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Anti-mining activists killed in alarming numbers under Duterte

By Genevieve Feliciano / Altermidya

Despite the former president’s supposed anti-mining stance, Altermidya found out that most of the reported killings of environmental defenders during his administration were linked to mining.

MANILA, Philippines — Chad Errol Booc, 27, had a following on X (formerly Twitter). A cum laude graduate in Computer Science from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, he constantly posted about his environmental and human rights advocacies to his followers of more than 18,000 on the social media platform.

But more than that, he walked the talk: Chad was a volunteer teacher in a faraway Lumad (indigenous peoples of Mindanao) school.

Bakwit school teacher Chad Errol Booc. (Photo by Save Our Schools Network)

On February 23, 2022, Chad and four companions – fellow volunteer-teacher Gelejurain “Jurain” Ngujo II, as well as Elegyn Balonga, Tirso Añar, and Robert Aragon – were in Barangay Andap, New Bataan town of Davao de Oro province (formerly Compostela Valley) in Southern Philippines to conduct a community visit for research.

They were traveling to Davao City when the five were accosted by members of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, according to witnesses. By the morning of February 24, Chad and the others were dead, their lifeless bodies riddled with bullets.

Following the incident, the Army claimed that Chad and his companions, collectively called the “New Bataan 5,” fought it out with government soldiers, before being killed as combatants of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. But witnesses and experts insist they were unarmed civilians and were, in fact, environmental defenders.

An autopsy of Chad’s remains by prominent Manila-based forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun revealed multiple gunshot wounds, implying an intent to kill. It was clearly a case of homicide, she said.

“(The) internal injuries are not compatible with life. I doubt even if he had been attended to medically and surgically even, he would have survived. So it must have caused a fast death,” Fortun added.

A six-month investigation by Altermidya has compiled data from disparate sources including  Global Witness and Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan) to understand who is behind the unrelenting violence against the Philippines’ environmental defenders, what issues and what associated business interests have become most dangerous to stand up against and why the justice system is powerless to stop it.

The two sources have different time frames and methodologies which resulted in disparate figures but similar conclusions.

Global Witness “identifies cases of killings by searching and reviewing reliable sources of publicly available online information” and must be supported by “credible, published and current online sources of information.” The organization also gets information on killings from local organizations in different countries like Kalikasan. 

Since Global Witness started documenting attacks against environmental defenders in 2012, they have recorded 281 killings in the Philippines. This made the country the third most dangerous in the world for people who oppose projects and activities detrimental to the environment.

Meanwhile, Kalikasan employs a monitoring network consisting of their 22 member grassroots organizations across the Philippines to keep track of environmental defender killings. Their reports of human rights violations come directly from their members on ground and are cross-referenced from multiple sources such as news reports, official documents, and government sources to enhance the reliability of data.

From 2001 to 2022, Kalikasan said that there have been at least 328 individuals killed in the Philippines, purportedly for their environmental and social advocacies. According to their data, Davao de Oro, the province where Chad and his companions were killed, recorded the most killings with 38.

In denial

The United Nations (UN) defines environmental defenders as “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna.”

Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 certainly fit the definition. As volunteer teachers in Lumad schools, they advocated for sustainable agriculture, and campaigned to defend the Lumad ancestral lands from intrusion by big mining companies.

However, the Philippine military insisted they were armed rebels. Then-Col. Ramon Zagala, who was Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson at the time, claimed that Chad was an “NPA armed fighter, and he died with members of the NPA fighting government troops who were just doing their jobs.”

This has also been the case with other environmental defenders killed under the Duterte administration. The AFP insists that they do not target unarmed activists, and that those who were killed were armed rebels fighting the government.

And yet it was President Duterte himself who in July 2017 publicly threatened Lumad communities with aerial bombardment.

“Leave those areas. I say to the Lumad there, leave those areas. I will bomb you. I will destroy your structures. I will use the Air Force,” said President Duterte on July 24, 2017, following his second State of the Nation Address. “You are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against the government,” he continued.

By 2017, military presence heightened in other Lumad communities in Mindanao. Catherine “Katkat” Dalon, a Lumad student, joined other Lumad evacuees from other schools in other Mindanao provinces, in a cross-country caravan to Metro Manila. There, they stayed in several evacuation areas and established makeshift schools called “Bakwit (evacuees) school,” where she met Chad and Jurain.

Katkat said they were kind and patient volunteer teachers who taught them practical knowledge about organic farming, as well as social issues from gender issues to imperialism.

“I admired that because they were not just teachers. They were one with us in defending our ancestral lands against imperialist plunder. Teacher Chad and the others had the opportunity to work in the cities because they had diplomas. But they chose to teach in Lumad schools full-time,” Katkat said.

Lumad student Catherine “Katkat” Dalon speaks during a protest to demand justice for the killing of five individuals in New Bataan, Davao de Oro, including her teacher in Bakwit school Chad Booc, on February 26, 2022

Acceleration of killings

Altermidya’s analysis of data from the local environmental group Kalikasan found that most of the killings, or 205 out of the 328, happened under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Eighty-nine out of these 205 killings happened in his homeland in Mindanao.

In 2016, the first year of his presidency, the killings of environmental defenders in the Philippines reached 35, the highest annual record since 2001.

