A third journalist was killed in a span of five days. Nestor Bedolido of Digos City was shot six times by a motorcycle riding assailant. Previously, two other journalists—Joselito Agustin from Laoag and Desidario Camangyan from Mati City, bothe radio commentators —were also killed. Already, the number of journalists killed during the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has reached 103. It is because of these killings that international journalists groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have concluded that the Philippines is now the deadliest country for journalists .
While journalists are not the only ones being killed in this country, as in fact, the number of victims of extralegal killings have already exceeded a thousand for the period of Arroyo’s administration alone, the question is asked: what is so wrong with the killing of journalists outside of the fact that under both natural and our penal laws, murder is a crime? What makes the killings of media professionals more heinous than say the killing of a street vendor by a drug crazed killer?
The answer lies in the unique role that the media plays in a democratic society.
Our Constitution provides that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the press”. This is based on a belief that the truth is discerned only in a free market place of ideas. According to Justice Holmes, the “true test for truth is the power of an idea to be accepted as truth in a market place of ideas”. This explains why under democratic systems, a falsity per se is not actionable. It becomes actionable only where there is actual malice, be it actual or legally presumed.
A free press, though, is valued far more than because it helps us discern the truth. More importantly, it is valued because it is only when you have a free market place of ideas that an individual can form an opinion on issues involving him and the public at large. It is because of these individual opinions that individuals can participate in public debates on issues that affect the public. When there is a consensus of individual opinions, we have what we refer to as public opinion. In turn, it is believed that public opinion, over and above institutions of government, is best able to fiscalize governments and regimes. This is why the media is referred to as the “fourth estate”, a co-equal institution in a democracy, albeit not a branch or instrumentality of government.
To kill a member of the media is hence is to kill what makes democracy work. Without information, there can be no opinions. Without the latter, there would be no debates. With no debates, there would be no consensus. Without public opinion, there would certainly be despots and dictatorial regimes. This explains why in the course of history, dictators would always infringe on freedom of the press first. To kill members of the media, in other words, is the surest way to kill a democracy.
I have just gotten word that Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Leila De Lima has accepted her appointment as Secretary of Justice. I must say that this is thus far one of the best moves of President-elect Noynoy Aquino. What has contributed to the culture of impunity prevailing in this country is that the Arroyo administration, including all the Secretaries of Justice, did not prevent these killings of journalists and activists. Worse, they also failed to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of these killings. With Leila De Lima at the helm of the Justice Department, there is now hope that change may indeed be forthcoming.
Secretary-Designate De Lima surprised skeptics who thought that as an election lawyer, she may not be effective in protecting and promoting human rights in the CHR. But in a very short span of two years, she studied the law on human rights and became by far the most effective exponent of rights in an administration that has become notorious for being a human rights violator. What made her effective may not have been her thorough grasp of the specialized field of human rights, but her visibility, dynamism and her sincerity in promoting these rights. When people stayed away from Maguindanao right after the massacre, she was on the ground conducting her own parallel investigation. When the Morong 43 was apprehended, she had the balls to summon the Armed Forces hierarchy and declare that they committed acts of torture against the apprehended health professionals. Even in the recently concluded automated elections, she was an advocate for clean and honest elections, arguing what many people may not have realized: that clean and honest election is also a fundamental human right enumerated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Kudos for P-Noy for the De Lima appointment.
At least 10 Filipino comfort women conducted a prayer vigil last Tuesday, June 22 to protest the recently promulgated decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Vinuya versus Executive Secretary. The Petition was to compel the Philippine government to sponsor the claims of these Filipinas for compensation from Japan. The claim was because all of the petitioners in the case were brutally and repeatedly raped by officers and soldiers of the retreating Japanese Imperial Forces when it had become apparent that they would lose the war. Some of these Lolas were as young as 12 years old when they were forcibly brought to the infamous Bahay na Pula, which stands until today along the national highway en route to Cabanatuan, where they were repeatedly raped for days and weeks by Japanese soldiers. When these women previously filed suit before Japanese Court for compensation as victims of mass rape as a war crime, the Japanese court ruled that they had no standing to sue as it is the Philippines that should have filed suit on their behalf. According to the Japanese Court, it is states, and not individuals, that have the capacity to sue under International Law. And because their claim was never espoused by the Philippine government, they filed suit to compel the government precisely for this purpose.
The lolas protested a ruling that said that their claims for compensation is barred by the San Francisco Peace Pact where in exchange for nominal war reparations, the Philippines allegedly renounced all further claims for compensation. The Court also said that there was no jus cogens prohibition on rape during World War Two and that the plight of the comfort women was one of those where there was a violation of a right but with no legal remedy.
The lolas will congregate anew in front of the Supreme Court on July 5 at 10 a.m.