International Day to End Impunity

The first ever International Day to End Impunity was observed in the Philippines with particular fervour as it also marked the second anniversary of the most brutal attack on the press and on democracy. The Ampatuan town massacre of 2009 saw some 58 civilians murdered, 32 of which were journalists. Human rights advocates, students, lawyers, and the media marched towards Malacañang Palace to demand justice for the many slain journalists who were killed in the line of duty and whose murderers and masterminds continue to go unpunished.

The following photos are just a glimpse of November 23rd...

Ending the Cancer of Impunity

November 23rd marks the International Day to End Impunity, a call to demand justice for the many journalists around the world who have been killed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and whose perpetrators are exempted from punishment and penalty. I've been working with a media monitoring NGO called the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), an organization that has been actively involved in organizing events and raising awareness of the growing culture of impunity within the Philippines. 

To give you some background, let me tell you that the media have been a cornerstone in the nation’s struggle for independence, democratization and justice. And until recently, the Philippines has been heralded as having the freest press in Asia, with a rich history of a thriving and rambunctious press system that can be traced back to its revolutionary movement against the Spaniards. At the end of the 19th century, La Solidaridad, a newspaper published in Spain by leading Filipino intellectuals, served as an instrument of expression for the revolutionary sentiment against the Spanish and the Filipino cause for change and independence. Similar to its role in inciting revolutionary sentiments at the end of the 19th century, the Philippine press was also crucial in the People Power Revolution of 1986 that ultimately toppled the Marcos regime. And after being silenced for years under a dictatorial government, the media flourished...

The right to the freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press has always been enshrined in the Philippine constitution. Despite this, however, the press, at least in its current state, is an incredibly weak institution that faces intractable challenges, none more so than the culture of impunity. Unpunished violence against the media has soared since the years after the Marcos regime fell, especially during the years of the Arroyo administration. As journalist Lin Neumann once wrote for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the "damage done by Marcos' martial law remains. By dismantling the structure of the press built up over previous decades, Marcos weakened the professionalism and ultimately politicized the media to a staggering degree", creating a climate of fear that continues to be a powerful force in the Philippine press. 

Defined by CMFR's Deputy Director Luis Teodoro as “the way some societies ignore, permit or even encourage various forms of violence against journalists as well as their harassment and intimidation, and allow these to go unpunished”, the culture of impunity has truly dominated the Philippines in recent years. From being praised as having the freest press in Asia, the Philippines’ reputation has suffered, becoming the second most dangerous place in the world for media workers, only behind Iraq. Since 1986, 123 journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty and only 10 convictions have been carried out for these killings.

This near zero arrest, trial, and conviction of killers is fueling the culture of impunity that is stifling the freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press in the Philippines. It is no surprise then that its position on RSF's Press Freedom Index of 2010 dropped precipitously to 156th place out of the 178 countries included in the ranking, officially joining the ranks of infamously repressive states such as China, Iran, Burma, and North Korea.  This culture of impunity not only threatens the lives of its media workers but also impinges on every Filipino’s right to freedom of expression.

The change in administration to Noynoy Aquino, the son of revolutionary icons Benigno and Corazon Aquino, reignited hope...but after more than a year in office, the killings continue. Six journalists have been killed under his administration and the lack of strong action and major shift in policy to end impunity leaves the country wanting in justice...

The road is long and no single government agency or NGO can act alone to definitely end what has become, if I may again borrow from our hero Rizal, a cancer of this society. But let this first Day to End Impunity be the beginning of a real and effective treatment against this deadly disease...

To learn more about the Day to End Impunity, visit
To learn more about impunity in the Filipino context, visit

Reporting on Rights Radio

This week, I checked in with my pals at Journalists for Human Rights on Right Radio to report on the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility's (CMFR) work in the lead up to November 23rd, the International Day to End Impunity. Have a listen below to learn more about what's going on here in the Philippines...

Also, on this week's Rights Report goes global to look at censorship in countries around the world. The folks at jhr speak to RSF, Reporters Without Borders, about their Censorship Paradise campaign targeting holiday countries where media is heavily censored. The show goes to Cuba to look at the work of censored blogger Yoanni Sanchez, then off to Mexico, where reporters are continually being killed. Finally, the Rights Report lands in Vietnam and the Philippines (that's me!), where the media is fighting acts of impunity.

World Press Freedom Day

It's World Press Freedom Day today so I thought I'd share a video with you (a new terrain for me, people!)  that highlights my recent trip to the Newseum in Washington D.C. -- a fantastic place to visit if you ever find yourself in the city. So many great exhibitions that not only traces the history of journalism, but also showcases the importance of press freedom and the brave work of journalists who often put their lives at risk to tell the stories where there are no voices.


"...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter" - Thomas Jefferson

If you'd like to learn more about the freedom of the press, visit the following websites:

Reporters without Borders
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House
Press Freedom Map
Journalists Memorial

Side note: I am a total newb at making videos. Please forgive.