“Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” – Henry Anatole Grunwald
The crime scene says it all: the blood-spattered floor, a familiar face and body covered in white cloth. Death has once more claimed a brave journo in the Philippines.
Gerry Ortega, fondly called Doc Gerry, was a “Ramatak” radio commentator in Palawan. He was known for his no-holds-barred commentaries against mining in the island. Today, he was found dead in Barangay San Pedro, in a small second-hand shop that sells clothes. He suffered a gunshot wound in the head, the brutal finale of a life and profession given over to years of receiving death threats.
He’s the second in a string of cold-blooded murders perpetrated against journalists who dared speak against the rampant environmental rape of Palawan. The first victim was Doc Jerry’s friend, Fernando “Dong” Batul. Other journalists have reportedly been forced to leave Palawan due to their environmental advocacy.
It was reported that the gunman, a certain Marlon Dicamata, has been caught and is now under police custody. Apparently, not even the authorities know where this man lives. My former editor Inday Espina-Varona wrote in her blog, “Such is the way of hired killers, who shed identities as easily as they throw away murder weapons.”
In this country, such is the end of any and all who dare disclose the criminal activities of the powerful and the wealthy.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned recently of the increasing violence against journalists and media personnel.
The IFJ reportedly issued a list few days after a potential bomb attack against Danish newspaper Jyllens Posten was foiled. IFJ has tagged more or less 100 deaths of journalists, with causes ranging from targeted killings, car bomb attacks and crossfire casualties.
Pakistan tops the list of “the most dangerous zones for journalists in 2010,” followed by Mexico, Honduras and Iraq. In 2009, the most dangerous zones for journalists were the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan and Russia.
According to Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary: “The threats to journalists are everywhere and once again the shadow of impunity falls across the world of journalism. Governments must act now to hunt down the killers and make journalism safe, not just for the people who work in the industry but for democracy itself.”
IFJ confirms that “the deadliest region, for the third year running, was Asia Pacific with 38 journalists and media personnel killed.”
The freedom we now enjoy is built on the shoulders of men and women who are brave enough to tell and make sense of the truth.
The death of journalists weakens the structure of our democracy, and places the full weight of our freedoms on the shoulders of a struggling few.
If impunity continues to reign, a time will come when even the freedoms we enjoy will be the very weight that shall fall on our heads, leaving us in a continuing state of anarchy where only criminals are in power, free as could ever be to wreak havoc on our lives.
Remember Mogadishu or Somalia? It will be too late even for regret.
*Photos lifted from various news organizations.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the chief editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror. He is with the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and regularly writes literary reviews as a member of the Manila Critics Circle.