President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500
As you are about to make an official visit to the Philippines on November 18 and 19 for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to its concerns about the safety of journalists in the country.
November 2 marked the United Nations’ International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists and Reporters Without Borders asks that you remind your Philippine counterparts of their obligations to protect journalists from violent attacks and murder. As an important economic partner of the Philippines, the United States can and must urge the Philippine government to follow through on its promises to protect journalists and freedom of the press, which is one of the pillars of a vibrant democracy, itself a building block of sustainable development.
The Philippines are ranked 141st out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index, with a total of 7 journalists killed this year, 3 of which have been confirmed to have been killed in relation to their work. November 23 will mark the 6-year anniversary of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, when 32 media professionals were murdered by a private militia owned by the local governor’s family on the southern island of Mindanao. Despite efforts to obtain justice for the victims’ families, the trial of those believed to be responsible for the murders has yet to produce any convictions. As this anniversary approaches, it is important that you raise the serious issue of journalists’ safety and the need to end impunity with your Philippine counterparts.
In 2015, three journalists were killed in just 2 weeks. On the evening of August 27 2015, radio presenter Cosme Diez Maestrado was shot and killed near a shopping center in the city of Ozamiz, approximately 500 miles from Manila. Maestrado died before reaching the hospital. The police have reportedly identified four suspects through footage they recovered from a CCTV camera near the scene of the murder. According to the Special Investigation Task Group (STIG), the assailants were hired killers from Metro Manila. The suspects have yet to be taken into custody.
Maestrado worked for the local radio station dxOC in Ozamiz. He was known for his hard-hitting comments and scathing criticism of corrupt local officials. He had survived a similar attack in 2011. The police opened an investigation into Maestrado’s murder but no action has been taken since. Maestrado was just 46 years old when he was killed.
One week earlier, on August 19, Teodoro “Tio Todoy” Escanilla was shot multiple times in front of his doorway. Escanilla was 59 years old and a presenter for the radio show “Pamana ng Lahi” on DZMS. He was also the spokesperson of Karpatan, an NGO defending human rights in Sorsogon province, as well as the local representative for the Anakpawis party, a populist political party supporting farmers’ rights.
The day before, on August 18, another journalist was murdered: 65 year-old Gregorio “Loloy” Ybañez. He was the president of the Davao del Norte Press and Radio-TV Club (DNPRC) and editor of the weekly publication Kabuhayan News Services. He, too, was shot multiple times as he was coming home.
The Philippines must act to make sure these murders do not go unpunished. Reporters Without Borders urges you, Mr. President, to press upon your counterparts that this climate of impunity is intolerable in such an important US ally and economic partner.
I thank you in advance, Mr. President, for the careful attention you give to this letter.