I hope I won’t ‘disappear’ like Jamal Khashoggi

“If we believe that murder is wrong and not admissible in our society, then it has to be wrong for everyone, not just individuals but governments as well.” – HELEN PREJEAN, Dead Man Walking

NEW YORK CITY – I hope I won’t “disappear” if I write critical stories against the Philippine Government even if I am in the United States.

Journalists around the world are probably expressing the same concern after brave Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared and believed to have been murdered when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018.

The journalist’s mysterious disappearance has spawned an international diplomatic crisis and is currently the “talk of the town” in the global media.

Khashoggi has written extensively for the Washington Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving.

Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the billionaire Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Like Khashoggi, we also visit our Philippine Consulate from time to time to interview Consulate officials and cover art, cultural, musical, and political events even if in the stories we write, we critically call the attention of government officials concerned over some reported malpractices and suspected acts of graft and corruption.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the crown prince.

The kingdom has called such allegations “baseless,” but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

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I have written several critical articles against the extra-judicial killings (EJK) in the Philippines, but not against the person of Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who has been known to be sensitive to media criticism especially those who broadcast and write about the EJK involving suspected drug pushers and users mostly in the slum areas.

Based on the figure released by a joint report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), 85 cases of attacks against journalists have been recorded since Mr. Duterte assumed office in June 2016.

This includes the killing of 9 journalists, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attack, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies.

Malous Mangahas, executive director of the PCIJ, said in a forum during the World Press Freedom Day in May early this year, the number “far exceeds those recorded under four presidents before him. Separately and together, these 85 cases have made the practice of journalism an even more dangerous endeavor under Duterte.”

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The nine media killings under Duterte’s administration is higher compared to the numbers of slays during the first 22 months of other presidents: five during President Benigno “Noy-Noy”Aquino III’s time, five under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, five cases under President Fidel Ramos and three cases under President Joseph Estrada.

Even if Mr. Duterte is known to be notoriously allergic to media criticism and does not mince words when issuing threats against reporters, we are confident he won’t go to the extent of violently muzzling journalists like me who want only to help the Philippine government and not to destroy the president’s reputation.

We reiterate that journalists are partners of Mr. Duterte and other officials in government in nation building, not enemies that agitate to topple the administration through subversive means.

We support the ongoing international efforts to investigate Khashoggi’s case and bring to court the perpetrators.

May his family recover his body, dead or alive.

 

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