South East Asia: Too many journalists targeted for simply doing their job

Journalists directly targeted for attack by public or private individuals is the primary threat for media workers in South East Asia with far too many facing arrest or detainment for simply for doing their jobs. Today, on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalists Unions (SEAJU) launch the preliminary findings of the 2019 annual survey of journalist working conditions in the region and call on governments and authorities to do more to enhance the safety of journalists in South East Asia.

The survey, which is the second collaboration of the IFJ and journalist unions in South East Asia, found that the single biggest threat to the safety and security of journalists was their working conditions. The survey delves into the issues impacting journalist safety and working conditions on the region as a whole, as well as taking a focused look at the situation on the ground for media workers in the seven SEAJU member countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Timor Leste.

The survey of 1,265 journalists also revealed that one in two journalists had felt insecure in their jobs in the past year. Noted key threats were physical random attacks by members of the general public, threats to journalists’ families or others close to them, and poor working conditions.

The survey also showed that 38% of journalists felt that the media freedom in their countries had worsened or seriously declined in the past 12 months. Impunity for crimes against journalists was seen as a major problem or considered to be at epidemic levels in the region.

Government and political leadership were the two biggest determinants of impunity for crimes against journalists, while the prevailing poor performance of the criminal and civil justice system to deal with such threats and acts of violence against journalists was a major contributing factor. Full results of the survey and an in-depth report will be released later this month on November 23, the anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.

Ten years on from the massacre of 58 people including 32 journalists in Maguindanao in the Southern Philippines, there is still no justice for the victims and their families. This year, the Philippines is one of the five countries that IFJ is giving focus to in its global campaign to end impunity.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the IFJ’s Philippines affiliate, has launched a month-long campaign and commemoration of the massacre. #

The chairperson of the NUJP, Nonoy Espina, said: “While a verdict on the Ampatuan massacre would be most welcome, it would not ensure complete justice with many of the suspects remaining at large after a decade, and still hardly make a dent on the dismal record of 186 journalists’ murders in the Philippines since 1986, all but a handful of which have been solved.”

In Indonesia, the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia, Abdul Manan, said the survey is a brutal reflection of the violence journalists face day today. Ironically, the authorities that should be protecting journalists are the perpetrators of too many assaults.

“We should not stop increasing our efforts to push the government to ensure the safety of journalists. We demand the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and end the culture of impunity not only to Indonesian government but also governments in the region, including Philippines,” Manan added.

The IFJ said: “Attacks on journalists are attacks on our freedom. Together with our South East Asia affiliates, today we call the authorities to take urgent action and ensure the freedom and safety of journalists and end all attempts to silence journalists.”

On Panelo’s ‘honor’

Presidential legal counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the Inquirer.net with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue. Panelo is showing the Filipino people that this country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws are, more often than not, used as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office is drafting the libel complaints, against both media outfits for being “irresponsible” and “malicious.” To his mind, reports about his February 26, 2019 letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole forwarding Antonio Sanchez’s family’s request for executive clemency were meant to discredit him in public and to tarnish his honor.

“Balat-sibuyas” is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them. Officials of Panelo’s kind must at least admit that, in this case, those reports helped avert the travesty of the convicted rapist and murderer’s early release. Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends.

If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Inquirer.net. Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer. #

The National Directorate

NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

September 4, 2019

All about accountability

A lot has been said and written, even a poem romanticizing rape, on the sexual assault that allegedly happened at the Iligan National Writers Workshop a few weeks ago.

Rape is an abominable crime. The victim, in our damaged society, often suffer blame for “encouraging” the act as well as the excruciating stigma of being dubbed “damaged goods.”

That a victim bravely made public such an assault took a lot of courage, lending great credence to her claim. Such fact must not be perfunctorily dismissed, as is clearly the case immediately following the complainant’s publication of her ordeal.

Instead of assuring it will investigate and promising justice if the complaint is found to be true, it appears that the workshop organizers and their defenders took to professing their personal literary and even moral credentials in a vain attempt to shield themselves from accountability for an incident that should never have happened under their watch. They likewise politicized the issue, hinting that this is less about sexual assault but more an attack on their political principal widely known for misogynist acts and statements.

What the organizers cannot deny, however, is that a workshop fellow raised a complaint about sexual assault, with a workshop panelist as the perpetrator, and with the incident happening right at the official residence of the workshop fellows and panelists. That the organizers refused or failed to immediately start a formal investigation or to formally inform the police of the incident betray a terrible lack of awareness and also an inability or refusal to make the workshop a safe space for participants.

