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Election campaign leaves trail of attacks on the press

A bloody election campaign in the Philippines came to an end this week with millions going to the polls
A bloody election campaign in the Philippines came to an end this week with millions going to the polls

via EPA

The massacre of 32 Filipino journalists last November was a deadly start for election campaigning in the Philippines leading up to this week's presidential elections. In a recent series of election-related incidents, a radio journalist received a death threat, another journalist disappeared, and media workers have been beaten by followers of local political officials, report the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). Outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo fostered a culture of impunity to hold onto power, with 137 journalists killed under her watch.

Radio journalist Rolando Bruno went missing for a couple of days on 9 May after notifying police that a provincial governor and his followers had viciously beaten two TV cameramen attempting to film local officials and campaign officers giving envelopes of cash to villagers, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). The police met with the governor but did not take any action against him. On 11 May, Bruno was among a group of seven journalists safely escorted by police to their offices after being caught up in election-connected violence, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

In other election-related episodes, journalists were prevented from interviewing Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manuel Villar in Pasig City on 5 May, and independent reporters were barred from a press conference for presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III on 7 May. Aquino is in the lead and is almost certain to become the next President, say news reports.

In North Cotabato, southern Philippines, radio broadcaster and blocktimer Williamor Magbanua received a death threat on 28 April. A blocktimer purchases "blocks" of radio time for a programme for which he or she then solicits advertisements. Blocktimers have been accused of being in the payroll of politicians, especially during elections. Magbanua is also a correspondent for the Manila-based "Philippine Daily Inquirer" and online news magazine GMANews.TV. Police are currently guarding his home.

NUJP came out with a guide for journalists, "Covering the 2010 elections: A Survival Guide", which outlines steps media workers could take if they ran into danger while covering the country's first automated elections. BBC reported that at least 12 people were killed in political violence.

Writing for Index on Censorship, Harry L. Roque, who is representing 14 victims of the Maguindanao massacre, explains how political patronage is entrenched in the country. The Ampatuan family, perpetrators of the mass murder, delivered crucial votes to President Arroyo in 2004 and 2007 elections. On 19 April 2010, the acting secretary of justice dismissed 57 murder charges against governor Zaldy Ampatuan and town mayor Akmad Ampatuan. Meanwhile, the Ampatuans have not lost their power base as many ran in this week's elections, say news reports. But in a recent twist, justice secretary Alberto Agra refiled murder charges against the two Ampatuans on 5 May, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

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