#NoDeadAir: Resist all assaults on freedom of the press and expression

By THE NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

May 4, 2020

This is the kind of government we have.

Even as our people battle a deadly pandemic, it carries out an underhanded assault on freedom of the press and of expression through a cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission against broadcast network ABS-CBN.

That this dastardly move comes two days after we observed World Press Freedom Day and a day after Jose Calida warned the NTC of graft charges should it allow the network to operate beyond the expiration of its franchise on May 4.

All this stems from President Rodrigo Duterte’s personal vendetta against the network, whose franchise renewal he pledged to block.

No matter that this is a slap on Congress, which has the sovereign power to decide on matters of franchise and which explicitly asked the NTC to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while it deliberates the bills to renew the network’s franchise.

No matter that the closure of a major media network would deprive our people of a major source of information at a time when information could spell life and death as we battle the pandemic.

It sends a clear message: What Duterte wants, Duterte gets. And it is clear, with this brazen move to shut down ABS-CBN, that he intends to silence the critical media and intimidate everyone else into submission.

But just as the independent press survived and triumphed with the people over the Marcos dictatorship, we are certain that we shall do so again, that this regime that has run roughshod over our laws and disregarded our basic rights and liberties will not succeed.

We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists and on all Filipinos who cherish democracy and liberty to stand together and resist this government’s brazen assault on freedom of the press and of expression.

MABUHAY AND MALAYANG PAMAMAHAYAG!

National Directorate

World Press Freedom Day 2020: Let us remain free

By The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)

May 3, 2020

As in years past, we observe World Press Freedom Day more for the lack than the reality.

Today, we see the existing space for freedom of the press and of expression narrow even more not only because of the inevitable changes in the way we do things but also, if not more so, from authorities’ uneven and often arbitrary implementation of the law and of measures ostensibly supposed to keep us safe.

Just as bad, feedback from colleagues on the ground indicate that most, especially freelancers and correspondents in the provinces, as well as those who work for small outfits, have been basically left to fend for themselves in covering the pandemic. While there are commendable efforts by some colleagues to help others, these are admittedly not enough.

And this is just physical safety.

Although there is a growing recognition of stress and trauma as part of the risks journalists face, aside from the peer support network initiated by NUJP and programs set up by other media groups and the larger media outfits, there are hardly any readily available and sustained support systems for colleagues experiencing mental health issues.

Meanwhile, like so many in the national workforce, contractual media workers, who are covered by “no work, no pay” policies, face uncertainty as their outfits cut down on production or cancel programs. And colleagues have voiced fears of widespread job cuts should the crisis drag on and cut deeper into already falling revenues.

Governments, both national and local, have been quick to impose unreasonable accreditation requirements before journalists are allowed to cover, infringing on the prerogative of media houses to assign tasks for their personnel and devaluing press credentials. This has also led to the arbitrary denial of accreditation to media outfits and journalists such as the alternative press.

While safety concerns admittedly underpin the shift to “virtual” press briefings, concerns have been raised that this gives less than transparent officials too much opportunity to control information, especially given reports that, in some places, questions are pre-screened.

In the midst of all these, there has been no letup in government efforts to intimidate and silence critical media.

The NUJP has continued to be “red-tagged” by government agencies and officials, accused, without any proof, of supposedly being a “legal front” of the communist rebel movement.

And on May 1, Labor Day, four community journalists and three other media volunteers were among the more than 40 persons arrested by police in Iloilo City after they prevented a caravan to protest the murder of activist Jory Porquia.

This crisis is unprecedented and no one knows when it will end or even begin to ease up.

Amid the uncertainty, the community of independent Filipino journalists should strengthen our unity to protect our ranks and resist efforts to exploit the emergency to clamp down on our fundamental rights and liberties.

Let us reject any attempt to control or impede the free flow of information to the people.

Let us continue to serve the people through our work.

Let us continue to be free.

