MANILA - The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned what it calls official inaction toward killings of journalists after reports that a "death squad" allegedly backed by a former mayor was behind hundreds of cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in Tagum City in Mindanao.
In a 71-page report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said 298 killings recorded between January 2007 and March 2013 were attributed by provincial police to the so-called "Tagum Death Squad."
The report details the alleged involvement of local officials, including former Mayor Rey "Chiong" Uy, and police officers in the extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, street children, and others over the past decade.
In a statement, NUJP said that the existence of the death squad explains the impunity behind extrajudicial killings.
The group added this also explains why there has been no mastermind arrested, prosecuted or convicted in any of the 163 media killings since 1986, as well as in the thousands of other extrajudicial executions nationwide.
HRW's report pinned the murder of Tagum journalist Rogelio "Tata" Butalid of Radyo Natin, who was gunned down just outside his station last December 11, on members of the former mayor's death squad.
According to NUJP, the report explains the reason why the police have been unable to track down those involved in the journalists' death.
"These are killers who enjoyed not just the imprimatur of a local government executive. Not only were many of them employed in the city's Civil Security Unit, they were also guided and advised by the police on their targets, an arrangement that apparently continues to thrive even after Uy ended his stint as mayor," the NUJP said.
The NUJP added, while there is no evidence of a nationally sanctioned campaign to silence journalists, the group believes that journalists continue to be targeted due to the government's inaction as well as the weak criminal justice system.
"It is a system that made the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, 54 months ago on Friday, inevitable and those responsible believe they could get away with such an outrage, a system that does not hesitate to silence those who dare peer past the façade to uncover the darkness within as many of our fallen colleagues did. "