GETTING JUSTICE for the victims of journalist killings, extra-judicial killings and human rights violations has been a difficult task in countries like the Philippines despite the existence of an allegedly vibrant press community and civil society.
With the continuing problems resulting from impunity—the inability of the state to punish killers and criminals and the weakness of the rule of law, the fight for justice led by press freedom advocacy groups and human rights organizations has moved at a snail’s pace. The few murder cases filed against the killers of journalists in the Philippines have taken at least a year to resolve resolution.
Despite the reforms initiated by Chief Justice Reynato Puno to restore the court’s integrity and eradicate impunity, many powerful personalities involved in the cases of media harassment and journalist killings continue to take advantage of the sorry state of the Philippine judiciary—its minute budget, its overworked staff, its clogged dockets, its poor archival system, its dependence on testimonial evidence, et cetera.
These same circumstances are true of other countries too. Regardless of a country’s economic power or its geography, an ineffectual judicial system—and the culture of impunity that it helps create—inevitably leads to the degradation of democracy and press freedom.
Free expression advocates, journalists and human rights defenders around the world have proposed a number of measures to counter impunity and have not been short of ideas on how to promote justice and the rule of law. The continuing exchange among concerned groups has also helped build a worldwide counter-impunity network.
In the Philippines, the counter-impunity campaign involves initiatives to reform the problematic criminal justice system. Press freedom advocates and legal experts have proposed the amendment of the Revised Penal Code and the Rules of Court; modifying the witness protection program law; training forensics experts and police investigators; and reviewing the prosecutorial system. This is an ongoing campaign that hopefully can bear fruit under the new administration in which some media practitioners have assumed critical posts.
This May 31, press freedom advocates and media practitioners involved in the counter-impunity campaign will again gather at the general meeting and strategy conference of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Emerging trends in the continuing attack against press freedom and free expression worldwide will be discussed and analyzed. And, hopefully, new campaign strategies that will strengthen the counter-impunity campaign can be developed.