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Publication Date : 12-04-2014
The World Bank says the Philippines is poised to remain the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia this year, as President Benigno Aquino III’s administration ramps up infrastructure and reconstruction spending to beat the clock in the last two years of his term.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has announced it has upgraded the Philippines’ aviation safety rating to Category 1 - a move that would allow Philippine air carriers to expand not only their operations in the United States but also their participation in the booming Philippine tourism industry. And in another piece of good news, the European Union announced that Cebu Pacific Air has been granted approval to fly to Europe, becoming the second local air carrier after Philippine Airlines to potentially benefit from the significant market of European tourists and continent-based overseas Filipino workers availing themselves of faster flights to and from the Philippines.
The presidential office is only too happy to tout these developments - further proof, it would seem, that we are firmly on the road to greater economic prosperity and social wellbeing. If not yet on the micro level, where poverty rates have remained essentially unchanged, then at least in terms of the macro numbers, credit upgrades and fulsome reviews that the President regularly gets from international observers for his handling of the economy.
Alongside this rosy picture, however, is a chilling fact: The Philippines remains one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. Scores of media practitioners have been killed, the resolution of their cases is mostly up in the air, and there appears to be no end in sight.
The most recent atrocity is the shooting of Rubylita Garcia, 52, a correspondent of the tabloid Remate, who, according to a report in this paper, died five hours after two gunmen shot her in front of her 10-year-old granddaughter in her house in Bacoor, Cavite. She is the 20th journalist killed under the Aquino administration, and the 160th since the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, says the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international watchdog, blasted out the grim statistics to the world in a report last year: “In the Philippines, a country long plagued by deadly, antipress violence, CPJ confirmed that three journalists were killed in reprisal for their work, and is investigating the motive in another six murders. Although it is difficult to determine the motive in many cases in the Philippines, the total number of journalist killings was the highest in four years.”
For this shameful record, the Philippines is now mentioned in the same breath as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Brazil, Mali and Russia - countries where freedom of speech and of the press is deemed under threat from the unabated assault on media practitioners, in particular, and those outspoken enough to follow their lead, in general.
Any way you look at it, this is not a grouping in which a country would want to be included. It’s a particular stain on a country like the Philippines that proclaims itself republican, democratic, and an exemplar of hard-won freedom after the universally hailed Edsa revolution of 1986.
It is not just that the Philippines is saddled with the horrific memory of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which 32 media workers, among others in a group, were killed in one fell swoop. The greater injustice has been the slow - or, in many cases, nonexistent - prosecution of such crimes, resulting in a culture of impunity that continues to embolden criminals and their shadowy backers to expand their bloody tally year after year.
Before expiring, Garcia reportedly expressed the suspicion that the chief of police of Tanza town may have a hand in the attack. Conrado Villanueva, the police chief, has been told to step down pending the investigation into the shooting - “administratively relieved, although he is not a suspect,” said the Philippine National Police. It’s a fair bet that, as soon as the headlines die down, the case will fall as usual into the treacherous cracks in the justice system - one more unsolved media killing to add to the abysmal reputation of the Philippines in this regard.
It’s time the Aquino administration realized that no amount of economic window-dressing will hide the bloodbath that’s going on in our midst.