By: Dexter San Pedro, InterAksyon.com November 25, 2013 3:09 PM
MANILA, Philippines -- A major media organization took Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma to task for describing the murder of journalists as “not really that serious,” saying it showed “how much press freedom and justice mean to this administration -- zilch.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines cited a report in the Philippine Star quoting Coloma as saying during a media briefing: "Kung ihihiwalay naman ‘yung Maguindanao figures, hindi naman talaga tayo 'yung lalabas na [most dangerous place for journalists]. Hindi naman ganu’n kaseryoso o kalala 'yung problemang 'yun (If we separate the Maguindanao figures, we would not really be the [most dangerous place for journalists]. The problem is not really that serious)."
Coloma was referring to the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, whose fourth anniversary was commemorated Saturday, in which 58 people were killed, 32 of them media workers.
This was the same statement criticized by journalists participating in Saturday’s commemoraton of the massacre in Bacolod City.
The NUJP has counted 157 meda killings since 1986, at least 18 of these committed since President Benigno Aquino III came to office in 2010.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, in a special report timed for the fourth anniversary of the massacre, gave an even higher count for Aquino’s first 40 months in office -- 23 -- calling it a trail of blood redder, thicker, and worse compared to the number of work-related media murders per year under four other presidents before him, including his late mother Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino and his immediate predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.”
But Coloma, sght for comment, said he did not mean to trivialize the deaths of journalists.
"I don't think I said it that way. I said there are questions on whether some or many of who were killed are bonafide practitioners. The full transcript of what I said will bear me out," he said.
In the transcript, Coloma took exception to the figures presented by media groups, notable the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, on media killings.
“We take exception to that number,” he said. “Unang-una, marami doon sa naiulat na media-related killings, hindi naman na-validate na sila ay mga media practitioners o bonafide media practitioners (First of all, many of those reported as media-related killings, it was not validated whether thy were media practitioners or bonafide media practitioners).”
He cited three cases where he said the victims were the driver of a media network, a so-called radio “blocktimer” selling cosmetic products and two writers of what he described as a “fly-by-night” newspaper.
In its statement, the NUJP said: "Going by Coloma’s twisted logic, 157 murders less the 32 victims of the massacre give us 125, a trivial figure. It could be that where extrajudicial killing has claimed the lives of hundreds of activists, environmentalists, human rights defenders, indigenous people, lawyers, clerics, religious and many others whose only crime was to speak their minds, their deaths unsolved and those responsible unpunished."
"Which also makes all too clear how this government regards human rights and free expression -- zilch," the group added.
The group suggested that Coloma “get in touch” with the families of the 125 victims and "advice them not to fret too much, that their loss and their grief are nothing serious."
"Then when you are done, do come back to us and remind us again how the murder of the bearers of truth, never mind the taking of life itself, is really not that serious," it added.