Press freedom and human rights groups have long held that impunity in attacks against journalists emboldens those who seek to silence the critical press and put the entire media community at greater risk.
In a report released late last year UNESCO stressed that impunity for journalist killings is “both an obstacle to ensuring journalist safety and a chilling contributor to self-censorship.”
Worldwide, 87% of journalist killings remain unsolved and, “as journalist homicides go unresolved and unpunished, there is little to deter the continued threat of violence.”
The report by A Safer World For the Truth into the case of the murder of “Doc Gerry” Ortega is, we believe, emblematic and illustrative of the challenges that the media community faces in seeking accountability for his murder and for the attacks on journalists since 2011.
It is disappointing and alarming, if not surprising that that report has found that the alleged mastermind, former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes still has power and influence in the province.
This is beyond the influence and power that he has had in evading accountability for the killing despite witness testimony identifying him as the alleged mastermind.
His continued freedom, despite a warrant for his arrest issued in July 2021, is proof of this and his ability to move around last year despite pandemic restrictions are further proof of this.
According to local police, he has not been seen in Coron although there has been continued monitoring for his presence there. Although his camp has acknowledged the warrant of arrest, he has managed to file a certificate of candidacy and, according to the report, his relative seem to know his whereabouts and that there seems to be “a lack of willingness of the Philippine National police to arrest” him.
Meanwhile, a key government witness in the case has reported increasing threats to his safety and his life and even a strafing of his house in August 2021.
A murder suspect who can evade arrest and go about his political business can influence the case and while Reyes may be within his rights to run for office, it is likely that he does not have the right to do it outside of government custody.
Certainly, there are others seeking election from detention. Certainly, there are many others who are behind bars for their alleged participation in less violent crimes.
Today, we join Doc Gerry’s family, friends and supporters in calling for the long delayed justice for his murder and call as well for his arrest to face trial for the killing.
More broadly, we join the call for continuing reforms that would help preserve crime scenes, speed up investigations and prosecution of those who attack journalists.
As pointed out in the report, and as we have seen in similar cases, witnesses also need better financial support as well as protection to keep them safe from intimidation and attacks as well as to keep them from suffering financially for essentially helping the course of justice.
Impunity in journalist attacks is not insurmountable and, as journalists, the best way we can fight it is to keep reporting on the transactions and activities of government officials, to keep on reporting about attacks on our colleagues and to keep on reporting on developments or lack of developments in these cases.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)