Mabuhay ang malayang pamamahayag at pagpapahayag!
Mabuhay ang malayang mamamahayag ng Pilipinas!

#WorldPressFreedomDay2020

We will not be cowed nor silenced

Today, we take pride in announcing that we have earned a position among the online media outfits targeted for shutdown for reporting critically and siding with the truth. Our digital security partner confirmed on April 28 that www.nordis.net, the web-based platform of Northern Dispatch, is the subject of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack.

So intense is the attack that even after our web host provider, Host Color, removed the resource limit of our account, our site failed to accommodate the traffic. The millions of requests that flooded the site overloaded and crashed the server. To date, our website has been down for two days. Before this, access has been intermittent since April 17.

This latest attack against Northern Dispatch, while highly condemnable, also means that we are performing our job well. We live up to our principle and tradition of amplifying the voice of the poor and marginalized. By doing so, we made enemies of dark forces that spread lies and narratives against the poor and their struggles.

It is important to note that this cyber-assault came amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a period when critical reporting on the actual situation is urgent and essential. When people need to know how the government is responding to the health crisis and the severe socio-economic problems it spawned. Our foes initiated the attack at a time when rights protected under the Constitution are brazenly violated on unprecedented scales under the pretext of a public health emergency.

The attack came after months of intensified red-tagging of our outfit and staff by the military and its army of online trolls and minions. Since last year, the vilification and intimidation of our correspondents from Cagayan Valley (Deo Montesclaros) and Ilocos (Paola Espiritu) by state agents intensified. Also last year, suspected military assets shot and critically wounded Brandon Lee, our provincial correspondent from Ifugao. Last January, the Baguio City Police also tagged our Managing Editor Sherwin De Vera as a Communist Front Organization personality.

Just this April, online trolls circulated images on Facebook tagging Northern Dispatch as the propaganda arm of the New People’s Army. The same troll accounts posted photos of De Vera and Espiritu on the same online platform, accusing them as recruiters for the communist rebels.

The DDoS attack may not be as deadly as those that came before, but the message is the same, loud and clear – they want to silence the critical media. Those who benefit from this exploitative and repressive status quo want our stories to stop.

As we face the challenge of reporting amid this pandemic, the brutal attack against our ranks and this high-tech battering against our information portal, we send the following message:

To our readers, fear not. Our allies in the fight for freedom of the press and expression are helping us to bring our website back. In case this battle drags on, don’t despair. Our commitment remains. We will continue to bring you information and critical insights on issues and events in Northern Luzon in other ways.

To the people, especially the poor and oppressed, rest assured that we will uphold our task to amplify your plight and struggles.

To our colleagues in the media, join us, not only to keep the line taut but also to fight back and move forward.

To the enemies of press freedom and the people’s right to know, threaten us all you want, but we will not be cowed nor silenced. Payt latta! #

STATEMENT: Arrest of relief volunteers is also an attack on free expression

The rabid state forces are at it again: just this weekend, Bulacan police apprehended six volunteers of Tulong Anakpawis-Sagip Kanayunan, along with former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, who were on the way to a relief drive in Norzagaray, Bulacan. The manner that the police presented the circumstances of the arrest to the public also had a not-so-subtle message: publishing and distributing materials that are critical of government could now land people in jail.

Based on social media posts made by official accounts of the military and the police, one of the bases for these charges were the copies of Pinoy Weekly, a founding member of Altermidya Network and a multi-awarded alternative newspaper, which were seized from the relief volunteers and misrepresented as “anti-government propaganda materials” as the newspaper bore stories about how the hashtag #OustDuterte trended on Twitter even before the onset of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

To bluntly portray this article in Pinoy Weekly as basis for filing sedition charges is tantamount to haphazard violation of the constitutionally-protected freedom of the press and expression. Altermidya Network unequivocally denounces this move as sheer abuse of power. We ask, why are government forces targeting volunteers undertaking COVID-19 relief efforts? And how problematic is it to use credible publications like Pinoy Weekly to substantiate trumped-up charges?

