Just over a week ago, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists was observed. The annual observance, approved by the United Nations General Assembly to commemorate the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on Nov. 2, 2013, has not stopped the impunity.
Last Tuesday morning in Villasis, Pangasinan, Virgilio Maganes was shot dead as he was about to enter his residential compound. The two killers, on a motorcycle, escaped. Maganes, who wrote for the Northern Watch newspaper and was a commentator at local radio station dwPR, had survived an ambush in November 2016 by playing dead. The suspects at the time left a cardboard sign portraying him as a drug suspect. The attempt on his life did not deter Maganes from his work.
Maganes became the 18th journalist killed during the Duterte administration and the 190th since democracy was restored in 1986. The UN and press freedom advocates have pointed out that impunity develops when there is a failure to bring murderers to justice. From 2006 to 2019, the UN counts nearly 1,200 journalists worldwide slain in line with their work. In nine out of 10 cases, the killers go unpunished, the UN reported. In the case of Maganes, the 2016 attempt on his life, which could be linked to his killing, remains unsolved. Will his murder suffer the same fate?
The police command in the Ilocos Region has formed a task group to handle the case of Maganes. But a Presidential Task Force on Media Security is already in existence, and the murders and impunity continue. The UN noted that impunity is guaranteed to mean more murders, and is a symptom of the breakdown of law and judicial systems.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a message marking the special day to end impunity, declared: “If we do not protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered. When journalists cannot do their jobs in safety, we lose an important defense against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online.” UNESCO has also expressed concern that impunity “damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption and crime.”
Unless murderers are caught and brought to justice in this country, Maganes will not be the last media worker to be killed.