Altermidya’s data analysis further shows an uptick in killings of environmental defenders after Duterte’s speech in 2017. That year was the deadliest for environmental defenders in the Philippines, with 56 killed. By 2018, 29 were killed. But this picked up again in 2019, with 46 environmental defenders killed.

Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 were some of the last environmental defenders killed before Duterte stepped down from office on June 30, 2022.

Multiple killings

Altermidya also found that some killings occurred in a single day in the same province. From 2001 to 2022, Kalikasan recorded 41 incidents in 27 provinces.

An example of this were the two incidents of multiple killings in Lianga town of Surigao del Sur province, located in northeastern Mindanao. The first one happened on September 1, 2015, when Lumad tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo, and executive director of Lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. (ALCADEV) Emerito Samarca were killed.

This was the same Lumad school where Chad volunteered to teach after the massacre.

Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat speaks during a protest in front of the Philippines’
 Department of Environment and Natural Resources in commemoration of the 29th anniversary
of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 on March 4, 2024.

Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat was one of the witnesses to the Lianga massacre.

Various independent investigations, including one done by local human rights group Karapatan, point to a paramilitary group called Magahat-Bagani as the culprit.

“I saw with my own eyes how they shattered the head of my cousin Dionel,” Eufemia said.

She also heard the paramilitary group ordered them to stop with their advocacies for the ancestral lands, or suffer similar fates as that of Dionel, Juvello and Emerito.

“This was how the military protects the mining companies: Through fear-mongering and violence, so that the community will be forced to accede to the mining company’s entry and all that we could do was accept meager salaries from the company,” she added.

The second multiple killings happened in Lianga on July 15, 2021, during the Duterte administration, when two Lumad farmers and a 12-year old Lumad student were shot and killed by alleged elements of the 3rd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army.

The death of Chad and the rest of the New Bataan 5 was another case of multiple killings.

In total, 137 environmental defenders in the Philippines were killed in these multiple killings, or what some human rights groups often refer to as “massacres.” Of the 137, 93 were killed during the Duterte administration.

“These kinds of attacks can only really be done, I think, under a regime or state machinery that is oriented towards silencing those who oppose the destructive projects,” said Kalikasan’s former national coordinator Jon Bonifacio, in an interview with Altermidya.

Mining and killings

Often, mining projects and deaths of environmental defenders are closely linked. Altermidya discovered that out of the 66 provinces with mining tenements, as listed by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as of June 2023, over half have witnessed mining-related deaths of environmental defenders. Davao de Oro had the highest number of killings linked to mining with 26 out of 38. From 2001 to 2022, nearly half of all killings can be traced back to their opposition to large-scale mining, based on Kalikasan’s data. And half of the killings of environmentalists opposing mining operations occurred during the Duterte administration alone.

During the past few decades, ancestral lands of indigenous peoples in the Philippines have been subject to large-scale mining operations. Many of these communities, like that of the Lumad in Mindanao, have organized themselves to protect their lands, including the far-flung areas in Surigao del Sur and Davao de Oro provinces.

According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, there are 137 mining tenements in Mindanao as of June 2023. These are composed of Mineral Production Sharing Agreements, Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements, Exploration Permits, and Mineral Processing Permits.

Chad, who volunteered for Alcadev Lumad School in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, was also involved in the campaign against mining operations in Lianga that would displace the Lumad. He was also active in the campaign against the mining operations of Apex Mining in Maco, Davao de Oro – the province where they were killed.

Ironically, Duterte publicly stated that he opposed large-scale mining during the first year of his presidency. During that time, he appointed environmental advocate and anti-mining activist Gina Lopez to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Lopez, in her one year as environment secretary, ordered the closure of 26 mining operations due to violations in environmental regulations.

But in 2017, Lopez’s appointment was rejected by Duterte’s allies in the Commission on Appointments. The President began walking back on his statements against mining, as the number of killings of environmental defenders increased. By December 2021, Duterte had lifted the ban on open-pit mining.

‘Two years without justice’

Environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights groups light candles on February 24, 2024,
the second anniversary of the ‘New Bataan 5’ killing.

Like the 323 environmental defenders who were killed between 2001 and 2022, Chad and his companions continue to be denied justice. Two years after their brutal killings, their families and loved ones remain mired in prolonged uncertainty and frustration.

Environmental and human rights lawyer Antonio La Viña, legal counsel for Chad’s family, lamented the lack of progress in the investigation, which he said illustrates the state of impunity in the country.

“First of all, the police are not serious about investigating because it should be the police who are investigating. [They] even justify their actions. So right there in the investigation, you already have a problem,” said La Viña.

In the country’s judicial system, La Viña said corruption and inefficiency are “inherent” and manifest in prolonged legal battles.

Environmental, human rights, and media groups protest in front of the Philippines’ Supreme Court
on January 24, 2024, the 13th anniversary of the killing of environmental activist
and journalist Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega.

He cited the case of Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega, an environmental activist and journalist, who was gunned down in 2011 in Palawan, briefly after his radio program.

La Viña said the Ortega case exemplifies the severe repercussions of judicial fraud, where legal proceedings are not just delayed but derailed, leaving families and communities in a perpetual state of uncertainty and injustice.

Key witnesses in Chad’s case either disappeared or succumbed to fear, unable to challenge the dominant narrative imposed by the military – a narrative later contradicted by autopsy findings, according to La Viña.

He said this is one of the significant obstacles to achieving justice for Chad and his companions. This case, he said, illustrates the daunting barriers to justice when powerful entities control the narrative and witnesses are silenced by fear.