More press freedom violations have been recorded in past weeks. Northern Dispatch (Nordis) correspondents Paola Espiritu and Sherwin De Vera have been red-tagged by troll accounts, branding them as a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The same is the case with Pokus-Gitnang Luzon correspondent Pia Montalban. Other freedom of expression violations have been recorded, even against common citizens who merely posted critical messages on social media.

The recent spate of red-tagging and brazen use of authority against the alternative media and the people’s growing voice of dissent speak volumes of how the Duterte administration – and its emboldened security forces – are facing the COVID-19 pandemic not only with apparent incompetence, but also under a self-serving, and despotic brand of governance.

Many experts have pointed out how misguided the Duterte administration’s response is as regards the public health emergency. Instead of offering swift, clear-cut, responsive medical solutions, the state has invariably ramped up its militarist moves. Instead of flattening the curve of the pandemic, the administration’s state forces are bulldozing our fundamental rights.

But the public will not back down and quietly accept this situation. The alternative media is united with the Filipino people in keeping our guards high, ever vigilant on the creeping fascism that the Duterte administration is espousing to paint over its gross incompetence in facing this crisis.

We may be living in abnormal times. Yet we must continue unwaveringly asserting our rights and the shrinking space for public opinion. We cannot allow another creeping pandemic – the affliction of a mounting autocracy – to spread unabated.

JOINT STATEMENT: “Fake news” provision threatens freedom of the press, expression

We, media organizations, advocates of freedom of the press and of expression, journalists and academics, raise the alarm over the insertion of measures to control free expression in the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.”

We refer to Section 6(6), which penalizes “individuals or groups creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid of beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make us or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts:”

This provision is tellingly embedded in Section 6, Penalties, which seeks to punish a menu of offenses “with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million, or both, such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court.”

But the fact is that Section 6(6) seeks to punish people for an offense that, legally, does not even exist.

In effect, the law will leave it up to the government to be the arbiter of what is true or false, a prospect that cannot invite confidence given the fact that many administration officials, including the chief executive, have been sources of disinformation and misinformation.

Even before the measure was signed into law, news reports flagged the Philippine National Police’s formation of a task force that would go against supposed purveyors of “fake news. ”  In Cebu, Governor Gwendolyn Garcia publicly humiliated rapper Brandon Perang for making fun of government efforts against the pandemic on social media. She forced Perang  to “swear” an oath to “obey the law” in front of her and other officials. She also announced the creation of a “special unit” to go after other critics.

While we acknowledge the need to fight disinformation in this time of crisis, we fear the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will only end up criminalizing free speech. We assert that the best way to fight disinformation is through education and the truth.

In times of crisis, when the swift delivery of accurate information to our people is vital, we need more, not less, independent reporting.

Alas, Section 6(6) and the accreditation requirement imposed on media will result in the opposite, to the detriment of our people.

To the community of independent journalists, let us tighten our ranks and stand firm in opposing any restrictions on the free performance of our duties.

To all freedom-loving Filipinos, stand with us in defending freedom of the press and of expression and your, the people’s, right to know.

Signed by the following media organizations and individuals:

Altermidya – Alternative People’s Media Network
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Center for Community Journalism and Development
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Concerned Artists of the Philippines
Davao Today
The International Association of Women in Radio and Television – Philippines
Kilab Multimedia
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Rappler
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Vera Files
Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines
University of the Philippines – College of Mass Communication

Interaksyon Editors
Rosette Adel
Camille Diola
Jeline Malasig

Philstar.com Editors
Jaira Krishelle Balboa
Deni Bernardo
Kristine Bersamina
Gaea Cabico
Ian Cigaral
Jonathan de Santos
Franco Luna
Prinza Magtulis
Dino Maragay
Kristine Joy Patag
Kristofer Purnell
James Relativo
Ratziel San Juan
Matikas Santos
E.C. Toledo

