Gouging A Nation’s Eyes

by Juan L. Mercado

Does a bootlegged siren, in a silver Civic Honda car, explain why most killers of 172 journalists  evade conviction?President Benigno Aquino bans sirens for his convoy. Not Talisay City mayor Socrates Fernandez’s son: Joavan. He   scuffles with anti-narcotic agents, court officials, cops or neighbors. He wang-wangs from his Civic Honda with impunity.

The UN Commission on Human Rights cobbled a 54 word definition of impunity. Your dictionary uses three: “Exemption from punishment.”  About  97 percent for those who murdered  newsmen  evaded  conviction.

UN and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication seek a “new  multi-disciplinary approach” to the body count. The Philippines, Iraq  and  Somalia top  the  2010 Impunity Index  operated by  the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Index.monitors  trends, in countries, where journalists are serially  rubbed out as law enforcers falter. “Two of the world’s worst offenders are Russia and the Philippines”, CPJ  asserts.

Others in the Index are Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan .”Many present themselves as democracies with functioning law enforcement, e.g. India, Russia and, the Philippines.

“Impunity is having a broader effect, “CPJ points out. (It) effectively chokes off the flow of information.. Many Sri Lankan journalists fled into exile lest they  be targeted.

Self-censorship, in Mexico,  is so widespread  major events go uncovered. Filipino newsmen, who reside in political warlord dominated provinces, play it safe. They flag controversial reports to  metro-based colleagues.

Why are newsmen targeted? Sociologists, political scientists to psychiatrists asked at AIJC roundtables in San Juan, Cebu City and General Santos.  Why are these slayings rarely solved?  Why is there no public outcry?

Center for Media Freedom research into salvaging of newsmen started in 1991. The first reports of rubouts trickled in then. CMFR probed 32.murders since the 1986 People Power scrapped Marcos censorship.

“The Center found 22 were  killed in the line of duty. (There was) great variance of motives and perpetrators: … Post-Marcos regimes were  saddled with a politicized military,  police and judicial institutions. Add to this weaknesses of law enforcement agencies, corruption and lack of capacity for forensic investigation.

Many victims were broadcasters in the provinces. A number had hazy “blocktimer” credentials. CMFR then “did not find evidence of a pattern involving government officials…”

But this changed over time. CMFR noted a “remarkable spike” under President Arroyo. Out of 117 journalists kllings, 79 occurred during her watch.

The  Ampatuan town massacre (catapulted) “ the country from sixth to third on the Index,” CPJ  stated.  “The massacre overshadowed gains that Philippine authorities made, winning convictions in two journalist murders.”

Extra-judicial killings include student activists, peasant leaders, politicians, even  “commissars” in the local communist pogroms,  UN special rapporteur Philip Alston wrote. Given covert official backing and citizen complacency, as in Davao and Cebu, death squads operate with  impunity,” “

A killing costs about P5,000 (roughly US$100)….Many occur in ” in broad daylight, “Witnesses are not prepared to testify.”(Impunity) encouraged death squad killings to spread.

A culture of impunity builds up incrementally. The Philippines waffled on who collaborated with World War II Japanese occupiers.  This smudged the difference between Quislings and resistance, historian Frank Golay notes.

None were held accountable for the 3,257 salvaging victims and 70,000 prisoners of the “New Society, “Torturers of the Marcos era (rose) within the police and intelligence bureaucracy”, Alfred McCoy notes in his book: “Closer Than Brothers” (Cornell University).

“Under impunity culture and politics recast the past, turning cronies into statesmen, torturers into legislators and killers into generals.  No nation can develop without a sense of justice”

(“Policing America’s Empire: the U.S. the Philippines, and the rise of the surveillance state” is Prof.  McCoy’s latest  book. It sketches how the dark underworld of crime, subversion, vice and drugs here is linked to the bright, public world of politics, Ateneo sociologist John Carroll notes. That’d provide further imput for the UN-AIJC series.)

Examples of impunity guarantee repeat of abuse.  

In 2003, Justice Renato Corona wrote for the Supreme Court: The Marcoses’ “Swiss bank accounts (and) foreign foundation were set up to conceal the illegally acquired funds of the Marcos spouses. .  [They] failed to justify the lawful nature of their acquisition of the said assets.” No punishment, however, was meted.

Down the road, did that spur Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to shred the  plunder conviction of ex-president Joseph Estrada.  Does one pardon deserve another?

“For all the trappings of a national government…we conduct our affairs pretty much in the manner of Lapu-Lapu anfd Humabon,” the late historian Horacio de la Costa once mused. “(Today’s) congressman) who moves around with bodyguards is not much different from the datu surrounded by his retainers.”

Thus, many see the Ampatuan massacre trial as just another case, albeit at a monstrous scale. Still at large are 130 suspects. But it is more.

In the dock, is a centuries-old system of impunity crafted by the powerful and moneyed.  Judge  Jocelyn Solis-Reyes’  decision will affect our grandchildren’s future.

As that Civic Honda’s wang-wang proclaims: Impunity can gouge out the eyes of a nation.

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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