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For this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

A personal testimony by Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona

By CIVICUS

Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are published here through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.

There has been a hostile environment for civil society in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016. Killings, arrests, threats, and intimidation of activists and government critics are often perpetrated with impunity. According to the United Nations, the vilification of dissent is being “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”

There has also been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public.

One tactic increasingly used by the government to target activists and journalists is to label them as “terrorists” or “communist fronts,” particularly those who have been critical of Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” that has killed thousands. Known as “red-tagging” in the Philippines, this process often puts activists at grave risk of being targeted by the state and pro-government militias. In some cases, those who have been red-tagged were later killed. Others have received death threats or sexually abusive comments in private messages or on social media.

Rampant impunity means that accountability for attacks against activists and journalists is virtually non-existent. Courts in the Philippines have failed to provide justice and civil society has been calling for an independent investigation to address the grave violations.

Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story:

‘Silence would be a surrender to tyranny’

The sound of Tibetan chimes and flowing water transformed into a giant hiss the night dozens of worried friends passed on a Facebook post with my face and a headline that screamed I’d been passing information to communist guerrillas.

Old hag, menopausal bitch, a person “of confused sexuality”—I’ve been called all that on social media. Trolls routinely call for my arrest as a communist. But the attack on June 4, 2020 was different. The anonymous right-wing Facebook page charged me with terrorism, of using access and coverage to pass sensitive, confidential military information to rebels.

That night, dinner stopped at two spoonsful. My stomach felt like a sack with a dozen stones churning around a malignant current. All my collection of Zen music, hours of staring at the stars, and no amount of calming oil could bring sleep.

Strangers came heckling the next day on Messenger. One asked how it felt to be “the muse of terrorists.” Another said, “Maghanda ka na bruha na terorista” (“Get ready, you terrorist witch”). A third said in vulgar vernacular that I should be the first shot in the vagina, a reference to what President Rodrigo Duterte once told soldiers to do to women rebels.

I’m 57 years old, a cancer survivor with a chronic bad back. I don’t sneak around at night. I don’t do countryside treks. I don’t even cover the military. But for weeks, I felt like a target mark in a shooting range. As a passenger on vehicles, I replaced mobile web surfing with peering into side mirrors, checking out motorcycles carrying two passengers—often mentioned in reports on killings.

I recognized a scaled-up threat. This attack didn’t target ideas or words. The charge involved actions penalized with jail time or worse. Some military officials were sharing it.

Not surprising; the current government doesn’t bother with factual niceties. It uses “communist” as a catch-all phrase for everything that bedevils the Philippines. Anonymous teams have killed close to 300 dissenters and these attacks usually followed red-tagging campaigns. Nineteen journalists have also been murdered since Duterte assumed office in 2016.

Journalists, lawmakers, civil liberties advocates, and netizens called out the lie. Dozens reported the post. I did. We all received an automated response: It did not violate Facebook’s community standards.

It feels foolish to argue with an automated system but I did gather the evidence before getting in touch with Facebook executives. My normal response to abusive engagement on Facebook or Twitter is a laughing emoji and a block. Threats are a different matter.

We tracked down, “Let’s see how brave you are when we get to the street where you live,” to a Filipino criminology graduate working in a Japanese bar. He apologized and took it down.

After I fact-checked Duterte for blaming rape on drug use in general, someone said my “defending addicts” should be punished with the rape of my daughter.

“That should teach you,” said the message from an account that had no sign of life. Another said he’d come to rape me. Both accounts shared the same traits. They linked to similar accounts. Facebook took these down and did the same to the journalist-acting-as-rebel-intel post and page.

The public pressure to cull products of troll farms has lessened the incidence of hate messages. But there’s still a growth in anonymous pages focused on red-tagging, with police and military officials and official accounts spreading their posts.

Some officers were actually exposed as the masterminds of these pages. When Facebook recently scrapped several accounts linked to the armed forces, government officials erupted in rage, hurling false claims about “attacks on free expression.”

