PHILIPPINES: Filipino journalists face brutal death squads

Recent slaying of columnist takes murder toll of journalists to 16 since 2004

Taipei Times
Monday, April 4, 2005

Manila -- The brutal execution-style murder of another journalist in the Philippines recently has highlighted a culture of violence that has become the accepted norm in this predominately Roman Catholic Southeast Asian nation of 84 million people.

The slaying of columnist Marlene Ezpperat last week took the toll of journalists murdered since the beginning of last year to 16, yet not one person has been put behind bars for any of the killings.

The deaths of media people overshadow a wider, more insidious cancer which human rights activists describe as the "culture of impunity."

They say it is a culture that tolerates the use of death squads to eliminate criminal elements, where policemen are rewarded if they "permanently neutralize" crooks and where human rights activists, lawyers, political and trade union officials are frequently gunned down by hired killers.

Jessica Soto the executive director for Amnesty International Pilipinas says the Philippines has an "appalling" human rights record.

"You can't expect much in a country where you have a climate of impunity coupled with a weak legal system and a government that appears unwilling to do anything," she told reporters.

In the southern city of Davao death squads are said to have been responsible for the deaths of some 70 people, many of them criminals, so far this year.

Since 1998 over 300 people have been murdered in Davao City by so-called death squads according to Amnesty and local human rights groups.

Since the beginning of this year 32 members of "progressive" parties and "people's" organizations have been murdered throughout the country.

In Cebu City policemen are given a 20,000 pesos (US$370) cash reward if they "permanently neutralize" criminal suspects.