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The ―Impunity and Press Freedom‖ conference, held from Feb. 27 to 29, 2008,
was organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance and the Center for Media
Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) with support from the Open Society Institute
(OSI) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The conference was held at The Peninsula Manila Hotel, in the Philippine
financial center of Makati City. One hundred ninety participants from human
rights organizations, the legal sector (which included justices and lawyers),
media organizations, and government as well as police officials attended the
three-day conference. There were 41 foreign delegates, including
experts/resouce persons from Southeast Asia and Latin America. Observers and
delegates representing various development and advocacy groups also came
from South Korea, United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, Australia, and the United

Local delegates included representatives from the Supreme Court, Department
of Justice, Philippine National Police, Commission on Human Rights, human
rights groups, and the academe.

A dangerous time for truth

The rationale for holding the discussions on Impunity and Press Freedom was
captured in the keynote address of Philippine Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno:
―Democracy in this country is under siege because bullets fired at the direction of
journalists pierce not only human flesh, but also our republican ideals.‖ He
added: ―It is a dangerous time for those who report the truth.‖

A second keynote speaker, Ricardo Trotti, drew parallels between the Philippines
and Latin America to illustrate the complexities and effects of impunity on society.
The director of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) Press Freedom
Program and Press Institute, Trotti identified certain circumstances in the legal
and social environment which permit impunity to prosper. He identified lack of
political will, an inadequate legal framework, a weak judicial system, police
inefficiency, scant resources, and negligence and corruption on the part of
government as causes of impunity. Trotti defined ―impunity‖ as ―exemption from
punishment or loss‖ and refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights
violations to justice.

When allowed to fester, Trotti pointed out that impunity could lead to self-
censorship, misinformation, manipulation of news, erosion of the media’s
watchdog role, media closure, and ultimately ―journalism that is reluctant to
expose the truth.‖
Trotti also said that one of IAPA’s main efforts is conducting dialogues with
governments of different countries to pressure them to combat impunity. ―We
bother governments every now and then. That is a major and effective part of our
work (as journalists)—to bother,‖ Trotti said.

Echoing the observation that the press has to continuously defend press freedom
worldwide, Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for
Journalism, Literature, and Creative Arts in 2000 and head of the Dr. Soetomo
Press Institute, meanwhile said in his keynote speech that government pressures
on the Indonesian press have continued despite the end of the Suharto
dictatorship in 1998. The laws protective of press freedom do not automatically
guarantee a safe environment for media practice if the public is unaware of the
crucial role media plays in a democracy.

What is needed is public awareness, he stressed. ―The tension between the
public and the press in Indonesia is not necessarily a reflection of differences in
their interest; it is more of a reflection of conflict of ideas and paradigms. Hence,
the importance of continuous efforts to maintain mutual understanding between
media workers and society, but without sacrificing the independence of the
press,‖ Astraatmadja said.

Attached is the complete program of the conference. Below are some highlights
from the discussions.

Challenges and Options

The conference started with a panel discussion aimed at establishing where
current and existing campaigns against impunity currently stand.

For the Philippine context, Court of Appeals Justice Lucas Bersamin discussed
the highlights of the July 16-17, 2007 Summit on Extrajudicial Killings the
Supreme Court held in Manila.

IAPA’s Gonzalo Marroquin narrated key points discussed at the ―Hemisphere
Conference on The Judiciary, The Press and Impunity‖ held on July 18 to 20,
2007 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Justices from the highest courts in
the Americas as well as 200 jurists, legal experts, lawyers, and journalists had
attended the Sto. Domingo conference, which stressed the need to enact legal
reforms and active judiciaries in the fight against impunity.

The two separate but similarly-timed conferences in July 2007 werein fact the
main inspirations behind the organizing the current conference, SEAPA
executive director Roby Alampay pointed out The chance to bridge lessons and
experiences between the Philippines and Latin America promised to be rich and
productive, he said, given similarities in the legal traditions and political
environments in the Philippines and Latin America.

Law professor Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University of the
Philippines College of Law, discussed the realities and challenges of following
through on the recommendations from the Supreme Court-initiated summit in
Manila. Among other things, he acknowledged the difficulties confronted by
Philippine prosecutors and weaknesses and limitations in the country’s witness
protection program.

