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Philippines April 14, 2006
H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Office of the President
Republic of the Philippines
Fax: (011.63.2) 735-6152
It is with sincere regret that the Overseas Press Club of America feels compelled to write to you to deplore the escalation of press intimidation in the Philippines . Even worse, we are dismayed to learn that your government now seems to be part of the problem.
We refer most recently to the admission on television by no less an institutional figure than Raul Gonzalez, Justice Secretary, that a secret list has been compiled of journalists “to be studied” by the authorities. In the words of a senior news professional in Manila quoted by The New York Times , the goal of this sinister insinuation is clearly “to promote self-censorship in the media,” a policy that flies in the face of the fundamental rights of the press and its audience in a lawful democracy.
In the context of lists, we draw your attention to another such manifest released last week in Vienna by the International Press Institute, which , for yet another year, has awarded the Philippines the status of the most dangerous country on earth for working journalists outside an active war zone. This roster, in the minds of many in the profession, could reasonably be defined as a “list of shame .” And on April 4, in a sadly familiar echo of nearly 70 unpunished murders of journalists since your country’s independence in 1986, part-time editor and columnist, Orlando Tapios Mendoza, was fatally shot by unidentified assailants as he was returning to his home in Tarlac. It is not established that his murder was connected with his journalistic work for the local Tarlac Profile and Tarlac Patrol newspapers, but according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, some of his recent reporting had been highly critical of the Philippine Guardian Brotherhood, a non-official military organization. His death should be thoroughly investigated, and his killers must be brought to justice.
In other acts of official intimidation, we bring to your attention an episode on February 24, 2006. On that day, a national emergency was declared , and the national police descended on the offices of the opposition newspaper, The Daily Tribune , where they imposed a highly intimidating presence for the duration of the decree.
In a separate incident on February 6, 2006, Dino Balabo, a reporter for the Manila Times and Mabuhay , was assaulted by the Malolos City police chief, Manuel Lucban, while Balabo was covering the demolition of shanty dwellings in that area.
Your Excellency , it was not so long ago that the Overseas Press Club of America and our press freedom colleagues applauded your announcement of measures to protect the media and bring to justice those who would abuse press freedom. Now we fear, in light of these developments, that you have given up on this cause — or worse, that you have yielded to the temptation to punish the messengers who bring bad news.
We hope that you will reply, reassuring us that you are still a champion of press freedom and that you are taking concrete steps to end the intimidating threat of “secret lists.”
Freedom of the Press Committee
Ignacio R. Bunye
Office of the Press Secretary
Arlegui Guest House
Malacanang Palace Compound
Republic of the Philippines
Albert F. del Rosario
Ambassador of the Philippines to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines
1600 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: (202) 328-7614
Ambassador Lauro L. Baja, Jr.
Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines
to the United Nations
556 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
Fax: (212) 840-8602
Kristie A. Kenney
U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines
Embassy of the United States of America
1201 Roxas Boulevard
Fax: (011.63.2) 522-4361
Quatorce Cebu Daily News