Worse, it is deplorable to see respected authors and poets clearly rushing to protect the accused sexual predator, totally ignoring the power dynamics between speakers and mentors and their younger fellows. After the accused admitted to taking advantage of a situation, we did not see from the workshop organizers’ a condemnation of his predatory act and an admission of their failure to prevent such from happening. If only for the latter, they must be held accountable.

Their even more preposterous argument would have us believe that the accused and the organizers must not be judged on the case at hand but on their past good deeds, on a very subjective scale benefitting a small group of people. That latter position, taken to its logical conclusion, would forgive administrators of institutions providing charitable aid to vulnerable sectors for abuses heaped on the very people they claim to serve. That stand reflects the sycophantic nature of our politics and many of our institutions, where the bottomline is patronage and largesse dispensed and received.

Such unfortunate sense of entitlement must not be allowed to infect arts and culture.

Again, accountability, akin to criticism, is sacrosanct to people. It must be as well to artists who have great power over how society thinks and acts. The reported sexual assault in Iligan must be investigated and, if found true, punished, not excused. #

Steering Committee
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity
Aug. 10, 2019

Freedom-loving Filipinos defy Duterte — LODI

We are free because we choose to be free.

The results of the recent SWS survey are a testimony to Filipinos’ love for freedom and their defiance of the regime’s attempts to impose full-scale tyranny.

The oft-peddled claim of massive support for the President’s most oppressive policies crumbles amid the clear findings of the SWS survey: Those who report or express views critical of Duterte face safety issues. Yet those who believe they face clear danger refuse to crumble.

Filipinos will not surrender to any tyrant the freedom to think and express these thoughts, and to act accordingly.

We continue to defy the regime’s tyrannical obsession to silence or crush Filipinos’ free expression and press freedom: The harassment cases against Rappler; the DDOS attacks on alternative news websites; the threat to deny ABS-CBN a franchise renewal; the mobilization of hateful and disinformation-spreading troll armies; the conspiracy theories from Red October to the matrix; the Red-tagging and open threats against independent-minded and critical journalists, artists, and cultural workers; the filing of sedition, libel and other charges meant to intimidate or suppress freedom of expression and public participation; and the unremitting killings of journalists.

We journalists, artists and citizens alike must continue to ask questions and to express our democratic demand for accountability. The president has skirted many important questions from his health to the full details of his agreements with China and the likes of the Marcoses. He has refused to enact a Freedom of Information Law. He has refused to disclose the illegal acts of cabinet members, and top civilian and military officials he fired purportedly for corruption. He and his minions deny the public full disclosure on their designs for charter change.

We reiterate: Filipinos continue to exercise their rights by asking questions, expressing themselves and taking direct action. Because that’s what a freedom-loving people do in the face of a rising tyrant allergic of transparency and the breakdown of institutions supposedly holding him accountable.

There’s a saying that’s truly relevant today and applicable to Duterte: Duterte can fool all the people some of the time, and some people all of the time. But he cannot fool all the people all the time. #

Freedom of expression in the time of Duterte

Over three years ago, the nation has been promised: change is coming. And change did come, but things took a turn for the worse.

As the nation marks President Rodrigo Duterte’s third year in power, we look back in sheer dismay over the unprecedented attacks perpetrated primarily by the state, with the apparent goal of shrinking the space for free expression in the country.

Once Duterte assumed the presidency in June 2016, the dome of impunity has widened and enveloped practically the whole of the archipelago. What was once considered rare and infrequent news on police-instigated killings, massacres, and haranguing of communities speedily became frequent staples in the news. Aside from the drug war, dozens of massacres, killings, and arbitrary arrests have been committed at a rate only comparable to the dark years of the Marcos era. With the rampant human rights violations, wittingly or unwittingly, the victims have become mere statistics, losing their names and identities to the dark powers-that-be.

Even freedom of expression is in peril. Merely voicing out concern and reporting on the aggravating human rights situation in the country puts one at risk. The attacks were sustained and targeted all fronts: from the red-tagging of activists and organizations, to the harassment and even killing of journalists. The string of cases against Rappler, for instance, shows how this administration wields its entire machinery to hide the truth in its bloody “war on drugs.” Based on the report released by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, from June 30, 2016 to April 30, 2019, a total of 128 cases of threats and attacks against the media have been documented, 60 of which were directly perpetrated by state agents. These incidents range from intimidation, including red-tagging, visits by police teams to the offices of media agencies, to the association of independent media organizations to supposed ouster plots.

No one was spared – from incarcerating vocal critic Sen. Leila de Lima, to attacking the church and even international organizations, Duterte stopped at nothing to make his perceived enemies fall, mincing no words, except in certain instances, like in issues concerning China. Remember how the state practically booted out Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who have worked for decades among the poor and the marginalized just for voicing out her concerns and joining a fact-finding mission? And what about the perjury charges filed by the military against human rights defenders from Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela?

