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Journalists document president's repressive legacy

Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rhymed off her achievements in her final state of the union address on 27 July, but Filipino academics and journalists have revealed a starkly different view of the leader's two terms in office.

Just days before the speech, the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication issued an assessment of the Arroyo administration's treatment of the media, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Signed by faculty members and student groups, the report claimed Arroyo's hostility to the press has been "unprecedented" in the country's history. Dozens of journalists have been killed and while convictions have occurred in three cases, not a single mastermind has been held accountable, according to the college. Filmmakers critical of the administration have also been met with harsh reprisals, with the country's review board slapping an 'X' rating on films that are unfavourable to the administration. In addition, libel cases have skyrocketed, the statement noted, with the many instigated by the President's husband, Mike Arroyo.

The report commended many advocacy initiatives, including the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), which was established in 2003 to demand accountability in journalists' deaths and to investigate killings.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also released a statement chronicling Arroyo's freedom of the press abuses over her nine years in power. Noting that almost double the amount of journalists have been murdered during Arroyo's rule compared to that of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, NUJP decried the regime's "acts of omission and commission nurturing the impunity with which the enemies of press freedom have operated."

During a 25 July news conference, the NUJP warned a worrisome "right of reply" law could be imminently pushed through parliament, giving anyone who feels offended by a story the opportunity to respond in the same publication.

On the same day of President Arroyo's state of the union address, journalist Godofredo Linao Jr was gunned down at dawn as he was boarding his motorcycle in the town of Barobo in Surigao del Sur province. The murder was reported by SEAPA, the Philippines Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), and other IFEX members.

Linao co-hosted the programme "Straight to the Point" on Radyo Natin and also served as the spokesperson for a provincial politician. The motive behind his murder is unknown, but his widow believes it is related to either his politics or his journalism. He is the sixth journalist killed this year, CMFR and SEAPA report.

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