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Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists

FFFJ

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility is a founding member of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ). It also serves as its secretariat.

The other members of the FFFJ are:

RATIONALE

The Edgar Damalerio case in Pagadian highlighted the need for a fund aimed at helping victims of violence and the families they leave behind. Damalerio’s son was only a five-month old baby when the journalist was killed. While there was a good chance to prosecute the suspect in this case, as he was immediately identified by witnesses, the legal process costs money, and Gemma, Damalerio’s widow, did not have the means to take the first steps in filing a case in court.

The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc. which was launched on January 7, 2003 is an attempt to seek support for cases like this as well as to promote public advocacy for the protection of journalists.

The Damalerio killing could have been a landmark case because the police had witnesses who pointed to the killer soon after the murder. The failure of the police to investigate and prosecute seemed too pointed to ignore. Damalerio’s killing became a focal point for advocate groups as they exerted pressure on the police for action to protect journalists in general.

Unfortunately, despite dialogue with police officials in Pagadian and at National PNP headquarters in Manila , the suspect remains at large.

But FFFJ’s commitment has signaled a new level of advocacy that could turn a new page in press freedom protection. Using CMFR’s database on killings, the group has enlarged the forum for discussion of the problem and hopes to promote awareness about the problem within the media community as well as the general public.

Among the objectives of the Fund are to raise funds and receive donations for the protection of journalists under threat; to provide immediate assistance to the families of journalists killed in the line of duty; to act as a support group for journalists in distress by, among other means, forming quick-response teams to investigate and report attacks against journalists; and to follow up the prosecution of cases involving attacks against journalists.

FFFJ’s advocacy promotes responsible journalism as a way of protecting journalists. A credible and responsible press creates its own protective support from the community it serves. In the end, a public well served by the press becomes the most active and ardent protector of press freedom.

FFFJ’s actions have been varied. On May 19, FFFJ sent a team from CMFR to attend Pobeda’s wake in Lucena City to follow up the case. A report on the visit was published in PJR. It has also issued statements condemning the killing of journalists. The Fund also wrote to authorities to petition officials to follow up the cases.

On October 8, 2003 , FFFJ sent a letter to the Ombudsman to protest the payment of full retirement benefits to former Provincial Police Director Pedrito Reyes, despite the fact that a case had been filed against him in the Office of the Military Ombudsman. Reyes is facing a charge of “Infidelity in the Custody of Prisoner, Evasion through Negligence”. The case was filed in the Office of the Military Ombudsman on March 3, 2003 by the widow of Damalerio.

Also through the efforts of the FFFJ, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on November 7, 2003 announced that the government was offering a P1 million (approximately US$18,200) reward for the capture of the killers of journalists in the last five years (from 1998 to 2003). Arroyo made the announcement during her speech at the 29th management conference of the KBP in Tagaytay City .

The Malacañang Presidential News Desk on November 8 reported that the President had also ordered PNP Chief Hermogenes Ebdane to be more resolute in the investigation of all unsolved murder cases.

On March 8, 2004 , the Office of the President issued a memorandum addressed to the secretary of the interior and local government and the director-general of the national police to intensify the hunt for the killers of broadcasters and journalists.

In September 2003, FFFJ released Staying Alive, a handbook which provides safety information for journalists which was distributed to journalists during a joint CMFR- KBP workshop on monitoring attacks on press freedom and reporting alerts. The handbook includes instructions on precautionary measures to take when reporting in conflict areas and what one can do in the face of physical attacks and threats. It also emphasizes the importance of ethical reporting.

FFFJ also works in coordination with international groups such as International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Article XIX, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), providing them information on cases in the Philippines which they follow and take up as cases for special advocacy.

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility