedom of speech and expression,
and freedom from involuntary detention and torture.
On the eve of the commemoration of the International Day of Human Rights, Filipino print, radio, television and web-based media practitioners join the lament of all compatriots whose rights have been violated in what is supposed to be one of Asia's most vibrant democracies.
Our national officials like to describe the Philippine press as among the freest in the region. Certainly, many journalists in other Asian countries languish indefinitely in jail. Colleagues in other nations experience censorship or work under the shadow of draconian internal security laws that brook no dissent against a country's rulers.
But in the most basic of right - that to life - the Philippine press is under siege. The Philippine press will remember 2004 as a year of infamy. We have lost 13 colleagues in what could be work-related murders, the highest number in history. We have lost more in other incidents billed as "ordinary" crimes - though no bereavement due to senseless violence can be called ordinary.
There has been no single conviction for a journalist's murder since 1986. And the killers of our colleagues are getting bolder. In at least three recent killings - that of Bombo anchor Herson Hinolan in Kalibo, Aklan; of Freeman reporter Allan Dizon of Cebu, and of Guru Press reporter Stephen Omaois in Kalinga - the dastardly acts were followed by gloating calls and more death threats to the newsrooms. The climate of impunity is such that murder of a journalist also sparks a rash of death threats in other regions.
In condemning the killings, media groups are aware that our profession does not suffer alone. We also condemn the killings of judges, lawyers, anti-corruption advocates and human rights workers nationwide.
As Filipino journalists unite today in outrage, we also stand defiant against those who wish to silence Philippine media.
The press does not exist in a vacuum. Our nation's history has shown that it is when the press is silenced that the dark hours descend on our people. Many journalists joined our people's struggle for the restoration of democracy, and a number of us gave up careers and lives for this cause. Many journalists also fought to protect democracy against those who sought to turn back the tide of change.
We ask the public to support us in the fight for press freedom. This right is enshrined in the Constitution, not because a special sector demands special privilege, but because it helps ensure adherence to all other basic civil liberties.
With every murder of a journalist, or a judge, an environmentalist, an anti-corruption activist, a human rights worker - democracy dies a little. As our nation grapples with crisis, and powerful groups jockey to control big chunks of our economy and body politic, many among our citizens, journalists among them, become casualties of events.
It is time Filipinos raised their voices against the violence that stalks our land. Media organizations are stepping up the campaign for the ethical practice of journalism. Media groups and individual journalists are struggling to rectify numerous flaws in our profession. This we owe the public - our readers, listeners and viewers. Indeed, these tasks are overdue, and we also ask the public to continuously remind us of our duties and responsibilities.
But Filipino journalists shall give no quarter to those who want to see a cowed and quiescent press. A united media sends notice to the enemies of Press Freedom: We shall overcome.
There is a list of the signatories to this statement on the NUJP web site at http://www.nujp.org/
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