“With the conviction of Ressa and Santos, the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the killings and threats against journalists, the numerous violations faced by Filipinos on a daily basis and the passage of the terror bill, a full-blown dictatorship is made more palpable.”–Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general
An alliance of artists and journalists asked newly-appointed Interagency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD) co-chairperson, Vice President Leni Robredo, to include among her top priorities stopping and investigating “what is clearly a policy of disinformation, misinformation and information manipulation surrounding the government’s drug war.”
In a statement, the Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) asked Robredo to seek disclosures to many pressing questions on the drug war, particularly the unsolved deaths of tens of thousands of victims.
The group asked Robredo the following:
1. Who are
the country’s biggest druglords, and the status of investigations or
prosecutions against them, if any? Who are the officials protecting or
providing them with lenient, special treatment?
2. What information does the ICAD member-agencies have regarding the entry of illegal drugs from abroad, and what steps they have taken to stop them?
3. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions against former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon in connection with the disappearance of billions worth of shabu, against “ninja cops” led by former Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, and other top officials, and those who gifted three convicted Chinese drug lords with early release?
4. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions into the “narco lists” publicized by the president?
5. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions into every case of extrajudicial killing or deaths in the hands of the police?
6. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions into policemen identified as perpetrators of extrajudicial killings?
7. Who are the other convicted top drug lords freed under BuCor Directors Bato dela Rosa and Faeldon?
8. Where are the lists and actual inventories of shabu and illegal drugs seized by police in their operations?
9. Which private drug testing companies are involved in the many drug testing activities of government, the amount of taxpayer funds provided to them, and the status of all private/personal medical information in the possession?
“The answers to these and many other questions are important in assessing the conduct of the so-called drug war. Agencies and officials of government are duty-bound to provide the answers to taxpayers and all citizens,” LODI said.
The group also asked Robredo to press ICAD member-agencies to be open to public feedback and criticism and to invite in her capacity as ICAD co-chair United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs “so they could do their work, provide government and the public an independent view, and make their recommendations.”
In November 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to slap UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard should she decide to push through with her investigations on the drug war.
Speaking to overseas Filipino workers in Vietnam, Duterte said, “Kaya sabi ko kay Callamard, kung imbestigahan mo ako, sampalin kita. “ (That’s why I told Callamard, if you investigate me, I’ll slap you.)
Meanwhile, Robredo presided over her first ICAD briefing on Friday, reminding law enforcement agencies to reconsider current drug war strategies to prevent “senseless killings.”
Robredo said the new anti-illegal drug campaign should target the drug problem, not “our people.”
“Maybe it’s time to think about a new campaign with something more effective, where no one dies senselessly,” Robredo told attending officials in the briefing.
Earlier, Robredo promised that “[t]he anti-drug campaign will continue with the same vigor, intensity.”
“What we will change is the manner by which it is implemented,” Robredo added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
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.”
By Mong Palatino/Global Voices
Media groups and human rights advocates are celebrating the release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who spent more than 500 days in detention for their role in investigating the massacre of some Rohingya residents in northern Myanmar. But despite their release, the state of free speech in the country is still undermined by the continued detention and persecution of some artists, journalists, and activists. Consider the following cases:
Defamation case against The Irrawaddy
A defamation complaint was filed by the military’s Yangon Region Command against The Irrawaddy’s Burmese-language editor U Ye Ni over the news website’s alleged unfair coverage of the armed clashes between government forces and the insurgent Arakan Army in Rakhine State. The Irrawaddy said it did nothing but report the escalating armed clashes in the region since the start of 2019. Here is U Ye Ni’s response to the case filed by the military:
I feel sorry about the military’s misunderstanding of us. Journalism dictates that we reveal the suffering of people in a conflict area. Our intention behind the coverage is to push those concerned to solve the problems by understanding the sufferings of the people.
The Irrawaddy is a content partner of Global Voices.
Jailed for satire
Meanwhile, five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe were sent to Insein prison to await trial for their satirical performance mocking the army. Thangyat is performance art similar to slam poetry featuring folk verses with traditional musical notes and is combined with song, dance, and chants. The group was charged with violating article 505(a) of the penal code which criminalizes the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause any military officer to disregard or fail in his duties.
Zeyar Lwin, one of the accused, said:
All of our cases are political issues so that they need to resolve them as political issues. And also, I’d like to say all of us need to join the work for amending the 2008 constitution being done in parliament. In my opinion all of these issues can be resolved if we can do the primary work of amending the constitution.
Zeyar Lwin is referring to the 2008 constitution which many analysts believe was designed to reinforce military rule even after the restoration of civilian leadership.
Sickly filmmaker in detention
The case of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi also reflects the restrictions imposed on critical artists. A complaint filed by a military officer against the filmmaker’s ‘defamatory’ Facebook posts led to his arrest. Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi is the founder of the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival and a known critic of the military’s involvement in politics. His supporters are calling for his release on humanitarian grounds, since he has had half of his liver removed due to cancer and suffers from heart and kidney problems. The Human Rights Film Network, a partnership of 40 human rights film festivals around the world, sent this letter to the government:
As a concerned international human rights community, we seek reassurance from the Myanmar government to ensure that Section66(d), which was meant to enhance progress of telecommunications, will not be used to silence the voice of Myanmarese civilians seeking to voice their opinions and take part in the democratic process in Myanmar.
The letter refers to the controversial Section 66(d) defamation law which has been used by authorities to charge critics, activists, and journalists.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi’s petition for bail was rejected by a local court. His next hearing is scheduled for May 9, 2019.
‘They should never have been jailed in the first place.‘
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The Supreme Court upheld their conviction last April with finality but they were released from prison after they were granted a presidential pardon during the country’s traditional New Year.
