Still a dangerous place for journalists

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By Alexander Villafania

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA – After the November 23 massacre of more than people in Maguindanao, the Philippines is now considered the third most dangerous country for journalists next only to Iraq and Somalia.

The latest report by the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks the Philippines number three, up from number six last year. This despite convictions against the murderers of two journalists, radio reporters Armando Pace from Digos City, Mindanao, and Edgar Amoro from Pagadian City.

The CPJ Impunity Index is an annual report that calculates unsolved murders of journalists as a percentage of the country’s population.

Immediately following last November’s incident, the CPJ identified the Philippines as the most dangerous country for journalists, worse than Iraq.

Iraq, which has a population of 31 million, ranks number one in the current list with 88 unresolved murders. Iraq has a population of 31 million. Somalia is at number two withonly  9 unsolved murders but with a population of only 9 million.

Surprisingly, Brazil and Colombia, two countries that have among the worst records of unresolved murder cases involving journalists, have been given reprieve from their once lofty ranking in the CPJ Impunity Index. Both countries were reported to be improving the capture, prosecution and conviction of murderers. Brazil was also removed entirely from this year’s index.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon says the organization’s goal is to spur leaders of these nations to act. “Many of these cases are solvable – the perpetrators have been identified but authorities lack the political will to prosecute.”

The CPJ also expresses dismay over the dropping of murder charges against two chief suspects in the Maguindanao massacre; Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his uncle Akmad Ampatuan, former mayor of Mamasapano on the southern island of Mindanao,were recently ordered to be released by Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

In a statement, CPJ Asia Program Director Bob Dietz says: “Given the Philippines’ abysmal record of impunity in the killings of journalists, President Arroyo’s government has given little reassurance that history will be reversed with this surprise move. The government must not ride roughshod over the decisions of a court with a simple pronouncement.”

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