Alan Alegre, Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation
Cong B. Corrales, Associate Editor, Gold Star Daily
Danny Arao, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Noemi L. Dado, blogger
Jimmy Domingo, photojournalist
Inday Espina-Varona
Lisa Garcia, Foundation for Media Alternatives
Bart Guingona, MediaNation
Ma. Diosa Labiste, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Dominic Ligot, Democracy.Net.PH
Ed Lingao
Luz Rimban, Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism
Manny Mogato
Carlos Nazareno, Democracy.Net.PH
John Nery, Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Marian Pastor Roces, MediaNation
Bernice Soriano, Foundation for Media Alternatives
Lucia Tangi, Dept. of Journalism, University of the Philippines Diliman
Jane Uymatiao, blogger
Tyrone Velez, columnist, SunStar Davao

Emergency should not curtail independence of media

March 23, 2020

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is concerned over the bill Malacañang has asked Congress to pass in special session today, Monday, March 23, declaring a national emergency on account of the COVID-19 crisis and allowing President Rodrigo Duterte to wield extraordinary powers.

While we recognize the gravity of the health crisis our country and people are confronted with, we are just as worried that the emergency may be used as justification to suppress basic civil and political rights, including the freedom of the press and of expression.

We cite, in particular, Section 4 (4), “Authorized Powers,” which provides:

“When the public interest so requires, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the CoVID- 19 emergency as determined by the President, including but not limited to, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public; and Provided, however, that to the extent feasible, management shall be retained by the owners of the public service or enterprise, under the direction and supervision of the President or his duly designated representative who shall render a full accounting to the President of the operations of the utility or business taken over; Provided further, That whenever the President shall determine that the further use or operation by the Government of an such public service or enterprise is no longer necessary under existing conditions, the same shall be restored to the person entitled to the possession thereof; Provided, finally, That reasonable compensation for any additional damages or costs incurred by the owner or the possessor of the subject property solely on account of the take-over may be given to the person entitled to the possession of such private properties or businesses after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable;”

The open-ended phrase “including but not limited to” exposes all possible enterprises imbued with public interest, including the media, to potential takeover, while broadcasters, which are regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission, could be construed to be “telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public,” a function all media outfits perform.

We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists to be vigilant and close ranks against any attempts to prevent us from carrying out our duties. We also call on media houses to assert independence from government interference.

In this time of crisis, we owe it to our people to assure the continued and timely delivery of accurate information. #

The NUJP National Directorate

JOINT STATEMENT by Kodao, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Altermidya, Suniway, and IP Converge

The parties understand that the plaintiffs claimed to have been victims of what appear to be repeated cyberattacks on their respective online platforms.

Collectively, the parties declare:

IP Converge Data Services, Inc. (IPC), Suniway Group of Companies (Suniway), as well as the individual defendants, namely Ernesto R. Alberto, Nerissa S. Ramos, Anabelle L. Chua, Juan Victor I. Hernandez, Patrick David R. De Leon, Sherwin Torres, Christian Villanueva, Cean Archievald Reyes, Rolando O. Fernando, Julia Mae D. Celis, Mary Ann F. Recomono, and Jiang Zongye (collecively referred to as “defendants”),  express their utmost respect and full support of press freedom as a constitutional guarantee and a tenet of a democratic society.

As defendants have no prior knowledge of, much less consented to, the use of IPC’s and Suniway’s respective cyber-infrastructure for the perpetration of these cyberattacks, defendants commit to support a free press. Effective mechanisms to combat such attacks shall further be improved to prevent a repeat of this kind of situation.

In consideration of such declaration and commitment, plaintiff-operators of Bulatlat.com, Kodao.org, PinoyWeekly.org, and Altermidya.net hereby collectively withdraw their Complaint against defendants with prejudice. Likewise, defendants shall withdraw their counterclaims against the plaintiffs.

