Philippines: President Aquino’s press freedom slip-up
Share this on

Philippines: President Aquino’s press freedom slip-up

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III was either star-struck or simply has aged considerably to forget his math and history.

Under the glare of camera lights and before a worldwide audience, Aquino tried to impress when asked what his administration has done to stop media killings and extrajudicial executions.  Instead, he fumbled.

He was unable give the press exact figure of the number of media killings under his administration during a press conference with visiting US President Barack Obama on Monday. And when he did cite a figure, it was way off the mark.

The president was apparently caught by surprise when a Fox News reporter asked him about the unabated media killings in the country. President Aquino  mistakenly said there were 52 journalists killed in the infamous Ampatuan massacre.  For the record, there were 32 journalists and media workers who were brutally murdered in 2009. 

By any standard, the massacre may be the most barbaric in the history of Philippine politics and even held the distinction of having the biggest casualty in the history of single assault against members of the press in the world.  But five years ago is hardly history. He was already a presidential candidate and was making pledges to provide justice for the victims of the massacre and all media killings.

If that is the case, then Aquino has failed.

Under his watch, the number of media killings even increased on an annual basis.  As it now stands, 26 journalists and media workers have been killed under his administration.  And the prospect of these media killings ending soon is definitely not encouraging.  Not when the Aquino administration reneges on his campaign promise to pass the Freedom of Information bill.  Not when he equates press freedom with the criticism he is getting from the media.

No Mr. President, it is not a criticism against your presidency.  It is about the fundamental right of the press to exercise this freedom that is being assaulted. It is not against the presidency. It is an indictment of past and present administrations that turn blind eye and deaf ears on the killings not only of members of the media but also of political dissenters and critics of government.

Unfortunately for him, the Philippine president made this slip-up with US President Barrack Obama by his side.

No amount of China-bashing and Obama-praising will hide these facts and realities on the ground.

Mr. President, just say so.  No hiding behind the slip.  It will show.