This reaction shows the nexus between unofficial and official acts and platforms in our country. It can start with social media disinformation and then get picked up by the government, or it leads with an official pronouncement blown up and given additional spin on social media.

We’ve officially filed complaints against some government officials, including those involved with the top anti-insurgency task force. But justice works slowly. In the meantime, I practice deep breathing and try to take precautions.

Officials dismiss any “chilling effect” from these non-stop attacks because Filipinos in general, and journalists in particular, remain outspoken. But braving dangers to exercise our right to press freedom and free expression isn’t the same as having the government respect these rights.

Two years ago, journalist Patricia Evangelista of Rappler asked a small group of colleagues what it could take for us to fall silent.

“Nothing,” was everyone’s response.

And so every day I battle fear. I have to because silence would be a surrender to tyranny. That’s not happening on my watch.#

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Inday Espina-Varona is an award-winning journalist from the Philippines and contributing editor for ABS-CBNNews and the Catholic news agency LiCASNews. She is a former chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the first journalist from the country to receive the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize for Independence.

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

2020 saw most brazen abuses vs journalism—NUJP

The year 2020 had been particularly bad for journalism in the Philippines that saw more media workers killed, arrested, jailed and lose their jobs, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reported.

The media group said four journalists have been killed in the Philippines, including Cornelio Pepino in Negros Oriental last May 5; Jobert Bercasio in Sorsogon last September 14; Virgilio Maganes in Pangasinan last November 10; and Ronnie Villamor in Masbate last November 14.

Villamor was shot dead by the Philippine Army that claimed the journalist was a communist supporter and killed in an encounter.

Maganes, who survived the first slay attempt against him in 2016 by playing dead, was killed inside their family compound in Villasis, Pangasinan.

“Their deaths have brought the total of media killings under Duterte to 19, and to 191 since 1986,” the NUJP said.

The International Federation of Journalists lists the Philippines as among the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world in 2020.

Their killing of four Filipino media workers figured in the list of 60 journalists killed worldwide in 2020 by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The IFJ list made the Philippines the fourth most dangerous country for journalists in the world in 2020, along with Syria and after India (8 killed), Pakistan (7), Afghanistan (7).

The list made the country the most dangerous in Southeast Asia as well.

Twenty-seven journalists were killed in the Asia-Pacific, the most dangerous region for journalists in 2020.

Arrests and detention

Seven journalists have also been arrested, at least two of whom remain detention, both women and executives of alternative media outfits.

Those arrested in 2020 include Glenn Jester Hitgano in Jan. 21 (arbitrarily arrested during coverage); Frenchiemae Cumpio in Feb. 7 (illegal firearms possession); Ramil Traya Bagues in Aug. 18 (cyber-libel); Rommel Ibasco Fenix in Sept. 15 (libel and violation of Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009);  Virgilio Avila Jr.  in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); Mia Concordia in Nov. 10 (cyber-libel); and Lady Ann Salem in Dec. 10 (illegal possession of firearms and explosives).

Cumpio, executive director of alternative media outfit Eastern Vista, was sleeping at a church group’s dormitory when arrested in the dead of night.

Her case was among those cited by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights report in June last year as a clear case of human rights violation.

Partial Committee to Protect Journalists list of jailed media workers where Frenchie Mae Cumpio appears.

Cumpio’s imprisonment also made it to the list of 274 journalists jailed in 2020 globally by the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The CPJ said the number was “a new high…as governments cracked down on coverage of COVID-19 or tried to suppress reporting on political unrest.”

Salem, editor of alternative news outfit Manila Today was arrested, of all days, on International Human Rights Day.

The NUJP has reported Salem’s case to the CPJ but the latter’s list has yet to include her name.

Salem is currently is in a Covid-19 isolation protocol at the Mandaluyong City Jail after her transfer from the Philippine National Police’s jail facility at Camp Crame.

CPJ infographic on countries where journalists have been jailed in 2020.

