QUEZON CITY, Philippines - The drizzle was not enough to dampen the fire that burned profusely from the torches.
Under the dark evening sky, the flames flared as intensely as the calls of Filipino journalists for justice on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.
Filipino journalists gathered at around 6 in the evening on May 3, at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani or the Heroes Monument to mark the occasion. It is a fitting tribute for slain journalists to hold the Philippine commemoration of World Press Freedom in this place where the martyred heroes of the dark martial law era are remembered and honored.
“We will not be silenced!” Nonoy Espina says in a raging voice that echoed beyond the confines of this monument complex.
Espina is vice-chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, one of the country’s largest media organizations.
Wearing a black shirt with the words: “Stop Killing Journalists!” Espina called on the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to account for the “sins of omission and commission over the past nine years which have resulted in the most murderous period for the media, not only in our country’s history but the world’s.”
More than four months before, the most gruesome attack happened in the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
In a separate statement, the NUJP says that since Arroyo was borne to power by the people, Filipinos have seen media practitioners murdered in record numbers. “100 of the 137 killed since 1987 were slain under her watch – capped by the unprecedented slaughter of 32 journalists and media staff last November 23, the worst single attack on journalists ever,” says NUJP.
“If anyone should bear responsibility for this outrage, aside from the accused members and armed retainers of a clan that counts among Arroyo’s staunchest allies, it is Arroyo herself,” says the organization.
And her atrocities against the Philippine press are remembered as vividly as the images of the slain journalists -- their bodies, bloodied and bruised by the most evil of hands.
“She whose apathy and even outright hostility towards that bulwark of democracy, a free press, has led to inaction on past killings, thereby emboldening those who would suppress freedom of expression and the people’s right to know into doing so with impunity,” the NUJP says.
Arroyo nurtured warlords, the NUJP also says, and allowed them to build up massive arsenals and armies and obscene wealth in their invariably poverty- and war-ridden fiefdoms, in exchange for ensuring the survival of an administration whose legitimacy had always been under question.
In 2006, Arroyo attempted a clampdown on the media when she declared a state of national emergency that former allies disillusioned with her misrule confirmed was mainly intended to silence an increasingly critical press rather than contain any supposed threat to government.
This, the NUJP notes, makes Arroyo the only one since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who attempted a massive crackdown on the media.
“Yes, today, World Press Freedom Day, we call to account this president who has proven herself to be a true enemy of press freedom,” the organization says.
At the same time, Espina reminded the government that no attacks on press freedom would succeed in silencing the press.
His words echoed the hopes and dreams of every Filipino who has lost a loved one to attacks on press freedom.
His words voiced out the hopes and dreams of every Filipino journalist for genuine press freedom and better working conditions for the Philippine media.
His words are a stark reminder that for every byline lost in newspapers and every voice vanished from the airwaves, there are thousands more who will continue keeping the role of a vigilant media.
His words rang loud in this grassy lot, which -- to those who know and believe -- is a repository of the country’s hopes and dreams.