In the span of 12 days, four journalists in four provinces were attacked by unidentified gunmen. Three of them died, and one was seriously injured. If this murderous spree does not set alarm bells ringing in the corridors of Malacanang, perhaps there aren't any alarm bells in place?
The spree started a week after Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma downplayed international criticism of the killing of journalists in the Philippines. At one point, he said that if the 32 media-worker victims in the 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, were removed from the list of journalists killed, because the massacre was a special case, then the problem wouldn't be as serious. "Hindi naman ganun kaseryoso o kalala yung problemang yun (That problem won't be as serious or as bad)," he told reporters.
Coloma has since backtracked on that insensitive statement. Now he has more backtracking to do.
On November 29, in Valencia, Bukidnon, radio anchor Joas Dignos fell to assassins' bullets. On December 7, in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, radio station supervisor Michael Milo was killed while he was riding his motorcycle. On December 10, in Iloilo City, radio reporter Jonavin Villalba was shot at as he was entering the gate to his house; he managed to survive. And on December 11, in Tagum, Davao del Norte, Rogelio Butalid was shot outside his radio station soon after he had signed off from his radio programme.
It is not yet clear whether each of these four incidents is work-related. Dignos had taken to recording his hard-hitting commentary because of previous death threats. Just last June, a grenade was thrown at his radio station. Butalid ran stinging commentary, too, but was also involved in barangay politics. Villalba was not a radio anchor, which prompted his station manager to wonder whether a message was being sent. But the laws of probability should tell us that at least one or more of the four incidents must have been provoked by work-that is, by radio reporting or commentary that did not please certain parties.
In Camp Crame, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima said initial investigation did not yield a pattern that would have linked the three killings. "At this early stage of investigation, there are no peculiar indications of a link that can connect the three incidents," he said Thursday.
That may be true, but we can see a pattern-and it is hard to miss.