Murder is mightier than the pen

Tue, 05/01/2007 - 00:00

Are you a professional killer interested in working in a sunny, tropical locale? Consider the Phlippines. There are plenty of contracts, risks are minimal and the chances of being caught are laughable. All you have to do is murder journalists.

Since 1986, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, at least 88 Filipino journalists have been assassinated. Of course, with the meter ticking so regularly, the number could have bumped up by the time you read this. The numbers make the Philippines second only to Iraq as the deadliest place in the world to be a reporter.

Most of the the murdered journalists worked in the provinces, and nearly all had been writing articles that exposed corruption of local government officials.

Perhaps in the US, the deliberate murder of one or two reporters would provoke public outrage. Things are different in the Philippines. Here, murder is taken for granted. If the public seems largely indifferent, one reason could be that journalists are seen as unscrupulous and disrespectful of authority. A few years ago, the director of the National Bureau of Investigation, said of journalists: "It is better for them to lessen the ferocity of their attacks against officials." It's the sort of advice you hear in gangster movies.

This April, two journalists who were travelling together survived an ambush and when they claimed they suspected a governor was behind the killing, that official denied the charge, saying if he had wanted the journalists dead, they wouldn't have survived. That ominous reassurance didn't even merit a shrug of apathy from the public.

If a Hollywood movie like Erin Brokovich - where the protagonist investigates and then triumphantly unearths a hazardous waste cover-up - were set here, it would end in about 10 minutes, with the heroine lying in a pool of blood and her assassins strolling away whistling.

The government has barely lifted a finger to find the assassins. Recently, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the attacks on journalists were "despicable", it took her years to work up to that state of indignation. No murder has been solved.

Maybe a better clue to this administration's actual attitude can be found in the behavior of Mrs. Arroyo's husband, Mike. A couple of years ago, the First Gentleman said that some journalists do not deserve to be in the media. Reacting to stinging reports about his alleged corruption, he has filed 40 libel suits against journalists and columnists.

The good news is that the killings don't seem to have fazed the country's reporters. The bad news: there are certainly far more bullets than there are courageous journalists.

Perhaps law enforcement would improve, and the government would be more concerned, if high ranking cabinet members were to become targets for assassination. But really,come on: who could possibly want to see the justice secretary dead?

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