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‘Habang lumiliit ang democratic space, mas kinakailangan nating itulak na maging malaya’

“Napakahalaga, lalo na sa panahon ng pandemya, ang tapat at malayang pagbabalita. Habang patuloy tayong pinipilit na sumabay sa opisyal na pahayag ng pamahalaan at habang lumiliit ang democratic space sa Pilipinas, mas kinakailangan nating itulak na maging malaya.”Jonathan de Santos, Chairperson, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

NUJP slams CamNorte order barring journalists from covering SP sessions

A media group condemned a Camarines Norte Provincial Council resolution barring journalists from covering its sessions unless they present a negative antigen test.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the inclusion of media practitioners among guests and observers who must prove they are not infected with the virus constitutes prior restraint.

“The battle against the spread of the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to impose prior restraint. While we recognize the alarming rate of COVID-19 infection, the burden of ensuring safety protocols should not be with journalists but with the local government,” the NUJP said.

Last week, the council approved a resolution requiring a negative rapid antigen test result for all non-Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) personnel who wish to cover the sessions.

The resolution said it aims to protect the members and staff of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan against COVID-19.

The NUJP however said the resolution would prevent the media from playing its role as a watchdog of the government.

“All sessions should be done publicly and should be open to all media practitioners covering the SP. It is repressive to require the media to spend P2,000 – P2,300 pesos weekly for the rapid antigen test given the financial constraint of local newsrooms,” the group explained.

“NUJP reiterates its stand that the media should be treated as frontliners, hence should be covered by free routine COVID-19 tests,” it said, adding it is the duty of the local government to provide free testing to all local media covering the sessions.

To provide further protection for all those present during council sessions, the NUJP also recommended the local government also should designate media area to separate them from the guests and observers in the session hall.

Sixteen local media practitioners in the province also signed a petition against the resolution. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups slam Duterte’s personal vendetta vs ABS-CBN, challenge Congress to prove independence

Groups condemned Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against ABS-CBN, saying the President only proved vindictiveness in announcing he will defy Congress should it pass a new franchise law for the network.

The group Pirma Kapamilya slammed Duterte’s recent statement that he will order the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) not to issue ABS-CBN a permit to operate even if a franchise law is passed.

“His recent pronouncement reveals that last year’s denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise was nothing more but his personal vendetta at the expense of the viewing public, press freedom, and of the displaced employees of the network,” Pirma Kapamilya in a statement said.

“This is a symptom of his toxic ‘personalan politics’ not needed at this crucial time,” the group added.

Pirma Kapamilya is a volunteer group gathering signatures for a people’s initiative for a new franchise law for the network.

In his latest Monday night public address, Duterte accused Congress is planning to restore the broadcast franchise of the Lopezes.

“I don’t have a problem if Congress restores it. But if you say that if they can operate if they already have a franchise, no. I will not allow them. I will not allow the NTC to grant them the permit to operate,” Duterte said.

He again accused ABS-CBN of being a tax evader.

“Unless and until taxes are paid, I will ignore your franchise. I will not give them the license to operate. That’s nonsense. It’s like giving them a prize for committing criminal acts,” Duterte said.

Pirma Kapamilya however said Duterte continues to spread lies about the tax issue of the network even as the Bureau of Internal Revenue BIR cleared the network of any tax obligations.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) challenged the House of Representatives to prove its independence and finally grant ABS-CBN its franchise.

“We are tempted to thank President Rodrigo Duterte for proving us right about what we have been saying all along, that the shutdown of ABS-CBN was a personal vendetta that a lapdog Congress helped seal,” it said.

“Perhaps it is not too late for the members of the House of Representatives to salvage their reputations, to prove that they are what the Constitution charges them to be, members of a co-equal and INDEPENDENT branch of government, and no longer the willing accomplices to the continuing siege on press freedom and all our other rights and liberties,” the NUJP added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Journos pedal for jailed colleagues

Media groups and supporters held a biking event Sunday morning to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of a journalist in Tacloban City on what they claim are trumped up charges.

Members of the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya), the International Association of Women in Radio and Television-Philippine Chapter, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) biked around Quezon City to call for the dropping of charges against Eastern Vista executive director Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

The bikers along Quezon Avenue on their way to the Commission on Human Rights.

Cumpio was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Philippine National Police (PNP), allegations uniformly leveled against arrested critics of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The event also called for the immediate release of Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem whose case was dismissed by the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court just last Friday due to inconsistencies in the statements submitted by police witnesses.

Salem was arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP last December 10, International Human Rights Day.

