By Juan L. Mercado

(IN THE Philippines) crimes against journalists, and the  impunity that surround such acts, show that the press is  as vulnerable here as it is in Latin America .”
InterAmerican Press Association Ricardo Trotti  gave this blunt assessment  before  141 delegates, from  nine countries, at  the  “Impunity and Press Freedom” in Manila.
“The press needs to denounce the most in those countries which can protect the least,” he added “It  is in countries, with weak democratic institutions where journalists are frequently murdered, and those responsible go unpunished.”
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and Southeast Asian Press Alliance organized the meeting to exchange  experiences of  other countries.
Since 1986,  some 71 Filipino  newsmen have been killed. Of these, 34 were cut down  during  President  Gloria  Macapgal Arroyo’s watch. There are few convictions.  In  Latin America ,  334  journalists were murdered in over a decade.  Seven  were  desparecidos ( the “disappeared” ) – a legacy of  Argentina ’s  brutal dictatorship.
“The number of crimes against journalists has not decreased”, Trotti said.  ”Organized crime is the major instigator”. So is corruption in government.
In Colombia , narcotics earns twice the country’s  gross national product. That illicit income taints whole sectors of society. “Don’t  ask where the cow was born,”  Argentina ’s Justice Eduardo Freiler advised  delegates.  “Ask instead  where it grazes.”
Over 30,000 were “salvaged” in Argentina over eight  years. As investigating judge, Freiler  is helping untangle  today  the cruel scandal of chiquitos desaparecidos: infants  given away once their “disappeared” mothers, who delivered in military gulags, were dispatched. Childless military families  often were adoptive parents.
In the Philippines, money  from warlords, companies and officials, cripples law enforcement, noted ex-defense secretary Ruben Carranza, now of the International Center for Transitional Justice.  Civilian paramilitary units, like Cafgu, “get  funding from political leaders like the Dimaporos and Eduardo Cojuangco”, he said.  Paramilitary  ride  shotgun for politicians,  mining companies  and  pearl  farms in Palawan .  Reparation for victims is ignored.
State tolerance or complicity in the killings  results  in “a sovereignty  of the  deaf and the dumb,” Supreme Court  chief  justice  Reynato Puno  said  in his key note address. These  cripple the press from providing  information, crucial for  a democracy.
“Until we do something to submerge this pernicious culture ( of impunity ), these attacks will continue to litter our collective consciousness with the corpses of people who were  bearers of truth,” Puno added.
“Impunity  results in  a form of journalism that  is less willing to expose the truth,” the delegates were told. To protect  staff,  some Mexican papers announced they would no longer report on drug trafficking. The  press surrenders  it’s role of watchdog  and substitutes  the superficial.
In “highly volatile societies with frail institutional network”, the press  must devise … ways to prevent  from being silenced”, editor  Maria Teresa Ronderos  of  Colombia  said.  Competing papers formed “alliances” to publish  commonly-investigated stories in massive corruption cases..To shield  staff, no  bylines were printed. . “Use precise moderate language. Better facts than adjectives.”
The Puno Court had been concerned by state failure and disinterest in bringing killers to account. Soldiers or policemen, who moonlight as executioners, were shielded by  gutting of the  writ of habeas corpus. Their  agencies stonewalled habeas corpus writs by simply denying they  imprisoned the victim.
The military here  also  got  government  to refuse to join 103 other countries in in the International Criminal Court, Carranza said.    Article 28 of the Rome Statutes provides for “command responsibility”, Yale University ’s Catherine Chung  pointed out.  Miltary  commaders and  superiors  would be criminally liable  for crimes committed by their forces. That’s the legal vacuum the  military  use in ducking questions on desparecidos like Jonas Burgos and others.
Taking a leaf from Latin America , the Puno Court  adopted the “writ of amparo”. This  remedy protects those whose  right to life, liberty and security  is  threatened. In these summary proceedings ban , mere denials.
The initial 14 writs forced the military to  produce persons they denied holding. “They didn’t want their camps searched”.  And the writ forced  identification of retired General Jovito Palparan as connected with desparecidos.
It’s too early to tell if the writ of amparo will work, said Justice Adolf Azcuna. Since 1970, Azcuna worked to get the writ into the Constitution.  But  it was only in 2008, that the courts started using the writ.
Journalists, meanwhile,  have  mustered defenses,  CMFR and other press groups got  the courts to transfer venue for trial to more neutral  Cebu  for the murder  of  journalist  Marlene Esperat and Edgar Damalerio. Training  to mustering legal panels have been used.
Private prosecutors  have proved invaluable in  beefing up  patchy, underfunded government prosecution.
“These murders can be stopped  only when  assassins, up  the mastermind are held accountable,” human rights advocate  Serena Diokno stressed.…
“Keep in mind that behind each (murder) there is a journalist with a first and last name who died for defending a truth,” Trotti said. There are widows. Orphans. Memory is important.”