About two dozen journalists attend the two-day seminar of security and human rights reporting sponsored by the European Union in Davao City in Mindanao. The seminar ended on Thursday, April 7, 2011. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 7, 2011) – Some two dozen Filipino journalists in Mindanao have finished Thursday a two-day seminar on security and human rights reporting sponsored by the European Union (EU).
The seminar, held in Davao City, was part of the EU-Philippines Justice Support Programme (EPJUST), which aims to assist Philippine society in bringing an end to extralegal killings and enforced disappearances through technical assistance and capacity-building.
EPJUST activities are designed to contribute to the effective investigation, prosecution and trial by the competent Philippine authorities of persons involved in any way in extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.
Davao City is one area in Mindanao where hundreds of people, mostly suspected criminals and thieves, have been killed by the shadowy group called “Davao Death Squad.”
Joseph Erson Reyson, a technical security expert for EPJUST, spoke personal security and safety for journalists and advised them to take extra careful in their coverage of situation in Mindanao.
“Common sense is very important in our daily security, especially journalists covering Mindanao. We should always remember that we responsible for our own security and the best way to stay safe is to avoid trouble in the first place,” he said. “We must always be aware of our environment and be methodical and disciplined in our daily work and most importantly is for us to adhere to protocols and other standard operating procedures.”
Reyson cited the kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf of a television reporter Ces Drilon in Sulu in 2008. Militants intercepted Drilon and her two cameramen Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama, including their guide Professor Octavio Dinampo while pursuing an exclusive story about the Abu Sayyaf.
Drilon works for the television giant ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation while Dinampo teaches Political Science at the Mindanao State University. They were released several weeks later after private negotiators reportedly paid huge ransom to the Abu Sayyaf.
“You must follow your instincts and learn to notice details about people, always know where you are going, knowledge about work area, always stay a low profile and avoid ostentatious show of affluence or influence, establish routines and avoid fixed patterns, be alert, know own ability.”
“Do not ignore unusual or strange circumstances, do not place self in situations to attract threat, understand or learn various cultural differences and sensitivities in the area where you resides, cultural awareness is also important for journalists who cover different areas in Mindanao,” Reyson said.
Romina Santa Clara, EPJUST human rights expert, also discussed various subjects on human rights and other security issues. A case study she wrote in 2008 won the Europeaid Communication Award for Asia. The local strategy and tools on human rights mainstreaming she developed for the EU Delegation-Manila was also cited as good practice.
Santa Clara, one of EPJUST three key experts, has about 20 years of experience in gender equality and human rights approach to development, involving field work with civil society organizations and national human rights institutions and working groups in the Philippines and Asian countries.
EPJUST also invited veteran journalists Jason Gutierrez, of the Agence France-Presse; Alma Carpio, associate editor of Philippine Free Press and president of IT Journalist Association of the Philippines; and documentary photographer Jess Aznar.
Gutierrez said: “Despite the threats to journalists, the free press must remain ever vigilant, because we are the vanguards of the public's right to know, of critical discourse. We must make every effort to fight for transparency.”
“It is unacceptable in one of Asia’s most freewheeling democracies that individuals, including journalists, should continue to be killed or abducted with impunity for political reasons. When this becomes routine, however, the paradoxical tendency is for media to no longer treat such crimes as the gruesome anomaly that they are. Yet one of the five pillars of the justice system is the community, and it is media that inform the community. That is why information needs to be free.”
Many journalists who attended the seminar reported receiving death threats and intimidation from people affected by their news stories. But they still continue their job despite the threats. In 2009, at least 32 journalists were among 57 people brutally murdered in Maguindanao province in Mindanao in the worst political killing in the country. The journalists were accompanying a political caravan when they were stopped by some 200 gunmen who were allegedly followers of the powerful Ampatuan clan.
The Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, reported that hundreds of leftist politicians, political activists, journalists, and outspoken clergy have been killed or abducted since 2001 – the time that President Gloria Arroyo rose from power after deposing President Joseph Estrada in a military-backed, people-power revolution.
Most of the killings had been blamed to the military, but so far only 11 people have been convicted for these extrajudicial killings, two in 2009. No member of the military active at the time of the killing has been brought to justice for such crimes.
In an April 2009 follow-up report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston observed that while the Arroyo government has taken some steps to address extrajudicial killings, it fails to implement needed reforms such as institutionalizing the principle of command responsibility. He also noted that the military has not changed its counterinsurgency methods to eliminate the likelihood of unlawful killings.
At the end of the seminar, EPJUST distributed to journalists trainer booklets and video discs, including handbooks on human rights.
The EPJUST is the European Union's direct response to Manila’s request for technical assistance in addressing the problem of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. EPJUST is borne out of a Financing Agreement signed between the EU and the Philippines in October 2009 with a timeframe of 30 months (18 months for implementation and 12 months for closure activities). (Mindanao Examiner)