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'Ampatuan trial proof gov't acting on journalist killings'.

Byline: TJ Burgonio

MANILA -- As groups marked World Press Freedom Day on Saturday with scattered rallies to protest the killing of journalists in the country, Malacanang pointed to the ongoing trial of the Maguindanao massacre suspects as proof that some progress was being made to address the government's poor record in prosecuting cases of journalist killings.

Confronted with a survey listing the Philippines as among the top three countries where journalists' murders go unpunished, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Saturday traced the problem to the Maguindanao massacre.

Coloma said the basis for the latest Global Impunity Index released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was the high number of unsolved killings of journalists in the country.

"It's easy to pinpoint why there's a big number of unsolved crimes involving journalists because in just one case, the Maguindanao massacre, more than 50 persons lost their lives (32 of them journalists)," he said over state-run dzRB radio.

The government, he stressed, had already arrested the leaders of the Ampatuan clan, the main suspects in the massacre, and up to 100 others.

But Coloma conceded that after three years of trial, the court had yet to hand down its judgment on the accused.

"You know, there's a big challenge because the trial has run for three years, yet it's nowhere close to being resolved," he said. "Even so, the government is determined to pursue the case and seek resolution and justice for this."

Fresh violence and failure to prosecute old cases kept Iraq, Somalia and the Philippines in the three-worst slots in the index, the CPJ said.

In the case of the Philippines, more than 50 journalist murders that took place between 2004 and 2013 remained unsolved, the group said. Cases where no convictions had been made were considered "unsolved."

Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch's Asia division, weighed in on the issue of why the Philippines ranked the third most dangerous country for journalists.

"Although Filipino journalists do not face state censorship, reporters who take on sensitive topics such as government corruption and organized crime often risk deadly reprisals by local politicians with private armies, corrupt police officers and criminal syndicates," he said in a statement last week.

Last April 7, unidentified gunmen shot dead tabloid reporter Rubylita Garcia in Bacoor, Cavite.

Conde said the Aquino administration had failed to fully investigate the majority of these cases.

Student editors protest

Meanwhile, student journalists in Manila denounced Saturday the big number of media killings under the Aquino administration in a protest action by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) to mark World Press Freedom Day.

About 10 student journalists from different universities in Manila held the symbolic protest at Mendiola near Malacanang.

The members of the CEGP cited the recent killing of Garcia and the snail-paced trial of the Ampatuan massacre which claimed the lives of 32 media workers.

The CEGP also condemned campus press freedom violations. It said it had documented 230 cases of campus press freedom violations in 2013, citing examples of students losing scholarships or facing libel cases for speaking out against school policies.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:May 4, 2014
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