Philippine press organisations demanded justice after reporters were among 21 people murdered on Monday in a politically motivated massacre in the lawless south of the Southeast Asian nation.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said 12 of the 21 people killed were reporters accompanying members of a prominent political clan as it went to register for national elections.
”It is incumbent on government to give swift justice to the victims. This is a direct challenge to our efforts to strengthen democracy in this country,” NUJP spokesperson Jaime Espina said.
National Press Club of the Philippines president Benny Antiporda said President Gloria Arroyo had to prove she could deliver justice for the victims.
”The government needs to do something about this culture of impunity,” he told Agence France-Presse, referring to the widespread belief that the government failed to prosecute those who attacked journalists.
The reporters from various local news outlets had joined a convoy from the Mangudadatu political clan when they were kidnapped on Monday morning on the southern island of Mindanao.
The bodies of 21 members of the convoy were later discovered, some of them mutilated and beheaded, according to the military and relatives of the victims.
The journalists were covering the filing of the candidacy of a member of the Mangudadatu clan, which is known to have a long-running feud with a powerful rival family that victims’ relatives have blamed for the massacre.
One journalist who narrowly avoided the incident, Joseph Jubelag, editor of the Mindanao Bulletin, a local weekly, said he was originally meant to be part of the convoy.
But Jubelag told Agence France-Presse he decided not to go on when he was told by some soldiers that mysterious men had visited the guesthouse where the reporters were staying, asking for the names of the journalists accompanying the Mangudadatu clan.
”I was alarmed. I decided finally not to proceed,” he said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report this year that the Philippines was among several countries where media workers were murdered with impunity.
It ranked the situation in the Philippines as the sixth worst in the world, ahead even of war-torn Afghanistan. It said 65 journalists had been killed in the Philippines since 1992. — AFP