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On fourth anniversary of journalist Marlene Esperat's death, media advocates, including three IFEX members, challenge President Arroyo on killing of journalists

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The following is a joint action by members of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) Mission to Fight Impunity Against Filipino Journalists:

The mission participants include:

Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ); Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Thai Journalists Association (TJA); Center for Independent Journalists (CIJ), Malaysia; Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Bangkok

Southeast Asian media advocates challenge Philippine President Gloria Arroyo on killing of journalists

The undersigned representatives of media advocacy and journalists' groups in Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, who converged in Manila from March 21 to 24 on a special mission sponsored by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Sultan Kudarat journalist Marlene Esperat, are alarmed by the continuing killing of media workers in the Philippines and the inadequate measures the government is taking to stop them.

We note with concern that despite intensified efforts by civil society and Philippine media groups themselves to convince the government, its law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to address the issue of impunity and the killings, the murders, a majority of which occur in the provinces, have been continuing.

An average of five journalists has been killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 2001 when the Arroyo administration came to power. By the end of February 2009, the count of slain journalists has gone up to 78 since the end of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, according to statistics compiled by the Philippine-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

One of the reasons we came to the Philippines on the eve of the of Esperat was because we believe that the culture of impunity that is deeply-rooted in the Philippines could be replicated in other countries in the region unless there is a common effort to dismantle it in the Philippines. We note an increase in the violence against journalists and media workers in Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, including browbeating, harassment and mob attacks on individual journalists; surrounding media premises; and the killing of journalists in addition to the use of legal sanctions to silence the media and suppress on-line free expression in 2008.

In expressing solidarity with the Filipino media community, we urge that the prosecution of the killers and masterminds in the killing of Filipino journalists be vigorously pursued in order to bring the perpetrators behind bars and put an end to the impunity.

We honor the 78 fellow journalists who were killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since 1986.

In observance of the fourth death anniversary of Esperat, a columnist of the Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat-based newspaper "Midland Review" and block-time radio broadcaster who was gunned down at her home in Barangay Isabela city on March 24, 2005, we, therefore, demand that the two alleged masterminds, Osmena Montañer and Estrella Sabay, be arrested immediately and prosecuted. Only a demonstration of the efficacy of the justice system in resolving crimes like the killing of Esperat can help put an end to the killing of journalists.

At the same time, we welcome a new development, the creation of tracker teams within the Philippine National Police's Task Force Usig to lead to the arrest of suspected killers and masterminds in pending media killing cases.

We hope the Task Force will seriously pursue the suspects because the killing of a citizen, whether or not he or she is a journalist, is a state crime that should not be tolerated or subjected to compromise.

We also call upon media workers in the Philippines and in the rest of Southeast Asia to observe the ethical and professional standards of journalism. While we are fully aware that excellence alone will not prevent the killing of journalists, excellence removes an excuse for murder and encourages citizenry outrage whenever a journalist is killed.

We call upon the Philippine citizenry to actively engage in the anti-impunity campaigns and to be in solidarity with the media community because for every journalist killed, the public is denied its right to access to information.

Finally, given the prevailing sense of urgency in the impunity issue and in anticipation of an increase in the number of journalists being killed as the 2010 presidential election draws closer, we call upon President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to take the steps necessary to prevent that unfortunate development. Madame President, a halt to the killing of journalists as well as political dissenters would be one of the enduring legacies you can leave the Filipino people as your term ends.

Signed in Manila on 24 March 2009

Doung Hak Samrithy, Vice President of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists

Jajang Jalamudin, Secretary General of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia

Pradit Ruangdit, Secretary General of the Thai Journalists Association

V Gayathry, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Journalism, Malaysia

Kulachada Chaipipat, Campaign and Advocacy Officer / Head of the Mission, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand

For further information on the Esperat case, see:

Southeast Asian Press Alliance

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