We see this kind of confluence of politics and journalism as a political reality; that’s part of the way the country works. Newspapers and radio stations are very often politically tied or are working for some sort of political agenda, and that’s where the violence comes from.
GM: Is there reason to believe in this case that the journalists who were in this caravan were supporters of this candidate?
BD: We’re still trying to winnow them out. We don’t know all the names of the reporters down there. Most of these people wrote for small local papers, maybe one or two radio announcers; there might have been stringers for the larger national papers. Typically, some would write for a newspaper who supported this one particular candidate. Others could be just people covering a news story—it’s the biggest thing going on in their little town, and why not go with this?
The threat of violence is very real. The reason the candidate himself wasn’t along on the ride is because he had been receiving death threats. He sent his wife, figuring no one’s going to kill a woman. So there was a story there, a legitimate story to cover—just the way people might ride in the airplane with a returning dissident to see what happens.
GM: Some media accounts have made reference to an ongoing Muslim insurgency. Is there any reason to think that played a role?
BD: There is that friction and that tension. But I don’t think this particular incident should be laid to that. This was two families, two clans, sort of going head to head about who’s going to get to be governor. It’s an incredibly lucrative position, incredibly politically important, one in which you can wield tremendous amounts of power and amass tremendous amounts of wealth. I don’t want to make light of this, but it’s more like Mafia families fighting over turf. You have to see it in that context of a local power struggle.
GM: What other steps would you like to see the government take over the next couple days or couple weeks?
BD: They’re obviously taking this seriously. President Arroyo hasn’t written this off or turned her back on it. In the Philippines there are accusations that the alleged perpetrator was her political ally, but I don’t think she would pull punches. I think she’s just as horrified by this as everybody else. I think you will see at least an initial aggressive investigative action on the part of the government.
Now what happens three months down the line is the real telling point. When the world has moved on and forgotten about this, what happens when the court system slows things down? Will people be brought to justice here? Will each individual shooter be brought in? Will the masterminds have to pay? Will they be jailed, or will they be free to walk around? All that determines the rest of the world’s response over the next week or two or three.
As the Committee to Protect Journalists, we’re focused on how many of our colleagues were killed, and what it is we can do for their survivors, and what the government’s going to do, and where do we get the funds to help them, and how do we pressure the government. But we also can’t act in a vacuum of the other realities. And we know that what happened was part of a much larger political problem in the Philippines.
GM: Given the way journalism and politics are entwined, are there specific measures that can be put in place to protect journalists?