Chad’s family and legal counsel also could not access the area where they were killed because it was “too dangerous.”  While forensic science disproved the military’s narrative of Chad’s death, the probe still needs witnesses to corroborate that the deaths were the result of unlawful actions by the military and not a legitimate combat encounter as initially claimed.

La Viña, former Dean of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, said the country urgently needs to implement robust protection mechanisms for environmental and human rights defenders against state and non-state attacks and attacks from business interests that are often the subject of their advocacy work.

“All development aggression activities, such as mining, reclamation, and land conversion, contribute to the increasing number of environmental defender killings. Why are they being killed? Why are they being attacked? Because they are effective in fighting development aggression,” he said.

Jonila Castro speaks during the press conference for abduction survivor and environmental defender
Francisco “Eco” Dangla III (middle) on April 26, 2024.

Meanwhile, Kalikasan’s advocacy officer Jonila Castro, said that the state of impunity against environmental defenders continues to worsen due to the absence of accountability and continuous denial of the Philippine government that human rights violations occur.

“If there’s no recognition that environmental defenders are being attacked, how can we achieve justice? How can the perpetrators be accountable?” she said.

Continuing attacks

Under the Duterte administration, Bonifacio said that the crackdown against dissent “was apparent,” adding that killings during his strongman rule “were more severe compared” to previous administrations.

Bonifacio warned against the continuation of the Duterte policies under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. He said, “There is no doubt that attacks on environmental defenders will not cease.”

Based on the recent data from Kalikasan, the killing of environmental defenders has continued under the present administration. Since Marcos Jr. assumed office in July 2022, a total of 23 environmental defenders have been killed.

Castro said that aside from killings, environmental defenders in the Philippines are also subject to other forms of attacks, including red-tagging, abduction, and trumped-up charges.

She experienced a similar ordeal. On the night of September 2, 2023, Castro and her fellow environmental activist Jhed Tamano were abducted by armed men in Orion town in the province of Bataan. Before the incident, they worked with the fishing communities in the province that are threatened by reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

The two were later presented by the National Task Force to End Local Communists Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in a press conference as “rebel surrenderees.” During the press briefing, Castro and Tamano revealed that they were held captive by the military and coerced to sign a handwritten affidavit stating they “voluntarily surrendered.”

Weeks after Castro and Tamano revealed their sufferings with their abductors, the Department of National Defense filed perjury charges against the two. Although these charges were eventually dismissed, an oral grave defamation charge was later pressed against them.

“We were abducted under the Marcos Jr administration. That’s why we cannot say that the situation of environmental defenders in the country has improved. Our experience proves that attacks persist under the current administration,” said Castro. Kalikasan pointed out that it was former president Duterte who came out with various executive orders that militarized several parts of the Philippines. He also created the NTF-ELCAC and pushed for the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan shares her initial findings and recommendations
 regarding the situation of free expression in the Philippines during a media briefing
 on February 2, 2024.

In January 2024, Irene Khan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, urged the Philippine government to repeal the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which she called a “law of concern.” She said it threatens freedom of expression in the country.

She also urged the Philippine government to abolish NTF-ELCAC. She described the agency as “outdated” and one of the “critical drivers of red-tagging.”

Red-tagging is the practice of labeling individuals or groups as members or supporters of communist insurgents without due process or basis. It is with the intent of vilifying or shaming these individuals in public. According to experts, this vilification, in many cases, precedes physical and legal attacks, from trumped-up charges to killings.

The Legal Division of the country’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR) did an investigation on the situation of human rights defenders in the country in 2019. The probe observed that the red-tagging of activists indeed often preceded more serious attacks.

“You know, in some cases, when you are red-tagged, you are dead the following day,” said lawyer Jolet de la Cruz of CHR Legal Division, in an interview with Altermidya.

Like Castro, Chad was also a victim of red-tagging. Before being killed, he was repeatedly tagged as a “terrorist” by the NTF-ELCAC.

According to Castro, laws and policies that allow the implementation of projects that bring harm to the environment also contribute to the continuing attacks against environmental defenders. She cited the decades-old mining law in the Philippines called the “Philippine Mining Act of 1995.” The said law eased foreign restrictions on mining operations in the country, which environmental groups like Kalikasan denounced.

Recently, the Philippine government also said that it will release guidelines to expedite the release of mining permits in the country.

“As long as these policies exist, many environmental defenders will speak up. But what usually happens to them when they air their demands? They are being attacked,” Castro said.

Environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights groups amplify calls to junk the Philippine Mining Act of 1995
through a protest action in front of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources
on March 4, 2024.

Carrying on

What has also continued – despite the killing of environmental defenders like Chad – is the advocacy work of environmental defenders, especially in vulnerable communities like that of the Lumad.

Katkat said that they will continue to resist large-scale mining operations such as those in Mindanao and Lumad ancestral lands.

“Just because they killed Teachers Chad and Jurain does not mean that we cannot reopen our schools and they can already mine our ancestral lands. No. We will persist. We will reopen our schools,” she vowed.

Displaced from her Lumad community, she is now a student in the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman in Quezon City in the nation’s capital.

Like Chad and Jurain, Katkat wants to be a teacher to her fellow Lumad. “I hope we can return one day to our ancestral lands. I really dream of becoming a teacher in a Lumad school,” she said.

