MANILA, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 23: Filipino journalists and journalism students hold up mock coffins during the Remembrance Day Rally commemorating the 34 journalists massacred by paramilitary forces exactly three years ago on November 23, 2012 in Manila, Philippines. The slain journalists were part of a convoy traveling with the wife of a local politician who was going to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy. The Maguindanao massacre of Nov. 23, 2009, left 58 people dead, the highest number of journalists killed in a single incident anywhere in the world. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)
MANILA — Department of Justice Sec. Leila de Lima has given the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) wide latitude in helping the Aquino administration in the campaign against “extra-judicial killings” that victimized members of the Philippine press.
A delegation of NPC officers composed of Pres. Joel Sy Egco (Manila Times), Vice Pres. Benny Antiporda (Remate) and Dir. Boying Abasola (Balita/Manila Bulletin) on Friday met with the justice secretary at her office together with Prosecutor Gail Maderazo and Gilda Ibuyan of the Task Force on Administrative Order (AO) 35, to discuss the “renewed partnership” between the DOJ and the NPC as regards the issue of media killings.
“I am happy to inform our members and our colleagues in the Philippine press of the very positive result of the meeting with Sec. De Lima. It is one positive step towards addressing the problem of media killings and harassments that have been one thorny issue for all of us for a very long time already. For one, we have been given an active part in the conduct of investigation, prosecution and even ‘thawing’ cold cases,” Egco, the Times’ senior reporter, said.
Quoting De Lima, the NPC president said the press group was given a “free hand” in the handling of media killing cases, including acting as first official responders in case of such an unfortunate event.
“She asks us to provide real-time details and help in the first crucial 24 hours of a killing, such as determining possible leads, witnesses accounts or signed affidavits at best. Although investigation is left to police, our participation will be in bridging the usual gap between the victim’s family and the probers and building witness trust and confidence,” Egco narrated.
This development came as another radioman, Maurito Lim of Tagbilaran, Bohol, was gunned down Saturday morning. He is the latest addition to the growing number of journalists slain in the country since democracy was restored in 1986 and the 34th since Aquino came to power.
“His killing was an affront to press freedom and the report we got was that Mr. Lim, 60, was critical of the local drug syndicate in his area. He was clearly silenced. But beyond expressly denouncing his killing, we will come in as part of the Task Force through the NPC vice president, Mr. Antiporda,” according to Egco.
“Our renewed partnership with the Aquino government thru the DOJ’s TF AO-35 showed that despite contrary positions between the members of the press and the government on many issues, we can work together in addressing issues of mutual concern for both sides,” he added.
Pres. Benigno Aquino III, thru press secretary Herminio Coloma last October approved the membership of the NPC in TF AO-35, an inter-agency government task force mandated to solve all cases of “EJK” (extra-judicial killings) and other gross violations of human rights to include media killings and harassments with Pres. Aquino as overall chairman.
Its operation however is under the direct supervision of the justice secretary.
During Friday’s meeting, Egco bared that Sec. De Lima gave the NPC “near blanket authority” in helping the authorities immediately address any violent incident involving members of the press.
He added that the NPC is now readying a Memorandum of Agreement with the DOJ specifying the role of the NPC in the task force. The document will be signed in simple ceremonies at the NPC on Friday, February 20.
“In the meantime, we are calling on other press groups in the country to assist the NPC in any way they can so that swift and effective justice can be given to our harassed and murdered colleagues,” Egco said.
The NPC, Egco noted, had already designated the presidents of all local press corps affiliated with the club as the media’s “key persons” under TF AO-35.
“Their primary task is to establish the facts and circumstances in any incident of media killing and to report them immediately to the NPC for appropriate action by the authorities,” Egco said, adding:
“But the task of addressing media killings can be more effective if all press groups in the country are cooperating with each other.”