Cartoon by Joseph Alvin Tibudan

The Philippine Department of Justice (DoJ) recommended recently the filing of murder charges against former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes in connection with the killing of broadcast journalist-environmentalist Gerry Ortega on Jan. 24, 2011 on a highway in Puerto Princesa City.

Earlier, the victim’s daughter, Micaella, had called on Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, DoJ Secretary Leila de Lima and President Noynoy Aquino to hasten the process of finding justice for dad.”

“It has been more than one year since the murder of my father, Dr. Gerry Ortega. It has been two months since the murder case was submitted for resolution at the Department of Justice. The family is still waiting for the DoJ to release its decision,” she said.

Micaella’s terse statement apparently prompted the DoJ to act immediately on the case. Last week, it recommended the filing of murder charges against Reyes.

While it is encouraging to note that the DoJ acted comparatively fast on this case, we are, at the same time, dismayed by the slow action or inaction by the government on the killings of other media people who numbered at least 80 since 2000.

We understand the frustration of the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) over the agonizingly slow pace in the investigations by the law-enforcement agencies on attacks against journalists.

Every now and then, the NPC appeals to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation to speed up the investigations but the plea almost always falls on deaf ear.

About 10 years or so ago, the PNP created a task force to speed up the investigation of the killings of media people. We recalled, though, that the task force had solved only few of the cases.

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NPC records showed that there were less than a dozen of the accused, who were convicted of the killings. Only two or three of the masterminds had been put behind bars. In some cases, the investigations were conducted haphazardly, and as a consequence, the court dismissed the charges against the accused.

This engenders a feeling of impunity, which emboldens the enemies of press freedom to attack journalists.

We believe that the failure of the justice system was one of the reasons behind the massacre of at least 30 reporters and photojournalists in Maguindanao in 2009. The people behind the wholesale killing of the journalists felt that they could get away with murder in an atmosphere of impunity.

The world’s associations of journalists are closely watching developments in the hearing by the court of the Maguindanao massacre as well as other high-profile cases like the one implicating former Palawan Governor Reyes.

Journalists all over the world are hoping against hope that justice will be done in these cases. They believe that only justice can end the culture of impunity.