As a tribute to Chad, Jurain, Elegyn, Tirso, and Robert, kamagong (Diospyros blancoi) trees were planted in a parcel of land at UP. As they were planting, Katkat recalled something Chad once said: “If I die, I do not want to be buried. I want to be planted.”

Catherine “Katkat” Dalon visits the Kamagong trees they planted
as a tribute to the ‘New Bataan 5,’ on February 10, 2024,
days before their second death anniversary.

Reporting for this story was supported by the Environmental Data Journalism Academy – a program of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and Thibi.

Methodology

The data of global environmental defender killings was sourced from the London-based non-profit organization, Global Witness. Meanwhile, the data of environmental defender killings in the Philippines was requested from the local environmental group, Kalikasan – People’s Network for the Environment. For verification, the locations and dates of these incidents were cross-referenced with data provided by the Philippine human rights organization, Karapatan.

The raw data provided by Kalikasan was cleaned and analyzed using Google Sheets. Both Kalikasan and Karapatan requested to maintain the confidentiality of the data due to security reasons.

For the mining tenements throughout the Philippines, the data was scraped from the official website of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. Subsequently, this data was cleaned and analyzed using Google Sheets.

‘Ring for justice’: Media groups troop to DOJ to call for release of detained community journalist

MANILA – Bearing handbells, media groups led by Altermidya Network trooped to the Department of Justice in Manila on Tuesday, January 23, to call for the immediate release of detained community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

The protest was in time for Frenchie Mae’s 25th birthday and the start of the official visit to the Philippines of UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan.

The bells draw inspiration from the radio program that Frenchie Mae used to host titled “Lingganay Han Kamatuoran” (Bells of Truth in Waray).

“These bells signify the unwavering spirit of journalists and their commitment to truth in the face of increasing repression,” said Avon Ang, Altermidya Network national coordinator.

“As we mark four years since Frenchie Mae Cumpio’s arrest this February, we ring these bells not only for her but for every journalist who has been persecuted for reporting the truth,” Ang stressed.

Altermidya expressed optimism that the group as well as other media will be heard by UNSR Khan during her visit to the country, where she will investigate allegations of attacks against the freedom of opinion and expression in the Philippines.

The network is among the various organizations that have submitted reports on the precarious situation of journalists in the Philippines. Altermidya highlighted in its report the continued detention of Frenchie Mae, the incessant red-tagging attacks against community journalists, and the website blocking of alternative media outfits.

“We refuse to be silenced in the face of intimidation and injustice. Today, we ring our bells to call for an end to the weaponization of the law against journalists and for the establishment of a safe environment where the press can operate without fear,” she ended. #

Groups slam media security chief for red-tagging ahead of UN expert’s visit

Media groups and rights defenders condemned government’s top media security official, calling his allegation that a jailed journalist is active in terrorist groups a classic example of red-tagging.

Altermidya and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) executive director Paulino Gutierrez’s attack against journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio also proves the absurdity of his agency’s continued existence.

In his January 4 “Paul’s Alarm” column on JournalnewsOnline, Gutierrez wrote, “Nais din niyang (United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan) malaman ang sitwasyon ni Franchie (sic) Mae Cumpio, na kasalukuyang naka-detine sa Palo Provincial Jail sa Leyte dahil sa aktibo nitong papel sa lokal na teroristang grupo ng mga komunista.” (She also wants to know about Franchie (sic) Mae Cumpio’s situation, who is currently detained at the Palo Provincial Jail in Leyte because of her active role in the local terrorist group of communists.)

Altermidya said the official’s allegation is exactly what they mean about red-tagging: government officials linking civilians to alleged communist groups without proof.

“May we remind Mr. Gutierrez that Ms. Cumpio is contesting the charges filed against her in court and has yet to be convicted. There is absolutely no point for anyone, more so a high government official, to forget that ‘everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law,’” Altermidya said in a statement.

In a separate statement, the NUJP said Gutierrez’s accusation highlights precisely how red-tagging has become institutionalized in the Philippines and has become undeclared policy.

“It also shows the absurdity of having a body created for media security in a government task force that actively puts journalists’ security at risk by accusing them of being enemies of the state,” NUJP said.

The group added that Gutierrez’s allegation violates not just the constitutional presumption of innocence but also the Journalist’s Code of Ethics.

Human rights group Karapatan also slammed Gutierrez, saying the official’s red-tagging of Cumpio is hypocritical.

“Here is a big example of the government’s so-called ‘promotion of human rights,’ and yet, the Philippine government is already vilifying human rights defenders and press freedom defenders because they have tagged them as enemies of the state,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Braggadocio gone wrong

Ironically, Gutierrez wrote about Khan’s official 10-day visit to the Philippines starting next week in his column, disclosing he is ready to meet with the UN expert on press freedom and freedom of expression.

Gutierrez added it is a significant personal honor for him to lead the country’s preparations for Khan’s visit as chief of the only government agency in the world dedicated to media worker’s rights.

Altermidya however said Gutierrez’s attack against Cumpio is emblematic of their complaints to the UN expert.

“It is exactly this kind of information that we wish Ms. Khan would closely look into in her investigation into the Philippine situation,” Altermidya said.

“The statement of USec Guiterrez highlights the urgency of our appeal to Ms Khan to conduct a thorough investigation on the continued vilification of journalists, affecting the exercise of press freedom and the people’s right to know,” Altermidya said.