Groups like the Southeast Asian Press Alliance welcomed the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo but they also highlighted the injustice suffered by the two reporters:
They should never have been jailed in the first place, because they committed no crime.
While we welcome this positive development, the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is proof that journalists are in constant risk of political reprisal for keeping power in check.
The Makabayan Bloc at the House of Representatives filed a bill seeking the exemption of journalists from acting as witnesses in police anti-drug operations.
House Bill 8832 was filed Wednesday by ACT Teachers’ Party Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro, Gabriela Reps. Arlene Brosas and Emmi de Jesus, Anakpawis Party Rep. Ariel Casilao, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Kabataan Party Rep. Sarah Elago together with National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) officers.
The bill seeks to amend Section 1 of Republic Act 10640, otherwise known as “An Act to Further Strengthen the Anti-Drug campaign of the Government,” which orders that journalists act as “optional witnesses” to drug operations.
The law amended section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” which earlier ordered that journalists act as mandatory witnesses to the police inventory of seized items in drug operations, along with elected officials and members of the National Proecution Service.
HB 8832 stemmed from an ongoing NUJP campaign against ordering journalists to as witnesses to police anti-drug operations.
According to the NUJP, journalists throughout the country report that law enforcement units continue requiring them to sign on as witnesses, often as a condition for being allowed to cover anti-drug operations.
“Worse, there are reports that they are made to sign even if they did not actually witness the operation or the inventory of seized items,” the NUJP’s “Sign Against the Sign” campaign said.
Journalists who decline can find their sources or the normal channels of information no longer accessible, the media group added.
HB 8832 said that aside from the obvious coercion and attempts to control information of vital interest to the public, the media’s opposition to this practice also stems from the fact that it unnecessarily places journalists at risk of retaliation from crime syndicates, on the one hand, and exposes them to prosecution for perjury and other offenses in the event of irregularities in the conduct of anti-drug operations, on the other.
The proposed measure said that journalists must be protected from harm and the anti-drug laws must help ensure that reportage on the government’s anti-drug operations must remain objective and factual.
Rep. Tinion said the Makabayan Bloc will ask Committee on Public Information chairperson Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar to schedule a hearing on the bill as soon as possible.
The NUJP for its part will ask Senate Committee on Public Information chairperson Senator Grace Poe to file a counterpart in the Senate. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is terribly unfortunate that seven decades since this landmark document was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, this day is marked not so much in celebration as in noting how people continue to be deprived of these rights or see these snatched away by repressive governments.
The Philippines, of course, knows this only too well in the last two and a half years since Rodrigo Duterte became president and launched his bloody war on drugs, in waging which he has also taken to openly insulting and attacking critics of the murderous campaign.
Among his targets have been media outfits and their news staff, relentlessly and baselessly accusing them of spreading disinformation, a charge his supporters have echoed and used to threaten and harass journalists, even exhorting others to do the same even as they themselves knowingly spread falsehoods.
Article 19 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
This right is also enshrined in Section 4, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.”
As we mark another year of violated human rights and repressed freedoms, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reaffirms our commitment to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the country.
We call on all independent Filipino journalists to strengthen our bonds and solidify our ranks, and resist all efforts to silence or otherwise prevent us from fulfilling our task of serving the people’s sacred right to know.
And amid the continuing efforts to silence critical speech and thought, let us give these voices the space and airtime they deserve that they may be heard and contribute to the ever evolving work in progress that is our democracy. #
–THE NUJP NATIONAL DIRECTORATE
Media groups reject a proposal to regulate mass media through a so-called Magna Carta for journalists, as announced by a Malacañan official Friday.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) and the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) rejected outright the proposal of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) to regulate the profession “in the guise of a “Magna Carta.”
In reaction to a speech by PTFoMS executive director Joel Egco in Baguio City Friday, the groups said it was not the first time that such a measure is being proposed, which they have consistently opposed.
SunStar-Baguio reported Egco as saying the proposed measure would seek to professionalize journalism through qualifying and classifying exams.
“If you want to become a media personality, you will have to take an exam every six months to assess your qualification which would set either a managerial position or a corresponding salary level or grade equivalent to that of government,” Egco was quoted as saying.
Egco was addressing Northern Luzon journalists who attended a seminar on media safety protocols developed by the PTFoMS in light of the continuing threats against media workers.
He said that professionalizing the ranks of journalists by classifying them into three levels would lessen threats against them.
“With the qualifying exam, journalists can now be qualified as a level 1, 2 or 3, and depending on the vacant position to be applied, they can now for example apply for a reportorial position which is level 2 while obtaining a level 1 qualification,” Egco said.
Saying that while it does not question Egco’s intent, the NUJP, however, said the proposed “Magna Carta,” which goes so far as to set salary grades depending on “competency,” is fraught with danger.
The group added that the proposal would allow the government to determine who can or cannot be a journalist, which is totally anathema to a profession that can thrive only in independence.
The CEGP for its part said the proposed Magna Carta is a misguided attempt by President Rodrigo Duterte’s “politically erratic regime, known for its pseudo-journalists, trolls, fake news and manipulation of public opinion.”
The student journalists said that the Duterte government is in no position to dictate on the media since its own “biases and sensibilities are geared towards the creation of state-sponsored fake news that dumb down the toiling masses.”
A Philippine Press Institute officer, meanwhile, said on a social media post that their group has already rejected the so-called Magna Carta a long time ago.
“’Levelling’ has nothing to do with quality of journalism. We should [instead] care for the following: welfare and protection, ethical practice, and truth-telling,” PPI executive director Ariel Sabellino said.
The NUJP added it cannot allow government the opportunity to meddle in any way in the profession and urged journalists as well as media owners to unite in opposing what it called a clear threat to freedom of the press and of expression. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)