Duterte’s Statement Does Not Augur Well For The State Of The Press And Human Rights

Photo courtesy of NUJP-NCR
Photo courtesy of NUJP-NCR

There has already been a lot of outrage from different media groups, local and international, over the statement of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, which practically endorsed the killing of journalists. The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Visayas journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders, all condemned the statement of Duterte. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines expressed alarm over Duterte’s statement. The Reporters Without Borders went so far as to demand an apology from the incoming president and called for a boycott of his press conferences until Duterte does so.

Even the Aquino government’s Communications Sec. Hermino Coloma chimed in claiming that the Aquino government “recognizes the vital role of journalists” adding that “…we deplore the proposition that some journalists may have been assaulted or killed in view of their alleged involvement in media corruption. It is the duty of government to arrest, prosecute and punish those responsible for violence against members of the media.”

Well, the reason that Duterte was asked about what his administration would do to address the impunity in killings of journalists is precisely because the Aquino government failed to solve these killings and put a stop to impunity. And President Aquino, in a trip to Brussels in 2014, said as much when pressed about the impunity in human rights violations that his administration failed to solve.

Compare what Aquino said with that of Duterte.

Aquino: “For instance, in the media killings, some who used to work in media died. Did they die because they were investigative journalists? Were they exercising their profession in a responsible manner, living up to journalistic ethics? Or did they perish because of other reasons?”

Duterte: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

“Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.”

“… Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong.”

Both presidents were practically saying the same thing: that journalists who were killed were corrupt, which is of course, unfair, an insult and definitely wrong. It’s just that Aquino, like a typical politician, merely insinuated it by asking rhetorical questions. Duterte, consistent with his personality, said it in a brash manner. Aquino fanned the flame of impunity by playing blind and not doing anything about it, which is how impunity persists; Duterte practically justified it.

Granting that some journalists do engage in corruption or PR work, does that mean that they could be killed? If that is the case, does this also apply to politicians and government officials who engage in corruption? If that happens, then there might be just a handful of government officials and politicians left.

Incoming President Duterte’s statement does not augur well for the state of press freedom and human rights in the Philippines. Duterte is not your typical politician who says what he thinks the people want to hear. Not like Aquino who says one thing but does the opposite; where there is disconnect between policy pronouncements and reality. With Duterte, he says what he thinks and what he intends to do, even if he knows it would be controversial. It’s up to the Filipino people to engage the incoming Duterte administration and pursue their rights, interests and welfare.

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