The rest of the arrested Filipino journalists were able to post bail, except Bagues whose current status the NUJP is trying to find out.

Red-tagging and charges

The NUJP said that the Philippine government had been especially vicious against the press the past year as compared to the first three years of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

“[B]ad as the first three years were, 2020 trumped them all as Duterte and his minions ramped up their attacks on the free press even as the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its deadly grip felt,” the NUJP said.

The media group said the Duterte government displayed a “most brazen abuse of state power” by red-tagging journalists and media institutions.

Aside from Cumpio and Salem, various government agencies and officials red-tagged alternative media outfits Kodao Productions, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Northern Dispatch, Panay Today, Manila Today, Radyo Natin-Guimba as well as dominant media organizations ABS-CBN, Rappler, CNN-Philippines, among many others.

Veteran journalist and NUJP director and former chairperson Nestor Burgos Jr. had also been red-tagged.

Editors and staff of Baguio City-based Northern Dispatch faced various police-instigated charges in court throughout last year.

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. were judged guilty in June last year of libelling a businessman with links to Duterte.

Maria Ressa in a press briefing after her conviction of libel last June 15. (Photo by R. Villanueva)

ABS-CBN closure

The NUJP said the pandemic gave Duterte convenient cover to make good his repeated threats to shut down ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest media conglomerate.

As threats of arrest forced the growing crowds that had rallied to the beleaguered network since late last year to stand down, the House of Representatives allowed ABS-CBN’s franchise to lapse, forcing the network to stop broadcasting on May 5.

On May 5, the network stopped broadcasting and, two months later, in June, the majority of the House committee on congressional franchises sealed its fate, voting to deny it a new franchise to operate.

Duterte thus become the second president after Ferdinand Marcos to force ABS-CBN off the air, the NUJP said.

The closure left thousands jobless and the loss of ABS-CBN regional stations also left many areas without their major source of news and entertainment.

The full extent of this would become clear during typhoons Rolly and Ulysses that caught millions of victims previously dependent on ABS-CBN news and alerts unaware of the hazards of the disasters, the NUJP said.

We strongly condemn the NTF-ELCAC’s callous, dangerous, and evidence-less red-tagging of the Altermidya network,” media organizations including the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines Department of Journalism, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, the Foundation for Media Alternatives, MindaNews, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Philippine Press Institute as well as media outfits Rappler and VERA Files said.

Bright spots

All was not gloomy in 2020, however, as there had been bright spots in the local media community’s defense of press freedom, the NUJP said.

“Not least of this was the successful push to have UNESCO revert the status of the Ampatuan massacre to ‘unresolved’ after it was pointed out that the legal process is not finished and 76 suspects are still at large and will need to be tried should they be arrested, the media group said.

The NUJP also cited other notable victories such as the case of GMA workers who sued the network over unfair labor practices

In February, the Court of Appeals decided to reinstate, with no loss of seniority and with full back wages, 51 employees who had been illegally terminated while the Supreme Court in September ruled to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen illegally dismissed by GMA in 2013.

The NUJP also said that despite “continuing efforts of the enemies of truth to spread disinformation, the media community has, by and large, successfully fended them off, including the paid influencers and trolls of government.”

“As we thankfully bid goodbye to 2020, we are also aware of what could be even greater challenges and threats to freedom of the press and of expression in 2021 and beyond…And so we look forward to 2021 resolved to continue defending and pushing the boundaries for press freedom in our land,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

A full-blown dictatorship is made more palpable

“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

LODI asks Robredo to stop ‘disinformation’ surrounding drug war

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite the release of detained Reuters reporters, free speech remains under threat in Myanmar

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.

This article by Mong Palatino is from Global Voices, an international and multilingual news site, and is republished on Kodao Productions as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Makabayan files bill seeking exemption of journalists from anti-drug ops

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)

NUJP on the 70th anniversary of the International Human Rights Day

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 media regulation

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)