Remember how, just recently, veteran journalist Margarita Valle has been nabbed for unknown reasons, only to be released eventually, with the state saying it was just a case of mistaken identity?

Even artists are being criminalized. Two artists — Alvin Fortaliza of Bohol, and Clydie Sabate of Negros Occidental, have been arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. And who could not forget the military’s red tagging of filmmakers who produced socially relevant works?

The attacks were unrelenting. From the “Red October” plot to the egregious “Oust Duterte matrix,” clearly the administration is not on a “wait and see” mode but rather on an active frenzy. Recently, the police filed sedition, cyber libel and other criminal charges against Vice President Leni Robredo and 35 other individuals, including lawyers and Church people, over the Bikoy narcotics video series. Their goal: mass intimidation. They are deploying all weapons in their arsenal to police even the opinions of the public: from the employment of a massive “troll army” and other forms of astroturfing or the attempt to bloat supposed public support for policies, resulting in an era where genuine reports and fake news are difficult to tell apart; the ramped-up surveillance of perceived critics of the administration; to imposing martial law in Mindanao, and similar thinly-veiled military efforts in provinces in Visayas and Luzon.

Even the Internet is no longer a safe space. Remember how easy it was for state agents to relentlessly conduct “distributed denial of service” or DDoS attacks against the alternative media, shutting down their websites at critical moments when reports on attacks against the marginalized and underrepresented were published. International observers dub these attacks as one of the worst cyber-attacks they have seen across the globe in recent history.

The Duterte administration has even tapped draconian laws such as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to file cases such as cyberlibel against its critics. With Duterte allies now controlling both houses of Congress, soon, the reviled Human Security Act is also set to be amended to give stronger powers to state agents to tag practically anyone and everyone as terrorists, with little to no effort.

Most of these schemes and turn of events aimed at mass intimidation employ the same tactic: preemptive vilification – discrediting those who dare critique policies, pronouncements, and actions of the government even before these critics open their mouths or type their statements. In a nutshell, the last three years drastically shrunk the space for free expression.

Just as state agents are not sparing any moment to practically trample on any and every form of dissent, we must also not wait as our basic civil liberties are being pressed for space. At this juncture, we must realize the importance of the freedom of expression: losing this right opens the floodgates to the violation of other civil, political, and economic rights. Freedom of expression serves as a safeguard for the people to enjoy other freedoms. Without free expression, we can lose all our other important rights in an instant.

It is easy to allow fear to set in and shut our lips and eyes to the worsening state of our nation. But once we do that, will it alleviate the situation? No, it will only continue festering.

To allow the state and its agents to pillage on the right to free expression is tantamount to surrendering hard-earned victories of our people in the past decades. We cannot simply allow the looming shadow of dictatorship to easily slip back. We must decisively unite and fight back.

We need to reclaim the real meaning of change, of how that potent word opens a world of possibilities. Despite the relentless attacks on our basic civil liberties, we need to remember that real change is a force that makes us question everything. Change is what we aspire when we innovate, when we invent, when we create. Change sparks genius, and ignites the fire that seeks to melt and recast the status quo.

To change is to reaffirm the value of militancy, of seeing the potency of collective action. Genuine change requires united action. From artists to journalists to the common people, we need all the force we can muster to fight back. There is no moment to spare. We need to reclaim every inch of space for our civil rights. We need to fight back now. #

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Concerned Artists of the Philippines

Altermidya

No to legal attacks on freedom of expression and public participation

CAP condemns perjury, sedition charges vs. colleagues

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) condemns the successive filing of legal charges against human rights advocates and opposition members, which includes in their respondents members of the artist community.

This week alone has seen the filing of two complaints, which threaten not only the respondents but the very essence of freedom of expression and public participation itself.

First, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. filed perjury charges against human rights groups who asked for a protection order against government harassment. These are KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which earlier petitioned for a writ of amparo and habeas data following the killings, vilification, and harassment against their members. Second is the “inciting to sedition” charge initiated by the PNP and the DOJ against a diverse line-up of 36 opposition figures starting with the Vice-President, on the pretext of being responsible for the spread of the “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos.

Included in the former is Kiri Dalena, a filmmaker, visual artist, and human rights advocate whose work has bravely reflected on the state’s perpetuation of human rights violations. Included in the latter is Joel Saracho, a veteran actor, writer and convener of the media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI).

We are outraged over how artists are facing these absurd charges of perjury and inciting to sedition. We view such legal attacks as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are lawsuits filed in retaliation for speaking out on a public issue and intending to burden, censor, intimidate, and silence critics into abandoning their criticism or opposition. While the Palace denies any hand in these charges, it can not deny that these incidents are rising as more people are expected to take to the streets in the United People’s SONA on July 22.

