NEWS FEATURE (dpa German Press Agency)

In the past month, three journalists were killed in the Philippines,
one of the deadliest places in the world for media professionals.
Despite the risks, journalists vow to continue seeking the truth.

Manila (dpa) – Broadcaster and newspaper publisher Boy Conejos
clutched his rosary as he joined hundreds in burying a friend and
colleague who was shot dead outside his home in the southern
Philippines.

Gregorio Ybanez, also a broadcaster and newspaper publisher, was
gunned down August 18 in the southern province of Davao Del Norte,
about 950 kilometres south of Manila. He was one of three reporters
slain in a span of two weeks.

Conejos said Ybanez had been receiving death threats before he was
murdered, allegedly due to exposes of anomalies believed to have been
perpetrated by the management of an electricity cooperative in Davao
Del Norte.

Conejos himself has also been receiving death threats since 2013, due
to his commentaries and reports about the cooperative’s financial
status.

“Sometimes, a prayer is your only shield against all these threats,”
the 68-year-old Conejos said, chuckling. “I just pray to God that
nothing will happen to me.”

Ybanez was buried on Saturday, as a columnist was shot dead in the
northern Philippines, bringing to seven the number of reporters
killed in 2015.

Thirty-one media workers have been slain since the President Benigono
Aquino III became president in 2010.

The relentless attacks against the media have made the Philippines
the third most dangerous place in the world for journalists, despite
having what is touted to be the freest press in Asia, according to
the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In 2009, 32 media workers were among those killed in the worst
political massacre in the Philippines. The alleged masterminds of the
brutal attack have been detained, but the trial has dragged on for
more than five years.

Many of the media killings have remained unresolved, and this has
“emboldened those bent on stifling a free press through the gun,”
said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s South-East Asia representative.

“The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world to
be a journalist precisely because the killers of media members nearly
always walk free,” he said.

“It’s a combination of a failed justice system and a lack of
high-level political will to address the problem.”

The government has condemned the recent spate of attacks on the
media, and stressed that the police have been directed to solve the
crimes.

“The Aquino administration has steadfastly advocated and implemented
a policy of ‘no prior restraint’ on the mass media,” Communications
Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

Nearly 70 per cent of media killings in the Philippines were found to
be related to the victims’ work in the press, according to the Center
for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Despite the attacks, the Philippine media has been uncowed.

“The threats are part of the job,” Conejos noted. “If we stop what
we’re doing, how will people know what is really happening in
government and the community? When you’re in media, you have to be
prepared for everything, including death.”

With national elections coming up next year, there are fears that
attacks against the media will escalate as journalists investigate
politicians seeking office.

Community journalists face higher risks because the subjects of their
exposes often know where they live and work, and have easy access to
them, said Alwyn Alburo, vice president of the National Union of
Journalists in the Philippines.

“Reporting is usually a life and death situation for the community
journalists,” he said. “The sad thing is they don’t get the same
perks as national journalists, their pay is usually low and they are
not regular employees.”

The poor working conditions often lead community journalists to take
on other jobs to augment their income, but that can create
complications that increase their risks, Alburo said.

Some reporters moonlight as communication consultants to politicians
or companies and government agencies that they sometimes have to
report about, while others are members of academia or corporations.

Ybanez was a director on the board of the electricity cooperative
that he was reporting about. He even filed a complaint against
management for alleged anomalies.

The journalists’ union is planning a series of safety and training
workshops around the country ahead of the election campaign coverage,
focusing on hotspots where violence frequently occurs.

It has also set up a system where journalists can report threats,
which the organization in turn forwards to its international
counterparts.

But they do not advocate that threatened journalists carry weapons to
defend themselves.

“Arming ourselves would only create the perception that journalists
are combatants,” Alburo said.

The CPJ stressed the need for the country’s justice system to provide
protection for threatened journalists, who would otherwise have no
recourse but to hide or employ bodyguards or arm themselves.

For Conejos, carrying a firearm is not an option despite the threats
against him.

“I only carry my rosary. I’m an old man, maybe they will pity me and
not kill me,” he said. “Besides, if it’s your time to go, it’s your
time to go.”

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