Karapatan said that government agencies involved in the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur are the same agencies engaged in red-tagging, terrorist-labelling, filing of trumped up charges, and other forms of violations.

Special jail visit to Frenchie Mae

In his column, Gutierrez revealed that Khan wishes to visit Cumpio in jail.

The youngest journalist in prison in the world today, Cumpio was arrested in February 2020 when she was 20 years old.

A former editor of the student publication University of the Philippines Vista in Tacloban, Cumpio was a broadcaster with Manila Broadcasting Company’s Aksiyon Radyo station in Leyte at the time of her arrest.

She was also the executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista and manager-in-training of Radyo Taclobanon, a women-led disaster resiliency community radio station project in Supertyphoon Yolanda-hit Eastern Visayas.

“Indeed, she is the very Frenchie Mae Cumpio mentioned in laureate Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize speech,” Altermidya said. # (Raymund B. tVillanueva)

= = = = = =

DISCLOSURE: Altermidya’s statement was issued with the author as reference, being the group’s chairperson. He is also a former NUJP officer. Kodao and the author were Cumpio’s trainers for the Radyo Taclobanon project.

Statements on the killing of journalists in Gaza

ALTERMIDYA: On the Gaza information crisis

The worsening conflict in Palestine’s Gaza amid Israel’s unrelenting offensives indicates a humanitarian crisis of global concern.

Since October 7, military operations between Israel and Palestinian armed group Hamas have killed over thousands of Palestinians and injured many more in the Gaza Strip. Compounding the conflict is a total Israeli blockade of food, fuel, and other necessities to millions of people in the occupied territory in what is grounds for an international war crime.

Now, an information crisis threatens to further distort the conflict’s causes and consequences. Gaza is experiencing a near information blackout with internet and phone services cut. Israel is to blame for cutting the communications, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Independent journalists like members of the Altermidya Network urge the United Nations and other human rights bodies to immediately intervene by doing everything possible to restore access to communications in Gaza.

In the same vein, we express deep concern for our fellow media workers who are covering the ongoing conflict from the front lines.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 29 journalists were killed in such operations. Most of these were Palestinians, as well as three Israelis and one Lebanese. This is on top of dozens of journalists who are injured, detained, or reported missing. Addressing the information crisis necessitates that the safety of journalists is upheld and guaranteed.

We call on all involved parties to stop killing and targeting civilians, including media workers based in Gaza. By extension, entities within the UN such as the Special Rapporteur to immediately investigate such brazen killings and attacks in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1948.

Protecting the media would serve to aid them in their job to report and explain the decades-long Palestine occupation.

Tens of thousands have been killed, while millions have been displaced in this conflict rooted in colonial acts. Unfortunately, this historically drawn out narrative will be buried along with the bodies of innocent civilians, media included, if we all silently wait as this conflict continues. The time to act is now. Those in observance of the conflict must speak out, while those in power must do all to address the very roots of this systemic violence.

For the UN and all related rights entities, the urgency to restore communications in Gaza cannot be understated. # (October 30, 2023/Quezon City, Philippines)

AMARC Asia-Pacific Condemns the killing of media workers and civilians in Gaza

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC (Asia-Pacific) strongly protests the ongoing indiscriminate killings of civilians and media workers in Gaza by US-backed Israeli forces. Records show that the period since 7th of October 2023 has been the deadliest period for media workers.

The genocide in Gaza is also one of the most terrible media crises in recent times. International sources estimate that approximately 48 journalists have lost their lives while reporting from Gaza. According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 48 journalists and media workers have been confirmed dead including 43 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 1 Lebanese. According to sources, the deceased media workers include those representing media organizations as well as freelancers.

Since the 1940s, the political claims and cause of Palestinians has been subject to disinformation and distortion at the highest levels of international governance and law to justify violence in Gaza and West Bank. Since the recent Al-Aqsa Floods operation, there have been various kinds of moral obfuscations and disinformation on mainstream and social media platforms to justify genocide against the Palestinians. Free, independent, and critical-minded media organisations and journalists are one of the few factors that has helped mobilise large-scale protests against this genocide. It is no surprise that media workers are heavily under attack. Issuing this statement, Dr. Ramnath Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific has called the situation in Gaza as one of the gravest conditions for freedom of journalists and other media workers.

“Independent journalists reporting from the heart of the conflict in Gaza are the only source of any credible information that is received by the rest of the world. Targeting media workers is a clear sign of genocidal intent that does not wish to see itself exposed; creates an information blackout at the global level fostering disinformation; and finally lays the ground for further intensification of genocide”

AMARC Asia-Pacific deeply mourns the deceased media workers and condemns the mass killings going on in Gaza, specifically the blanket targeting of civilians. It calls upon all concerned, especially the Government of Israel and the US to immediately stop hostilities, affect a ceasefire and end the genocide.

Statement issued by the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, AMARC (Asia-Pacific), [email protected], November 22, 2023/Kathmandu, Nepal

Threats to Truth-telling, Free Expression Worsen During Marcos Jr.’s First Year in Office

One year into the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the state of free expression has not improved. In fact, it has further deteriorated in the Philippines.

President Marcos Jr. pledged to uphold press freedom. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, however, recorded 84 incidents of attacks on the media from June 30, 2022 until July 22, 2023. This number is 42 percent higher compared to the documented cases during Duterte’s first 13 months in office.