Subsequent panel discussions put focus on the Courts as Human Rights
Mechanisms. Jose Manuel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group, Jan
Michael Simon, head of the Latin American Section for the Max Planck Institute
for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Germany, Justice Eduardo Freiler
of the Court of Appeals of Argentina, and Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles of
the Audiencia Nacional de España, discussed key cases from the Philippines
and around the world that demonstrated the potentials as well as limitations of
courts in protecting human rights.

A panel on national, regional, and international mechanisms against impunity
complemented the discourse on the courts as a human rights mechanism.
Christine Chung, a senior fellow at the Schell Center for International Human
Rights, and a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, discussed the
history and rationale behind the creation of the ICC, and stressed that as
imperfect as it may be, the ICC has a credible record in fighting crimes against
humanity and fighting impunity. The Philippines, it was noted, has signed but not
ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Ruben Carranza, Senior Associate at the International Center for Transitional
Justice, stressed that addressing impunity is necessary to bring about genuine
justice and reconciliation in the Philippines.

Herminio Harry L. Roque Jr., a human rights lawyer with the Roque & Butuyan
Law Offices, said the Philippine legal community should consider international
mechanism to complement, or put pressure on, the flawed and exploited justice
system in the Philippines. At times, he says, it is wise strategy to file cases and
be dismissed or defeated in the local courts, if only to satisfy conditions for
elevating cases to international mechanisms.

Seeking solutions

There was particularly high interest in the writ of amparo, a legal tool applied in
Europe and Latin America, to complement the writ of habeas corpus.
In one panel discussion, the writ of amparo was discussed by the US-based Due
Process of Law Executive Director Eduardo Bertoni, Judge Santiago Pedras
Gomez of Spain, and Philippine Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna.

Bertoni said that to better appreciate and understand the writ of amparo, it is vital
to understand first why the usual remedies, like the writ of habeas corpus, often
do not work. Gomez meanwhile said that the writ of amparo in some cases has
also been used to defend freedom of expression by protecting an individual’s
right to communicate or receive information.

Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera of the Philippines meanwhile explained the
state of the witness protection program (WPP) of the Department of Justice
which has been often cited as in dire need of reform. He explained the
disconnect between the popular notion of what a WPP should be and the actual
reality on the ground that the program has to operate in. In some cases, the
economic expectations of some witnesses who come under the program pose a
big difficulty as the WPP is only allotted a limited amount of funds. Dacera said
that to an extent, WPP personnel could be considered as ―glorified caregivers.‖

The importance of a sustained campaign against impunity through a joint effort
by the government and media as exemplified in the Marlene Esperat case, would
be effective in fighting impunity, Dacera said. The killers of Esperat have been
convicted through the combined efforts of the Freedom Fund for Filipino
Journalists, or FFFJ (of which CMFR is a founding member) and government

Dacera’s insights were affirmed by Ms. Nena Santos, private prosecutor for the
Esperate case. Ms. Santos said close coordination and cooperation between
private counsel, public prosecutors, and the witness protection program, helped
to mitigate for weaknesses in the system and actually bring about positive
developments in the case. But she stressed that financial considerations and
security concerns are constant problems.

Maria Socorro Diokno, secretary general of the Free Legal Assistance Group,
said civil society support is thus also crucial for key victories and milestones. She
noted the Philippine civil society sector’s experience with Philip Alston, UN
Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines, where NGOs and human
rights and legal assistance groups set aside political differences to present a
comprehensive and concise presentation for the UN mission. The NGOs
provided their own security and logistical support to have Mr. Alston meet with
human rights victims and survivors – resource persons and witnesses he
otherwise would not have met had his program been limited to what the
government had prepared.

Future plans
On the third day of the conference, discussions focused on the future and
concrete activities that could be taken up on international, regional, national, and
even community levels.

Once again, insights and lessons from the international delegates provided
crucial reminders, experience, and models for consideration. Carlos Cortes
Castillo of the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa idiscussed the creation of a
special protection fund for threatened journalists in Colombia. Damian Miguel
Loreti of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales of Argentina reminded of the
importance to also recognize threats from non-state agents.

