Journalists easy targets in the Philippines

The suspension of a governor caught on video assaulting a radio announcer highlights the plight of reporters.

I suppose provincial governor Jocel Baac thought he had got away with it, when no sanction came immediately after his assault on radio announcer Jerome Tabanganay.

Baac burst into the studios of radio station DZRK and attacked Tabanganay with a microphone 13 months ago, angry at the station’s reporting on illegal logging in
Kalinga province and the resurgence of Jueteng – an illegal numbers game, once favoured by former (disgraced) President Joseph Estrada.

But one thing Baac didn’t know when he struck Tabanganay was that a webcam was rolling and caught the whole episode on camera, which was then posted on YouTube.

And a year later Baac discovered the reality of the Shakespearean line: “Truth Will Out” when President Benigno Acquino suspended him without pay for the attack, warning others that similar behaviour would be dealt with more severely.

In some respects Baac’s behaviour was not unusual, in that journalists have long been seen as easy targets in the Philippines if they dare to reveal or simply speak out against corruption or criminal activity.

It has frequently been declared one of the most dangerous places to work. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 72 journalists have been killed in the last 10 years alone in the Philippines, a figure second only to Iraq.

The worst single attack on journalists was the Mindanao massacre in 2009 when 31 journalists were among 57 people killed allegedly by members of a powerful clan.

So perhaps Jerome Tabanganay should feel relieved that a smack on the face with a piece of broadcasting equipment was the only injury he received for just doing his job.

While the Philippines is ostensibly a democracy, politics and corruption frequently go hand in hand, along with impunity.

Killers are in the back-pockets of those in power. Anyone who gets in the way gets disposed of, and those responsible get away scot-free.

At least that has been the way up to now.

Acquino has pledged to wipe out corruption in his term in office, saying that the illegal activities of his predecessor Gloria Arroyo are over.

He recently told a meeting of the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank: “Here is a country determined to turn the corner by instituting genuine, wide-ranging, meaningful reform, and acting on its belief that good governance is the bedrock of equitable process.”

Acquino’s given his word that the international community could come back at a later date to see how much progress is made.

A halt to the number of media assaults and murders would be a good start.