Three journalists have been killed while four others survived two separate shooting incidents. The July 14 shooting of San Juanico TV reporters in Pastrana, Leyte by members of the local police and the subsequent surveillance and harassment they are subjected to prove that a lot has to be done to address impunity in the country.

Community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and dozens of artists, including Adora Faye de Vera, Amanda Echanis, JP and Grace Versoza, Lorie Sigua, and Aldeen Yañez among others, continue to languish in jail over trumped-up criminal charges. Their only crime is that they have utilized their skills and talent to amplify the voices of marginalized and oppressed sectors. 

Libel laws continue to be wielded as a form of harassment against journalists. The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr., and even extended the prescription period of cyber libel from 12 years to 15 years. Last December 2022, journalist Frank Cimatu was convicted of cyber libel over a satirical social media post pertaining to former Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. 

The blocking order against the websites of media outfits Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, and of several progressive people’s organizations stands. For publishing critical news and views, they continue to be censored by the Philippine government. 

President Marcos Jr. also remains silent on various attacks against freedom of expression, especially in support of the right to assemble and seek redress for grievances.

The red-tagging of journalists, artists, activists, and anyone expressing opinion contrary to government narratives persists. The government task force mandated to end the armed conflict and their minions attempt to portray as “terrorists” those who voice out legitimate criticisms and concerns. The entire state machinery, under the guise of the “whole-of-nation-approach” is used to curtail not only free expression but also the right to organization of different sectors pushing for their rights and welfare.  

State forces wield the anti-terror law as a weapon against human rights defenders. The Anti-Terror Council has designated as terrorists indigenous peoples activists in the Cordillera, and a community doctor in Mindanao despite the dismissal of fabricated charges filed against these human rights defenders. In the Southern Tagalog region alone, 15 activists, including two Church leaders, have been charged with violation of the Anti-Terror Act.

Marcos Jr. has not lifted a finger to undo the excesses and abuses of Duterte. His inaction is taken as a go-signal by those who continue to violate the people’s right to free speech and free expression. 

We, journalists, artists and advocates, speak now to challenge the Marcos Jr. administration to reverse the policies of his predecessor and uphold and respect the people’s rights. 

Free Frenchie Mae Cumpio and all detained artists and human rights defenders!

Stop censorship! Unblock the truth! 
Junk the Anti-Terror Law!
Artists and Media, Fight Back!

Altermidya Network 
Concerned Artists of the Philippines 
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines 

STATEMENTS ON THE LISTING OF MEDIA ORGANIZATIONS AS ‘FRONT ORGANIZATIONS’

ALTERMIDYA: On the listing of 3 media organizations as ‘front organizations’: Unconstitutional, dangerous

Altermidya Network denounces the unconstitutional, undemocratic, and dangerous resolution released by the Kalinga Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC).

The resolution, which urges the local government to require permits for activities, comes with a list of 18 so-called Communist Party of the Philippines’ “sectoral front organizations” (SFOs). The list, prepared by the 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, included three media organizations.

As shown by photos released by Department of Interior and Local Government provincial director Anthony Manolo Ballug, the list included Altermidya members Northern Dispatch and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), along with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). This has the effect of preventing members of these media organizations from conducting their work as journalists and also puts them in grave danger from the military and the police.

The three media organizations are well-respected and award-winning institutions. The CEGP was established in 1931 and has produced hundreds of venerable journalists. The Northern Dispatch has been producing stories from the communities since 1989, while NUJP, founded by the late Tony Nieva, is known for advancing the rights and welfare of journalists in the country since 1986.

Even the 15 other organizations in the list are known legitimate organizations in Northern Luzon. Preventing them from continuing with their work without a court order is nothing less than undemocratic.

We urge the immediate junking of the Kalinga PTF-ELCAC Resolution No. 2023-04 as well as the 50th IB’s “List of SFOs”. We likewise ask the elected city and municipal officials of Kalinga to reject this dangerous resolution and list.

We will make sure that these attacks on press freedom and democracy are duly reported to the United Nations Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, who is set to conduct in-country investigations early next year. # (June 14, 2023)

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NORTHERN DISPATCH: On the inclusion of Northern Dispatch and other media groups in the 50th IB list of ‘Threat Groups’

We cannot help but ask: Is the military threatened by Northern Dispatch? Does the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with their guns, tanks, and bombs, find it difficult to face critical reporting that it must resort to malicious and covert labeling of our outfit, other media groups, and organizations?

The latest ‘secret’ list of alleged ‘Sectoral Front Organizations’ from the 50th IB seems to admit so. With all its might and combat training, the military still labels civilian and media organizations – as ‘Threat Groups.’

While their baseless rhetoric has already turned pathetic, its danger remains potent, enough to result in discrimination of groups and individuals, trumped-up cases, detention, enforced disappearance, and murder.

But the more crucial question is: Why the military considers critical media a threat and merits attention? Is it because our reports not only amplify the people’s democratic aspirations but also expose the ills of society that continue to thrive because of the government’s shortcomings?

Since its establishment in 1989, Northern Dispatch has reported on campaigns and struggles against widespread poverty, feudal exploitation, resource plunder, corruption, human rights violations and abuses, anti-people policies, and the government’s subservience to foreign powers. The people’s narratives we publish illustrate state security forces’ historical and continuing role in protecting this order.