Carolyn O. Arguillas, Editor of Mindanews and Rowena Paraan, secretary
general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, emphasized the
needs and working conditions of journalists outside of the city areas, stressing
the vulnerability that comes with working in smaller towns where rule of law is
weak and political and criminal elements are more powerful.

For their part, Maria Teresa Ronderos of Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa
and Jose L. Pavia, Chairman of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists,
acknowledged that the media industry must also look inwards to consider what
they themselves can do to protect journalists – from self-regulating against
unscrupulous journalism to providing journalist trainings on ethics, safety, and

Based on all the discussions, CMFR’s Melinda de Jesus facilitated a dialogue of
stakeholders to brainstorm on needs and programs to address impunity as it
threatens press freedom.

At the culmination of the three-day conference, an campaign was launched by
CPJ, SEAPA, CMFR, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), and the

The FFFJ is a coalition of six media organizations formed in 2003 in response to
the increasing number of slain journalists. The FFFJ members are the Center for
Community Journalism and Development, Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Philippine Press
Institute, the US-based newspaper the Philippine News, and CMFR which serves
as the secretariat. Both CMFR and PCIJ are also founding member-
organizations of SEAPA.

The campaign involves enhancing public awareness of impunity, more research
analysis into the cases of journalists killed, mobilization of quick response teams
to help journalists under threat, and the establishment of a legal defense fund
among others.
CPJ executive director Joel Simon said that political will, an active judiciary, a
strong community of the local press as well as media advocacy groups, the
presence of international pressure, and records of landmark prosecution such as
Esperat case provide an opportunity to campaign against impunity. ―I believe
there is a unique and fleeting opportunity to make a difference on an issue that
has deep implications for the future of Philippine democracy,‖ Simon said.

The conference did not only demonstrate the common interests of human rights
groups, jurists, lawyers, and journalists in combating impunity. It was also an
occasion for the groups representing these sectors to forge a united front across
frontiers in the defense of free expression and press freedom, as well as a
warning to the killers of journalists and activists that their deeds will not go

Press coverage

The forum received prominent news coverage, as both local and foreign media
organizations covered the three-day event.

News about and updates on the conference appeared in Manila’s leading
newspapers, among them the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
International wire agencies and media organizations such as the Associated
Press and Asian Journal also covered the event.

Puno’s keynote speech was reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The
Manila Times as well as on online sites, among them the Inside PCIJ blog of the
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, GMANews.TV, abs-, and Newsbreak. Primetime news programs such as GMA-7’s 24
Oras also aired excerpts from Puno’s speech.

Opinion-editorial columnists discussed the issues raised at the conference.
Sun.Star publisher Pachico Seares twice wrote about press freedom and
impunity in his Sun.Star column. Juan Mercado, another veteran journalist whose
column appears in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sun.Star-syndicated
newspapers, and more than a dozen community papers, also discussed the
issues at the conference. Manila Times editor-in-chief Rene Bas also wrote about
the conference in his column.

Community newspapers also reported the event and the presentations of the
speakers and resource persons.

The launch of the international impunity campaigns was prominently covered in
Manila newspapers including the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Manila Times.
PDF copies of available speeches and presentations

February 27, 2008

Keynote Address
Hon. Chief Justice
Reynato S. Puno
Supreme Court of the Philippines

Panel Discussion 1

Gonzalo Marroquin
Inter American Press Association (IAPA)

Panel Discussion 3
Christine Chung
Senior Fellow, Schell Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School
former Prosecutor, International Criminal Court

Ruben Carranza
Senior Associate
International Center for Transitional Justice

February 28, 2008

Keynote Address
Ricardo Trotti
Press Freedom Program and Press Institute Director
Inter American Press Association (IAPA)

Keynote Address
Atmakusumah Astraatmadja
Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism (2000)
Dr. Soetomo Press Institute

Panel Discussion 5

Nena Santos
Private Prosecutor for the Marlene Esperat Case
February 29, 2008

Panel Discussion 6

Melinda Quintos de Jesus
Executive Director
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Maria Teresa Ronderos
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa

Rowena Paraan
Secretary General
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)

Panel Discussion 7

Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

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