With this agreement, the four media outfits as plaintiffs are satisfied that their rights to press freedom and free expression have been recognized and upheld even as they vow to remain vigilant against any future or similar attacks. #

AMARC condemns the arrest of broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio of the Philippines

February 19, 2020, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC Asia-Pacific) joins its members, human rights defenders and advocates of free media in the Philippines in condemning the illegal arrest of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, 21, a community broadcaster and journalist associated with the Aksyon Radyo – Tacloban DYVL 819 kHz. Frenchie Mae is also the Executive Director of the independent media outfit Eastern Vista, correspondent of Altermidya in Tacloban City and an active member of the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television. According to statements, she and four other human rights defenders were arrested in Tacloban City early Friday morning, February 7, 2020.

According to human rights groups in the Philippines, the arrest of Frenchie Mae and the others is part of the government’s work to silence those media personalities that are critical to the policies and principles of the state. Frenchie Mae was under surveillance by the state forces since 2018. The last one was this year, January 31 where a suspected element of the Armed Forces of the Philippines visited her office in Tacloban City carrying a bouquet of flower with Frenchie’s photo inserted on it. Even though it was meant to be a death threat to her Frenchie Mae continued her work until her arrest.

AMARC and its global family of community radios and advocates of freedom of expression stand in solidarity with our members and colleagues in the Philippines in protesting against the attacks by the Duterte administration against human rights defenders and free media,” said Ram Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific. #

(The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) gathers more than 5,000 community radios, federations and community media stakeholders in approximately 115 countries.)

‘Detained for interviewing protester’: Altermidya denounces arrest of Radyo Ni Juan reporter

AlterMidya

National alternative media group Altermidya strongly denounces the intimidation and arrest of Davao-based reporter Glenn Jester Hitgano of Radyo ni Juan. 

Hitgano was interviewing protesting workers from banana company Philippine Dream Farm Dev’t in Carmen, Davao del Norte on Jan. 21 when police cut short his interview and took him to the police station. 

The police claimed that Hitgano “insulted” them by interviewing the protesters, and attempted to handcuff the reporter. They also tried to confiscate his phone and demanded him to delete the interview.  

Hitgano was held for an hour, and was released only after convincing the police that he will not report on the workers’ protest. The Radyo ni Juan reporter said he covered the protest after receiving information that the workers were harassed by uniformed men the previous night. 

Altermidya condemns this attack on our colleague, who was clearly being coerced into silence by state forces who were uncomfortable with the truth. The arrest and intimidation of journalists like Hitgano is a blatant violation of media’s task of exposing the truth to the public. It is pure assault not just on press freedom but on the public’s right to know. 

Altermidya calls for an independent investigation to hold into immediate account the members of the Carmen police involved in this gross wrongdoing. State forces should be at the forefront of safeguarding rights such as free speech and expression, and not be the purveyors of abuse. 

Initial people’s victory in the long march for justice

STATEMENT OF ALTERMIDYA NETWORK ON THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE VERDICT

AlterMidya

December 19, 2019

The conviction of members of the Ampatuan clan is an initial victory of the families and of the people who have joined their long journey for justice.

We hail the courage and determination of families, witnesses and lawyers who stood up against the powerful Ampatuan clan.

We commend Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for upholding the rule of law.

The decision today is a small step toward ending impunity. It sends the message that the powers-that-be can still be held accountable, albeit belatedly.

This is not the endgame. Eighty of the accused are still at large and it is crucial for the Duterte administration to make sure that they are arrested and tried. Legal options for appeal can still be availed – from the RTC, to the appelate court, up to the Supreme Court. We will soldier on, no matter how long.

The past ten years have galvanized us, fortified our ranks. After the massacre, killings of journalists continued. Fifteen of our colleagues have been gunned down under this administration.

Moreover, warlordism, political patronage and all the conditions that led to the tragedy ten years ago remain. The enablers of this dome of impunity remain vastly untouched.

We will continue to engulf the reign of impunity in the blaze of the people’s wrath.