While these stories show the root cause of the armed conflict and the social foundation of inequality and lack of justice, they still go through strict editorial standards. We write them with the Journalists’ Code of Ethics in mind.

Thus, we urge the military and the government to cease the practice of red-tagging and engage us under the rule of law and justice, and in an honorable manner. Prove that you are still capable of rational discourse on issues instead of treating critical media and activist groups as enemies of the state. #

Northern Dispatch Board of Directors, Editors, and Provincial Correspondents

June 14, 2023

TAMBAYAN: Kumusta ang mga magsasaka ng Hacienda Tinang isang taon matapos ang pag-aresto sa #Tinang83

Samahan ang Chairperson ng Altermidya at reporter/editor ng Kodao Productions na si Raymund B. Villanueva sa pilot episode ng TAMBAYAN, ang bagong programang podcast na, video pa.

Sa unang episode na ito, dinalaw natin ang tambayan ng mga magsasaka ng Hacienda Tinang sa Concepcion, Tarlac. Kakatanggap lang nila ng dokumentong ipinagkakaloob na sa mga agrarian reform beneficiaries ang lupang kanilang sinasaka.

Kumusta na nga ba ang mga magsasaka sa Hacienda Tinang isang taon matapos ang marahas na pag-aresto sa #Tinang83 at ang inaasahang installation nila sa lupa?

Press Freedom Day ignites with demands for journalist’s liberty

There is no genuine press freedom in the Philippines while a journalist unjustly remains in jail, media groups said on World Press Freedom Day today, May 3.

Media groups People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) both called for the liberty of Tacloban-based journalist and broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio who has been in jail for more than three years.

This 30th World Press Freedom Day, the struggle for a genuinely free press in the Philippines persists as community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio remains unjustly detained in Tacloban City,” Altermidya said in a statement.

Charged with terrorism-related cases, Cumpio is also appealing the forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of pesos the police said she was using to finance rebellion.

Cumpio was among human rights defenders and activists arrested in February 2020 in simultaneous raids by the police.

“The Altermidya Network continues to call for the dismissal of all fabricated charges and immediate release of our fellow community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio,” the media group said.

“We have no doubt that elements of the state are behind prolonging Frenchie’s case as she is a fierce government critic who upholds the interest of the people in her reportage,” it added.

Meanwhile, NUJP said that while there have been recent press freedom victories, such as in the acquittal of Maria Ressa and Rappler of tax evasion cases, many journalists are still facing threats.

NUJP said that prior to their arrest, Cumpio had been red-tagged and subjected to surveillance by the police and the military and that charges against her are based on testimony from questionable witnesses.

“The slow pace of (Cumpio’s) case — especially in contrast with the quick resolution of other, more high profile ones — is a violation of her right to a quick trial and also deprives the communities on (Eastern Visayas) that she used to report on and for,” NUJP said.

Other press freedom violations

NUJP said that Cumpio’s case is just one among several other press freedom violations in the Philippines.

The group said that since the Rodrigo Duterte administration, there have been attempts to convince journalists to disaffiliate from groups like the NUJP and outright attempts to paint the independent and alternative press as “enemies of the state.”

“While these attempts have been toned down under the new administration, they have continued. Attempts to organize within our ranks — and among citizens in general — are viewed with suspicion, if not vilified outright,” the group revealed.

NUJP and Altermidya also complain of government orders to block Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly news websites, as well as the “weaponization” of laws against freedom of expression and opinion, including the Anti-Terrorism and SIM Card Registration acts.

The groups also recalled government-led attacks against the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler and ABS-CBN as well as the still unresolved murders of journalists Renato Blanco and Percy Lapid who were killed under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

I was Luis Teodoro’s student, and I took it for granted

By JC Gotinga

I was a broadcasting student at UP Diliman, and Journalism 101 was part of the syllabus. But I had no plans of becoming a journalist, and I didn’t really concern myself with current affairs.

I thought I was going to be a hotshot TV-and-film director. This was before there were smartphones. We shot our projects with MiniDV handycams. The iPod, a music player that didn’t require CDs or tapes, was just a rumor.

I remember next to nothing from my Journ 101 classes. What I do remember in vivid detail was the time I made Professor Teodoro so fuming mad, I worried he was going to have a heart attack.

My friend Naomi and I sat on the back row of his class – very telling of how much interest we had in the subject. That day, a new issue of a university paper that was a parody of The Collegian was going around. In the middle of class, Naomi nudged me and showed me something funny – inappropriate – on the back page. I don’t remember what it was, but I blurted out in laughter.

It was a scene out of a jackass movie where the whole class turns to look at you, tutting their disapproval.

I had never offended a teacher before that. I was a teacher’s pet all through elementary and high school, and I’d generally been cool with my college profs. It’s just that journ class bored me to death, and I didn’t think I’d have anything to do with journalism.

Even I was in shock and disbelief at the creature I had, at that moment, become.

“Who laughed?” Professor Teodoro demanded to know.

I raised my hand.

I forget what he had been discussing, but it was, like all of his lectures, serious. In so many words, he told me how dare I laugh in the face of such profundities. How dare I make light of a subject, of a practice, of a tradition for which he and his contemporaries had been incarcerated and tortured, even murdered.

He was so angry he was trembling. I half-expected him to faint. His eyes behind his thick glasses watered.

He walked away from the whiteboard and towards the window. He held on to the sill, and I thought he was being dramatic. The light from outside cut him a sharp profile from where I sat.