We condemn these assaults on our colleagues in the art and culture sector, who have tirelessly dedicated their craft, consciousness, and practice towards being artists for democracy, nationalism, and justice. We denounce the continuing red-tagging of our colleagues, our organizations, our films and the institutions that screen these.

We condemn how citizens at the forefront of protecting human rights are viciously attacked and targeted. These include human rights defenders Christina Palabay and Edith Burgos, wife of late press freedom icon Jose Burgos and mother of desaparecido Jonas Burgos, whose lifelong struggle for justice has been referenced across artworks to films.

We must not let such legal harassment pass. Already, artists and cultural workers are among 509 political prisoners in the Philippines today. These include Alvin Fortaliza, arrested on March 4, 2019 in Guindulman, Bohol and falsely charged with two counts of murder. Fortaliza is the Artistic Director of the Bol-anong Artista nga may Diwang Dagohoy (Bansiwag Bohol) Bohol Cultural Network which stages theater performances and conducts theater workshops for youth groups and was a volunteer provincial coordinator for Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist in Bohol.

Artists, cultural, knowledge and media workers will fight back: with our voices, our art, and our presence in the parliament of the streets on July 22 at the United People’s SONA.

LODI statement on the PNP-DOJ sedition charges

Media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) views the sedition charges being instigated by the PNP and DOJ against opposition and Church figures, lawyers and artists as harassment and a cheap attempt to clamp down on dissent.

It seems this is less about the “Bikoy videos”, but more a continuation of the now-discredited “matrix” and Red October yarns. They want a new “chismis” to drive a wedge in the broad opposition ahead of the United People’s SONA.

The list of accused appear to be clumsily and haphazardly drawn up, without regard to evidence to back up the inclusion of those so named there.

There is no reason to believe a flip-flopping witness and police officials whose main moves, whether in the matter of extrajudicial killings or other rights abuses, have been geared to protect an abusive government from accountability.

Instead of filing trumped up charges against the opposition, the government should prosecute all policemen implicated in extrajudicial killings, planting of evidence, and other crimes. It should also file charges against corrupt officials, and enforce the ruling on such personalities like Imelda Marcos. It should stop using the DOJ as a tool for suppression.

The objective here, as what has been done in other cases, is to confuse, corrupt and crush every one who dares to stand up against Duterte. #

Update on the DDoS defense of alternative media outfits

Respondents Suniway and IP Converge, in their respective answers filed in court, deny any knowledge in the cyberattacks launched against us. Both absolve themselves of any accountability to the three-month long distributed denial of service attacks despite the fact that their infrastructure were used in these attacks.

How could one then explain that after the filing of civil case against these companies, the cyberattacks stopped?

We also decry the counterclaim filed by both companies in the total amount of P6.5 million for allegedly besmirching their reputation. It’s clear that we, the plaintiffs, have no malice and only state, as a matter of fact, the results of forensic investigation done by Qurium identifying them as sources of DDoS attacks.

The filing of counterclaim is an act of harassment against non-profit media outfits and meant to intimidate us. We are not backing down.

Altermidya

Bulatlat

Kodao

Pinoy Weekly

No excuse for Tulfo’s execrable behavior

3 June 2019

There can be no excuse for Erwin Tulfo’s utter lack of ethics and scruples in publicly insulting Secretary Rolando Bautista simply for not being able to immediately answer his demand for an interview.

No, this has nothing to do with Bautista, for Tulfo’s fault would be no less grave had he spewed his venom on a street beggar.

We do not dispute Tulfo’s assertion that criticizing government officials is part of a journalist’s job. But the vitriol he heaped on Bautista clearly had nothing to do with whether or not the secretary was doing his job and everything to do with Tulfo’s exaggerated sense of entitlement.

The issue is Tulfo’s brand of “journalism,” and we are using the term very liberally since what he and his ilk practice bear little resemblance to the profession of truth, which, ironically, is what this administration seems to prefer even as it vilifies those who do their work seriously and credibly.

Indeed, the Tulfos of this world seem to have found the perfect niche within the infrastructure of a government that has established itself as the foremost purveyor of disinformation and has run roughshod over most, if not all, our people’s basic rights and liberties, although this particular Tulfo appears to have outshone the rest when even the director general of the Philippine Information Agency called him out for being “a pretentious and poisonous media personality whose only leverage is his last name and airtime in government radio.”

Let us see how this administration deals with the mess. 
But we do hope, whatever the outcome, that the media industry in general finally realizes that the revenues such unethical and irresponsible muckraking admittedly bring in can never compensate for the damage “journalists” like Erwin Tulfo have caused the profession and, most especially, the people whose lives and reputations they so cavalierly sully.

The NUJP National Directorate