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?
BD: We hounded the government so hard about this for years. The government set up a special investigative unit to handle assaults specifically on journalists. It barely slowed things down. Investigations need to be carried out with local police, whose security or personal interests might be compromised. You can send down a federal investigator, who may not be as deeply committed to the case as a local prosecutor. It’s that kind of attitude, and that kind of approach, that has made the Philippines the country with the sixth-worst record in the world in terms of bringing killers of journalists to justice.
Special steps have been taken, and I suppose we could drum up some more. But frankly, who can stop two men from getting on a motorcycle on a busy weekday morning and following a radio announcer as he drops off this daughter at school, and then driving by and shooting him as he gets back in his car, which is a real-life scenario? And then the perpetrators are not brought to justice. It’s a question of political will, it’s a question of economic and social development, it’s a question of a pervasive gun culture. You have to see these killings of journalists, and the uninvestigated killings of many, many, many, many people in the Philippines, as part of a larger political failure.