She remains in jail, however, pending the issuance of a release order by the court.

The bike event started at the University of the Philippines and made its first stop at ABS-CBN where a brief program was held.

The bikers pedaled on to the statue of press freedom icon Joaquin Roces and then to the Commission on Human Rights were programs were also held.

Altermidya national coordinator Rhea Padilla and Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity convenor Tonyo Cruz vowed to continue their struggle to free Cumpio and Salem.

ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union president Jon Villanueva for his part thanked the media organizations and press freedom advocates for their continuing support to the beleaguered network.

ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union president Jon Villanueva.

Members of the Photojournalists Center of the Philippines welcomed the bikers at ABS-CBN.

The NUJP meanwhile hailed Mandaluyong RTC Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio’s cancellation of the search warrant used against Salem that “suffered from vagueness.”

“Even as we eagerly await Icy’s (Salem) return to freedom, we denounce the gross injustice she was subjected to by the agents of a government bent on suppressing the independent media and freedom of expression,” the NUJP said.

In a separate statement, the NUJP demanded the release of Cumpio it said was arrested and is being detained on spurious charges.

“The ordeal of Frenchie Mae is part of the increasing persecution of the critical media by the forces of a government so intolerant of criticism and dissent that the mere exercise of democratic rights is enough for one to be branded an ‘enemy of the state,’” the NUJP said. # (Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Sorsogon media slams PNP for ‘comical’ allegations on broadcaster’s death

Journalists in Sorsogon expressed dismay and disbelief over police claims it was the New People’s Army (NPA) that killed a former radio reporter on September 14 last year.

In a statement, the Sorsogon media condemned allegations made by Sorsogon City police chief Lt. Col. Benito Dipad and Sorsogon provincial police head Col. Arturo Brual that two NPA members killed broadcaster Jobert Bercasio.

The journalists said the police press conference last January 21 failed to merit praises and jubilation from the victim’s family and friends as it lacked credibility and plausibility and was even comical.

“That the police relied on a ‘walk-in’ witness who was not even sure of his role in the conspiracy should be a cause for concern on the credibility of the case,” the statement said.

The journalists expressed further incredulity when Dipad said the victim may have been suspected by the NPA as a government informer.

“Obviously, the police have failed, again, to check, despite its constant stalking, that as early as September 20 of last year, the regional spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-Bicol, Maria Roja Banua, had already made a statement that refutes such theory,” the journalists said.

The reporters revealed that the NPA had been a convenient escape for the PNP to attribute crimes to the NPA whenever they fail to solve them.

“[W]hen police attribute(s) a crime to the NPAs, it’s tantamount to saying they could not solve the case. It’s a subtle admission of utter failure,” they added.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said it shares the dismay and incredulity of its Sorsogon colleagues.

“We commend our Sorsogon colleagues and are one with them in insisting that the investigation into Jobert Bercasio’s murder be credible because what he deserves – as do all of our fallen colleagues – is justice, not made into a pawn for anyone’s agenda or the subject of cheap propaganda,” the NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP: Where is justice in Doc Gerry’s killing?

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) bewailed the lack of justice for the killing of a broadcaster in Palawan exactly a decade ago.

In a statement, the media group urged the Court of Appeals to conduct proceedings to prosecute the accused in the killing of journalist, environmentalist and good governance advocate Gerardo “Doc Gerry” Ortega on January 24, 2011.

Ortega was shot dead by a gunman at a thrift store he visited after hosting his program “Ramatak” on the Puerto Princesa City radio station dwAR-FM.

He was the first journalist killed under the Benigno Aquino presidency.

The gunman was almost immediately caught, followed quickly by other members of the hit team, all of whom named those who allegedly ordered the hit – former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother Mario, then the Coron mayor, as well as other accomplices.

Most of the accused have since been convicted, except the Reyes brothers who fled the country in March 2012.

They were arrested in Thailand in September 2015 and deported back to the Philippines.

Joel Reyes was ordered freed by the Court of Appeals on January 2018 but he was rearrested and jailed in Camp Bagong Diwa after his conviction for graft by the Sandiganbayan.

In November 2019 the appellate court reversed its January 2018 decision and ordered the resumption of the Ortega murder trial.

The NUJP noted that trials for the murder of journalists are unusually long in the Philippines, itself a form of injustice to the victims and their families.

“[I]t took a decade for a verdict to be handed down on those accused of carrying out the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, which claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them journalists. And even then, the legal process is far from over with appeals filed and scores of other suspects still at large,” the group said.

