OPEN LETTER: It’s about the culture of impunity in our country!

3 June 2016

Dear President-elect Rodrigo Duterte,

That was quite a mouthful you unleashed on media Thursday night. We do appreciate your reminder that, yes, we journalists are not a uniformly lily-white breed, in fact none of us are, although we would not go so far as to consider ourselves in the same line of work as publicists, for theirs is a totally different field as you yourself pointed out.

It is true that what you describe as the “vultures” among us are, indeed, a major dilemma for our profession, and it is something that we have always acknowledged, even if there are those who conveniently overlook this. And yes, hard as it is for many people to believe, we – as an organization – do take efforts to convince colleagues, whether our members or not, that the side of right is, well, always right. Sadly, too, we cannot claim to have been totally successful in this score although this has not stopped us from always trying.

We also agree, as we have pointed out time and again, that corruption could be the reason why some journalists are murdered just as you also correctly pointed out that even the “righteous” get bumped off anyway for doing their jobs right, the acknowledgment of which we truly appreciate.

And yes, we wholeheartedly agree that even doing this job properly does not make us exempt from those who would seek to silence the truth.

Having cleared the air about that, we would like to say this:

We do and will always take exception to your sweeping generalization that “karamihan” of the fallen were done in because they were corrupt, for the simple reason that this is just not so. But even if it were, we maintain that nothing, not corruption, and certainly not truth-telling, can ever justify murder.

That is why we have laws and a government to ensure these laws are obeyed and, most importantly, to ensure the protection of each and every citizen. We are sure you agree that journalists, both the good and the bad, are citizens entitled to equal protection of the law.

This, Sir, is why we raise such a ruckus whenever a journalist is murdered. Because, again, we stress, nothing can ever justify murder.

We agree that it is not within your powers to provide each and every one of us security, nor did it ever occur to us to ask you to. But what we do expect, and what each and every Filipino deserves, is that government care enough to build a social atmosphere that ensures that murder is not resorted to as a means to redress grievance. And if, unfortunately, it does happen, this should not go unpunished. While you do not have control over the courts, it is perfectly within your powers to spruce up the agencies doing investigative and prosecutorial roles which are key in the search for justice.

Yes, Sir, we do and will demand this of you as well, in the name of all 174 of our colleagues who have been murdered since 1986 for it is part of your duty to ensure justice for them, as well as for the legions whose murders remain unaddressed, thus perpetuating the impunity with which those who do not value life continue to snatch it at whim.

This was something past administrations failed or simply did not care to do and we took them to task for it. We sincerely hope you will break this chain of apathy that continues to strengthen the culture of impunity in the country, so that our fallen colleagues and all other victims of crimes will finally begin to get justice. It is with this hope that we will ask you again and again over the next six years about murdered journalists, regardless of what they were and why they were killed.

Having said that, we do hope you will be willing to help us and other media organizations address the often onerous working conditions faced by so many of our colleagues in the frontlines, the long hours for meager pay and, at times, deliberate orders to violate ethics at the risk of losing their jobs, that can push the desperate and the weak towards becoming, as you say, “vultures.” And yes, lest we forget, also make good on your pledge to end contractualization, which victimizes so many of our colleagues in major outfits, both in the national capital and the provinces. In this way, we hope we can, together, help improve conditions for those among us whose realities make them most prone to corruption.

As for your dare to boycott you, we are very sorry but we will not, cannot, indulge you.
That is like telling the doctor not to take care of the sick. Besides, it was not a call made by the Philippine media, for while we may have our differences, as we have had with past presidents, it has never occurred to us to abdicate our duty, which is to keep watch on government and help ensure it does right by the governed and to scrutinize and ask the hard questions.

For serving the people is as much the mandate of each and every independent Filipino journalist as it is yours.


The Members of the National Directorate
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)