PHILIPPINES: Journalist threatened for condemning colleague’s murder must be protected 

AHRC-STM-015-2012.jpgThe Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concerned that Ronald Allan Mascardo, editor and publisher of a local newspaper Dadiangas Balita, has received death threats via his mobile phone for condemning the murder of his colleague, Chris Guarin. Marcardo openly criticized those who masterminded the killing of Guarin at his burial ceremony on January 15.

In his speech (timecode: 01:33-01:49), Marcardo said, “It deeply hurts. What do they think about us journalists? Don’t we have family, wives, children? Only because of the personal business interest of the others, of their interest to earn a living, they kill people to feed their family?” A day after, he received threatening messages from sender +63946 4823367 on his phone:  “GIHAGIT MO ANG NAGPATAY KAY CHRIS GUARIN IKAW ANG SUNOD” (You are daring the killers of Chris Guarin. You will be next).

While Mascardo’s speech criticising Guarin’s killers was made in broad terms, it was still enough for him to get death threats. This clearly indicates the degenerating conditions in General Santos City, particularly regarding attacks on journalists. Furthermore, such threats not only deny individuals’ exercise of free speech, but also openly challenge local police; will they be successful in identifying those making threats?

The AHRC appreciates the deployment by the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO) of escorts to Mascardo, with some reservations however. In the past, the AHRC is aware that victims of threats had to cover the daily food and transportation allowances of the police escorts deployed for them, placing a heavy burden on the poor victims. The function and operation of these security escorts is the responsibility of the local police. Such experiences have decreased victim confidence that the provision of escorts could work effectively.

In fact, unless the escorts operate with the utmost professionalism and responsibility, their presence would have little meaning to local journalists, who have been carrying firearms to protect themselves. This common practice illustrates the stark reality that journalists have lost trust and confidence that their local police could protect them. The police force who failed to protect Guarin, the murdered journalist whose killing is the subject of Mascardo’s criticism, has yet to prove it is capable to investigate the killing and protect others from a similar fate.

The threat against Mascardo clearly illustrates the extent of lawlessness and insecurity the city has descended into, with the police taking few effective measures. Furthermore, when local journalists and ordinary people take action to resolve the murders of journalists, like raising reward money to identify those who masterminded Guarin’s killing, they are not acknowledged. In fact, the city’s local mayor, Darlene Custodio, claimed that such efforts were not helpful, and hampered the police investigation into Guarin’s murder.

Rather than being critical, the local police and city government should recognize journalists’ efforts to address these killings and threats. Where the state fails or neglects its duty to protect and punish, intervention by citizens to hasten investigation must be welcomed.

The AHRC also reiterates that the local police must reconsider their emphasis that Guarin’s murder and the threats on other journalists are not related to their profession. It is the police’s legal responsibility to investigate crimes regardless of who the victims are. The murders of Guarin on January 5, 2012 and Alfredo “Dodong” Velarde, Jr. on November 12, 2011 and the threats on their colleagues are serious crimes, which must be investigated effectively without regard to the victims’ profession or the possible motives of the criminals. Whether or not the motive for the murders was related to the victims’ work or to ‘personal business interest’ is irrelevant. The duty of the police is to ensure those experiencing threats to their lives are protected and to investigate crimes to ensure those who committed them are punished. We are deeply concerned that the police, obviously to dispel the reality that the exercise of press freedom and freedom of expression are being attacked, are consciously trivializing, if not abdicating from, their legal obligation to investigate crimes and to ensure perpetrators are identified.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-015-2012
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Threats and intimidation,