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Rush hour and news stories

It is nine o’clock in the evening in a rustic gray building in the middle of a chaotic port area, right in the heart of Manila, the Philippine capital. The deafening sound of huge printing machines slices into the air.

It is rush hour at the office of The Philippine Star, a Manila daily, as the next day’s paper goes to press. There are about 100 stories in a 100-page issue.

The news articles are as many and as varied as the reporters behind the stories. Numerous as the news stories are, however, the next day’s issue, as it is everyday, is incomplete.

There are still hundreds and hundreds of stories crying out to be written and millions of small voices waiting to be heard because hundreds of journalists are being silenced for trying to listen to these cries and for being the voice of these pleas.

This is true not only for this one newspaper, but for many other news agencies or individual journalists all over the Philippines.

This is the Philippine press today as it was decades ago: still struggling to be genuinely free despite the democracy that the Filipino people won more than 20 years ago.

Useless: journalist denied entry to a government event, Davao City. Photo by Keith Bacongco under a CC licence.

On 3 May, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Filipino journalists toiled the usual fare. There was no respite in the daily grind of chasing stories, unearthing injustice, recording society’s wrongdoings and chronicling both wars and victories.

In the meantime, the killings of journalists go on and on as the legal procedures of the cases filed in courts drag on. Libel suits are piling up as well as stories of harassment against press people.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 71 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1992. The number continues to increase because a culture of impunity prevails.

In commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) once again urged the government to put a stop to all media killings in the country.

‘We join our colleagues in demanding for an immediate and decisive action by the government in putting a stop to all media killings in the country and the swift justice for all victims of such act including those who have been subjected to harassment, threat and intimidation. Let us never forget the infamous Maguindanao Massacre which put our nation on the top among the most dangerous place in the world for media workers,’ NUJP said.

On 23 November 2009, 58 people, including journalists, died in a place called Maguindanao in the southern Philippines, under a morning sun and a clear blue sky. Some women were raped and some men were beaten. More than a year after, the perpetrators have yet to be convicted for their monstrous act.

It is nine o’clock in the evening in our newspaper office. The printing machines are busy completing tomorrow’s issue.  It’s the daily fare in the world of Philippine journalism.

And perhaps, too, on this same hour, in another place in the country, a journalist is running for safety or fearing for their life; a hired killer is preparing a move, a story is not seeing print because of a libel suit; a widow is crying herself to sleep because her husband has been killed for being a truth-seeking journalist; or a reporter is taking a bribe because it is the only means to survive.

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