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Journalist's killing encouraged by culture of impunity, says CMFR

Christopher Guarin
Christopher Guarin

Publisher and radio broadcaster Christopher Guarin was on his way home in General Santos City last week with his wife and nine-year-old daughter when he was shot and killed by two armed men on a motorcycle, report the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and other IFEX members. The telltale killing - just five days into the new year - is the latest indication of "the persistence of the culture of impunity that encourages the killing of journalists and media workers in the Philippines," says the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, of which CMFR is a founding member.

The assailants fired on Guarin's car, hitting him and his wife, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). According to CPJ, Guarin then stopped and fled the vehicle on foot but was shot several times by two gunmen in pursuit. He was declared dead on arrival at General Santos City Hospital. His wife survived with a bullet wound to the arm.

Guarin, a block time radio broadcaster with Radyo Mo Nationwide and publisher of "Tatak News", had received anonymous death threats by text message before his murder, his wife and work colleagues told reporters.

Hours before his murder he read on air one of the text-message threats, which warned him against leaving the radio station or risk being killed, according to Freddie Solinap, a manager at "Tatak News", told CMFR.

"I could no longer count the number of shots made by the suspects," Guarin's wife told the "Inquirer" newspaper. "But I saw my husband lying on the ground helpless, pleading before the suspects not to kill him. His pleading fell on deaf ears."

Guarin's death is typical of many killings of journalists in the Philippines: a blocktimer killed at the hands of assailants on motorcycles, who will likely go unpunished. (A blocktimer purchases "blocks" of radio time for a programme and is responsible for bringing in advertising money to cover the programme's expenses. Some blocktimers have been accused of being in the payroll of politicians, especially during elections.)

Guarin, who ran for city councillor but lost during elections in 2010, is the first Filipino journalist to be murdered this year. According to Freedom Fund, 124 journalists and media workers have been killed since 1986, since the end of the Marcos dictatorship.

The Philippines ranks third on CPJ's global Impunity Index, which measures the number of journalists killed for their work without justice.

"Unless the necessary steps are taken to speed up the ongoing trials of the accused in the killing of journalists as well as the masterminds, and to investigate, arrest, and try those involved in the killing of Guarin, as well as that of six other journalists in 2011, the killings are likely to continue in 2012 and the coming years," said the Freedom Fund.

Freedom Fund has been lobbying the Philippine government to strengthen the Witness Protection Programme; rehabilitate the criminal investigation units of law enforcement agencies; organise Quick Response Teams; and review the Rules of Court to speed up court trials. The government has only acted on one proposal so far - it increased the budget of the Witness Protection Programme.

Watch CMFR's video to learn more about the success of the Quick Response Team in the Maguindanao massacre and the impact it had on addressing impunity.

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