He then started talking about the mortal dangers he and his contemporaries lived through while fighting the Marcos dictatorship. He mentioned Amando Doronila who I gathered was his friend and an equally battle-scarred journo.

I think back on this now and I realize it might not have been anger that riled him up but frustration. Frustration at how, no matter how sharp, eloquent, beautiful, profound his lectures were, the message was still lost on the likes of me – heathen children of a younger generation privileged to not have known mortal crisis.

The heat of his rage dissipated and his tone mellowed. Still by the window where the light outlined his sharp nose and tall forehead, he talked about the struggles of the era we were lucky to have missed. He talked about jail. I couldn’t imagine him, the most dignified man I had ever met, a prisoner.

I imagined myself as a prisoner. I asked my self, fleetingly, if I would ever let myself be so given to a cause like patriotism or free speech that I’d end up a prisoner.

No, thanks, Professor. Thank you for your sacrifices. But I am a soft child of my fortunate generation. I am sorry you lived through a terrible time, but now is a different time. A more enlightened time. People and the world have evolved, and we don’t need to inherit your hard-skinned virtues.

My thoughts at the time. And then life and current events happened. Here I am, a journalist.

I understand now how events can turn so that a good, dignified man can end up in prison. That powerful people with much to lose are capable of torture and other nasty things because, like every other person, they’re selfish, but the stakes for them are much higher, and they’d probably long sold their soul to get to that level of wealth and influence anyway.

I’ve now seen for myself the [many forms of] oppression the Professor battled. I now try to battle them myself as another wielder of a pen. I now ride the nag I inherited from him and his contemporaries to confront dragons disguised as windmills. I, like him, now even make references to literary classics.

Time has a way of teaching you the lessons you missed when they were first taught to you, right? I’ve found myself staring out of windows a few times, wondering what went wrong and what I could have done differently and how else I could communicate what I think people need to understand. In the few years since our democracy started to decline, I’ve been in a constant rage, wanting to both embrace and destroy this heathen generation that can’t seem to recognize its own good.

I don’t think Professor Teodoro would have remembered me. I did hope to find myself again in the same room as him and introduce myself as that student who laughed during his class two decades ago, and say that I am sorry. Not just for disrespecting him, but for taking his message for granted.

That message found another way to reach me, and I still cannot really claim to be his student in the real sense of the word. But at least I think he would have enjoyed the irony and savored the poetic justice time has served him.

I could wish his heart wasn’t broken by our country’s recent history, but I am certain it was. I, the heathen who only recently came to the light, am heartbroken. How could he, who had wagered far more for the cause than anyone, not be?

His sun set under the rule of the same family that terrorized his generation. If we are headed for darker times, then his passing is a mercy to one who has fought battles long enough.

Because what I did pick up as the man averted his gaze from me that day I disrespected him was that he would never, ever, have stopped fighting. Even then, he seemed frail of body, but I saw his spirit, and it made me tremble. Only his body could fail him.

Rest in peace, Professor Teodoro. Please forgive me. #

Gunmen kill broadcaster; murder earns swift condemnation

Gunmen killed a broadcaster in Las Pinas City on Monday, the second media worker killed under the three month-old Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presidency.

Percival Mabasa, known in the broadcast industry as Percy Lapid, was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital after two gunmen aboard a motorcycle fired at least two gunshots at the victim.

Described as a hard-hitting broadcaster, he was a critic of several Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte government officials.

Mabasa’s family said they are deeply saddened and angered by what they described as a “brutal and brazen killing of fearless broadcaster, father and husband, brother and friend.”

“We strongly condemn this deplorable crime; it was committed not only against Percy, his family, and his profession, but against our country, his beloved Philippines, and the truth,” the family said.

They added that the victim was highly respected by his listeners as well as peers and foes alike.

“His bold and sharp commentaries cut through the barrage of fake news over the air waves and on social media,” they added.

Mabasa was host of Lapid Fire radio show that aired on DWBL. Previously, he was a broadcaster with radio station DWIZ.

On his YouTube channel, Mabasa commented on the dangers of red-tagging, including that of the recent harassment of Manila Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagar who ruled against the government’s proscription of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations.

Mabasa also recently commented on the security risks of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators and on historical distortion of Martial Law.

The victim is the second journalist to be killed under Marcos Jr. administration.

Radio broadcaster Rey Blanco was stabbed to death in Mabinay, Negros Oriental last September 18.

Immediate condemnation

Media and human rights organization also condemned the killing and joined Mabasa’s family in calling for justice.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Mabasa’s murder shows that journalism remains a dangerous profession in the country.

“That the incident took place in Metro Manila indicates how brazen the perpetrators were, and how authorities have failed to protect journalists as well as ordinary citizens from harm,” the NUJP in a statement Tuesday said.

The Pinoy Media Center condemned Mabasa’s murder and called it another politically-motivated case of extrajudicial killing “to silence truth seekers and media practitioners.

The People’s Alternative Media Network also condemned the murder it said is part of a landscape of violence and intimidation against journalists and citizens.

The National Press Club and the organization of justice beat reporters also issued statements calling for justice for Mabasa.

Human rights group Karapatan joined in the calls for an independent investigation to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Karapatan also said it will join the condemnation rally organized by the NUJP at the Boy Scouts monument in Quezon City at six o’clock tonight. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)