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PHILIPPINES: Protect journalist facing threats to his life

January 27, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-011-2012

27 January 2012
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PHILIPPINES: Protect journalist facing threats to his life

ISSUES: Freedom of expression; Human rights defenders; Threats and intimidation; Victims assistance & protection
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes with deep concern that a community journalist had been threatened for condemning the murder of his colleague in General Santos City. The threats made to him sent via his mobile phone cannot be taken lightly as there had been a pattern of targeted attacks against journalists there.

CASE DETAILS:

In our statement (AHRC-STM-015-2012), we already mentioned that journalist Ronald Allan Mascardo, editor and publisher of a local newspaper Dadiangas Balita, has received death threats via his mobile phone. The threat to him came after he openly criticized those who masterminded the killing in his speech during the burial ceremony of the killing of another journalist, Chris Guarin.

In his speech on January 15, 2012 (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).

Guarin was murdered in front of his wife and his daughter on January 5, 2012. For an analysis and details as to how the police failed to protect him and in investigating his murder, please read: AHRC-STM-004-2012.

After Mascardo received the threats, we are aware that the local police, the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO) had reportedly provided security escorts for him; however, we have reservations as to how these police escorts usually operate. In most cases, those who are being escorted take on the burden of providing food, accommodation and providing for the transportation of their escorts.

However, since no details are known as to how the escorts on Mascardo have so far operated regarding issues of resources, we reiterate our call to ensure that those escorts provided to this journalist are adequate and effective. They must be made available to this journalist, to his family member who may be attacked and those working for him as they deem it necessary to ensure their safety.

The practice of journalism in the city of General Santos, where most of those who were murdered in the Maguindanao massacre in November 23, 2009 had lived and practiced their profession, has since been in a most difficult situation in recent years. The journalists murdered in the massacre have included Alejandro "Bong" Reblando, Ian Subang and Marife 'Neneng' Montano. Some of the family members of those massacred victims had to leave their hometown due to continuing threats to their life in absence of an effective police protection.

Thus, the threat on Mascardo cannot be taken lightly. The police must also ensure that the identities of those who made threats on his life must be identified.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the concerned authorities mentioned below asking for their prompt intervention to ensure the security and safety of this journalist.

The AHRC has also written letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for their intervention.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

PHILIPPINES: Protect journalist facing threats to his life

Name of journalist facing threats: Ronald Allan Mascardo, editor and publisher of a local newspaper Dadiangas Balita in General Santos City.
Details about his threats: He received threats via his mobile after he made a speech against those involved in the murder of another journalist, Chris Guarin. Guarin was murdered in front of his wife and daughter on January 5, 2012.

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the threats to the life of Ronald Allan Mascardo, whose details are mentioned above. I am aware that the threats on Mascardo came after he openly criticized those involved in the murder of Chris Guarin.

Guarin, publisher and editor-in-chief of a daily community newspaper Tatak News, was earlier shot dead at 10pm on January 5, 2012 in the same city. During Guarin's burial ceremony on January 15, Mascardo criticized those who allegedly 'masterminded' his murder. In his speech he was reported to have 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).

We are deeply concerned that Mascardo is now being targeted because of his criticism against those involved in the murder of Guarin. However, we see this not solely as an attack on Mascardo's exercise of free speech as an individual and as a journalist, but also openly challenged the police establishment and the local government of General Santos.

We therefore urged you to ensure that investigation on who had made threats on him is adequately investigated upon. As you are aware, it is the primary responsibility of the police to ensure the security and safety of Mascardo, his family and those working for him, knowing full well of the threats on him. While we appreciate the police provision of security escorts on him, however, we have reservations as to how police escort operates.

Thus, we urge that adequate resources must be allocated to ensure the safety of Mascardo and that of his family. Also, we urge you to ensure that effective and adequate investigation in determining those who are responsible in the murder of Guarin is also conducted. We are of the opinion that those who made threat on Mascardo could also have responsibility into the pre-meditated murder of Guarin.

We trust that you take action in this matter promptly.


Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Benigno Aquino III
President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Manila 1005
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 736 1010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80

2. Ms. Loretta Ann Rosales
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
E-mail: chair.rosales.chr@gmail.com

4. Director General Nicanor Bartolome
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
E-mail: ruth_cossid@yahoo.com

5. Ms. Leila de Lima
Secretary
Department of Justice (DOJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
E-mail: soj@doj.gov.ph


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)


 

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-011-2012
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.