Journalists Deserve Better Than Death

CHICAGO (JGL) – Philippine President Noynoy Aquino is against death penalty. Yet he does not mind if journalists are killed if they are accused of committing transgressions outside the exercise of their profession.

I could not think of any possible crime that journalists maybe accused of committing that could fall outside the line of their practice of their profession and deserve a death penalty. Except maybe trying to make a buck to compensate for the slave wages paid them by their publishers or TV or radio station managers by resorting to “public relations” or influencing peddling.

Maybe some journalists are suspected of womanizing because they are mostly working in the field all their working hours, a lot of times beyond the 9 to 5 or eight-hour office work shift, although they are not paid overtime and yet under-appreciated by their editors.

Perhaps, journalists are just trying to keep up with some of their sources of news, some of them politicians, they are covering, and who are also carrying an affair.

And so maybe, their rivals to the woman may go after the journalist’s neck. But in all my years in journalism, I have not heard of a journalist being killed because of a woman either.

But I heard a story of a Filipino journalist, who used his position to have an unwanted sex with a woman not his wife. But what the husband was very mad about was the journalist’s brazenness of still mulcting money from the same woman after forcing himself to have sex with the woman. It is called “lagareng hapon” (a saw that cuts both ways) or “AC-DC” (attack-collect, defend-collect).

Since the journalist is still alive and still practicing his profession today, I surmised the husband thought “salvaging the journalist” is not worth a dime. Or maybe, the journalist is too good to evade the hired killer.

And the only other crime that a journalist can commit that I can think of is extorting or blackmailing their sources. In the U.S., the maximum penalty for extortion or blackmail is a fine of $10,000 (P440,000) or more plus restitution and incarceration or up to “15 years or more for each individual extortion attempt.”

MERE REPRIMAND FOR BLACKMAIL/EXTORTION CHARGES

In the Philippines, in the blackmail and extortion case of Fernando Martin O. Pena vs. Atty. Llolito G. Apariocio, A.C. No. 7298 [Formerly CBD Case No. 05-1565], June 25, 2007, the Supreme Court found the respondent lawyer liable for violation of Rule 19.01 and was meted out the penalty of reprimand with the stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with more severely.

While I give President Aquino credit for arresting Gen. Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan, I am disappointed with his dismissive demeanor, instead of showing outrage, when he was asked in his European trip about the killing of 20 journalists under his watch.

How will Aquino feel if he were told that there was no need to investigate the assassination of his martyred father, Sen. Ninoy Aquino, because the Manila Police suspected Ninoy of masterminding the Plaza Miranda Bombing because Ninoy was somewhere else in an unexplained location during the bombing?

The bombing killed a five-year-old child and The Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas and nearly wiped out the Liberal Party opposition that injured “Senator Jovito Salonga, Senator Eddie Ilarde, Senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Liberal Party president Gerardo Roxas, Sergio Osmeña, Jr., son of former President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Sergio Osmeña, Atty. Martin B. Isidro Councilor, Vice Mayor and Congressman for the City of Manila, and Ramon Bagatsing, the party’s Mayoral Candidate for the City of Manila.”

Of course, the blame on the bombing was pinned on President Marcos and the Communist Party of the Philippines under Jose Maria Sison. Both Marcos and Sison, however, blamed each other for the carnage.

If President Aquino will trivialize the widespread extra-judicial killings of journalists to defend his administration’s lackluster record in stopping the killing of journalists, it will only embolden the corrupt politicians to kill journalists, like houseflies, and justify the killing because some of the 32 journalists were “extorting or blackmailing them.”

JOURNALISTS TO SNAG ADVERTISEMENTS?

Granting without admitting that some of the journalists were joining the Mangundadato’s trip to the Commission on Elections to snag some advertisements from the Mangundadatos, I don’t see anything wrong with it. If anyone would be mad at the journalists, it would be the Mangundadatos, not the Ampatuans. But why would the Mangundadatos be mad at the journalists if the journalists would try to ask for advertisements from them when the journalists were doing the Mangundadatos a favor for promoting them in the media. Besides the journalists will only get a minuscule “15 to 20% commission” and duly receipted while the rest of the ad payment goes to the publishers and managers, who pay taxes out of their profit.

And even at the extreme scenario that the journalists extorted or blackmailed the Ampatuans, killing of journalists would still not be a commensurate penalty for retribution because as the Supreme Court ruled in an extortion/blackmail case, the lawyer was merely given a slap in the wrist – a reprimand.

So, I cannot really think of why Aquino would not empathize with the nearly two dozens of journalists killed under his watch although he is against death penalty.

While in Brussels, when asked about the human rights violations, Aquino went on  defensive on the killing of journalists in his country, which earned for the Philippines an unenviable reputation as the third most dangerous place for journalists, next only to Syria and Iraq.

He said, “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?”

For me, if journalists “perished because of other reasons,” even if they were accused of “extortion or blackmail,” still their killing or “salvaging” should not be justified because the penalty for this crime for extortion/blackmail in the Philippines is merely light, not capital punishment.

I personally know one of those killed, Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, my former colleague in Manila Bulletin. I met Bong a number of times in the Philippines. I hosted Bong when he visited Chicago, after Sept. 9, 2001. . And I can tell Aquino that when Reblando accompanied the Mangundadatos to cover a game-changing event when the Mangundadatos tried to contest the elections in the Ampatuan stronghold, Bong was neither there to solicit advertisement nor extort money from the Mangundadatos. Bong was there to cover a major event, just like the days when Manny Pacquiao would return to GenSan to a hero’s welcome every time Pacquiao brings home the bacon.

Unfortunately, Pacquiao never appreciated the effort of Bong Reblando and other journalists, who were killed. I learned Pacquiao did not even help support the scholarship of the survivors of the slain journalists. But this will be another topic of my column.

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