The NUJP said the families endure the protracted process and the dangers of harassments and threats from the masterminds.

“It is a testament to their courage that neither the families of the massacre victims nor of Doc Gerry have wavered in their search for justice, despite the many dangers and obstacles placed in their way,” the NUJP said.

“[B]y any standards, a decade without justice is clearly justice too long denied for Doc Gerry, his wife Patty, and their children. We urge the trial court to take to heart the CA’s order to conduct proceedings in criminal case No. 26839 with purposeful dispatch,” the group added.

In a Facebook post, Ortega’s son Joaquin Philippe said their family has already learned to live without their father but the late broadcaster and his battle against corruption and greed are still remembered.

“That battle is far from over. I don’t believe justice is a myth, but I believe our society’s current systems need to change,” the young Ortega wrote. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Military ‘sorry’ for false list of dead or captured NPA

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (UP) apologized for its false list of University of the Philippines (UP) students who died or were captured as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

In a statement, the AFP said it sincerely apologizes to those “inadvertently affected by inconsistencies” in the list published on its Facebook account.

The AFP said its Civil-Military Operations Office is already conducting an internal investigation, adding it will hold to account those responsible.

The AFP apology,

The list had gone viral despite being deleted shortly after publication.

Among those listed as dead or captured NPA rebels are prominent UP alumni, including former government officials.

Former Congressman and Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Roan Libarios, former Government of the Republic of the Philippines Negotiating Panel chairperson and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation president Atty. Alexander Padilla, former Deparment of Environment and Natural Resources executive Elmer Mercado, and stage and film director Behn Cervantes who died of natural causes in August 2013 were among those listed.

False list

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the inclusion of at least two journalists in the list.

The NUJP said the listing of Agence France Presse bureau chief for Singapore and Malaysia Roberto “Bobby” Coloma and business and economic journalist Roel Landingin was “malicious red-tagging” by the military.

“It is appalling how the military office tasked with communicating with the citizenry has shamelessly resorted to such blatant falsehood to push the narrative of UP as the supposed ‘breeding ground’ of enemies of the state,” the NUJP said.

“We would normally dismiss this canard as laughably stupid. However, putting the people it names in mortal danger is no laughing matter at all. Especially since AFP units are known to spread disinformation such as this through their own social media accounts,” the media group added.

Schools reject Parlade’s allegation

In a related development, the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), and the Far Eastern University (FEU) protested their inclusion in another list as recruitment havens for the NPA.

In a repeat of his allegations in 2018, National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade said the NPA recruits new members from 18 Philippine colleges and universities.

ADMU President Roberto Yap, DLSU President Raymundo Suplido, FEU President Michael Alba and UST Vice Rector Isaias Tiongco jointly rejected Paralde’s statement against their schools.

The officials said their universities “seek to direct our students to engage in acts that contribute to the strengthening of social cohesion, defend the country’s democratic institutions, and promote nation-building.”

Parlade’s claims are “really getting old” and that the accusations were irresponsibly “cast without proof,” the school officials said.

Parlade’s statement and the AFP list followed defense secretary’s Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation last week of the UP-Department of National Defense Agreement of 1989 requiring the AFP to seek permission before conducting operations in campus.

The move earned widespread condemnation from UP alumni and civil society groups. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Journalist, 6 trade union organizers arrested in police raids on human rights day

[UPDATED] A journalist was among those arrested by the Philippine National Police in a wave of arrests today, International Human Rights Day.

Lady Ann Salem, editor of alternative news site Manila Today, was arrested by the police at 9AM at her residence in Mandaluyong City.

Salem inside an unmarked police car this morning. (Photo by a relative)

She was first taken to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) headquarters in Quezon City but was whisked to a Pasig City police office just as her lawyer Kristina Conti arrived.

Conti and Manila Today staff followed the police van to Pasig City but were led to a chase that ended in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where Salem is now being detained.

Salem, a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC), co-founded the alternative media group Tudla and was among those who attended the founding assembly of the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) in 2010.

She is also a fellow of the Graciano Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop of UP-CMC.

Tudla and Manila Today are chapters of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Salem is also the communications officer of the global media group International Association of Women in Radio and Television.

https://www.facebook.com/altermidya/posts/1857999847682801

Wave of arrests

Since 2AM this morning, the police had been raiding homes and arresting trade union organizers.

Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines was first to be arrested at their home in Lagro, Quezon city by the CIDG and was taken to Camp Karingal, headquarters of the Quezon City Police District.

Like many other arrested activists, the police alleged that Velasco was in possession of guns and explosives.

In a Facebook Live post, Velasco’s wife Diane Zapata denied they were keeping such items at their home.

She in turn accused the police of planting them while they were ordered to lie face down for an hour and the police team had unhampered access to their house.

In a police report, the CIDG said it also arrested a Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Raiselle Astudillo, Jaymie Gregorio, and Joel Demate in a wave of arrests in Quezon City, Mandaluyong and Manila that netted several guns, explosives and ammunition.

Human rights and media groups are organizing an online rally at 7PM tonight to demand for Salem and the trade union organizers’ freedom.

Indignation rallies are also scheduled Friday morning at Camp Karingal, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court and Camp Crame. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Media groups rally behind AlterMidya; condemn ‘callous, dangerous, evidence-less red-tagging’

Media institutions defended a network of independent news outfits from government allegations it is a Communist “propaganda machinery.”

In a statement following a Senate hearing last week, the country’s most respected media institutions expressed support to the People’s Alternative Media Network (AlterMidya) and denounced the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)’s repeated allegations against the group.

“We strongly condemn the NTF-ELCAC’s callous, dangerous, and evidence-less red-tagging of the Altermidya network,” the media organizations said.

The institutions include 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.

At the third hearing of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation on red-tagging last December 1, NTF-ELCAC executive director Allen Capuyan said AlterMidya outfits were part of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ “propaganda machinery.”

The media institutions however said Capuyan’s allegation is “a baseless blanket statement… provided without proof, presented as an out-of-context info-graphic, fraught with deadly consequences.”

“Red-tagging, especially without credible evidence of wrongdoing, is a devious form of disinformation. Other institutions red-tagged have been systematically harassed or demonized; other individuals, especially women, have been trolled, detained, assaulted, even killed,” the signatories said.

The institutions said the Altermidya network offers independent readings of national issues and events that a functioning democracy should welcome as part of a healthy pluralism in the public discourse.

“It is admirably committed to reporting on corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental issues, as well as the plight of farmers and workers. And some of its institutional members, including but not limited to Bulatlat.com and Northern Dispatch, have a well-deserved national reputation for high-quality journalism: hard-hitting, yes, but also rooted in the facts,” their statement said.

The media organizations said the AlterMidya network has done its journalism despite great risk, including death threats and a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

“We therefore view this latest act of red-tagging with the utmost concern. It renders these community journalists even more vulnerable to abuse and violence, at the exact time we need more of their journalism,” they said.

‘Small but courageous’

In an earlier statement, the NUJP called on fellow journalists and “all Filipinos who cherish freedom and democracy” to support AlterMidya “against the utterly malicious and clearly criminal red-tagging by security officials.”

The NUJP said the government’s “baseless accusations” against the alternative media are nothing new but the level of vilification from the Duterte administration through NTF-ELCAC indicates it is bent on silencing contrary views and voices to force conformity on the Filipino people.

The NUJP said the latest assault on the alternative media is similar to the silencing of ABS-CBN and the continued attacks on Rappler and other critical and independent news organizations.

The union said AlterMidya’s “small but courageous news outfits” play a vital role in serving the people’s right to know through reportage and analysis that provide fresh perspectives to often under-reported social issues.

These issues include land reform, human rights, the environment and injustice as well as oft-neglected sectors such as farmers, small fisher folk, the urban poor, laborers and indigenous people.

“The otherwise unheard or ignored voices they bring to the national conversation strengthen our democracy by helping shape a fuller, more accurate picture of our society, of our people.

This, of course, is what those who seek to impose their will on us fear most and why they seek to silence not only the alternative media but independent Philippine media as a whole,” the NUJP said.

“It has always been a matter of pride for the NUJP to have the alternative media with us and count some of their best journalists as leaders of the organization,” NUJP said.

‘Will not be muzzled’

Alternative news outfit Bulatlat.com in an editorial said it will not be muzzled by the government’s latest attempt to discredit independent journalism in the Philippines.

Bulatlat  said President Duterte had been attempting to picture independent journalists as

“enemies of the state for exposing the administration’s gross human rights record, and lately its inefficiency in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of recent strong typhoons.”

“Our allegiance is to the truth. That such truth hurts those in power only affirms even more the relevance of independent and fearless journalism. We in Bulatlat will continue to perform our tasks, alongside our colleagues in the alternative and dominant media, because the Filipino people deserve no less,” the country’s oldest existing online news outfit said.

Mindanao’s Davao Today also said it is concerned with the “malicious and baseless attempt to taint the integrity of Davao Today in its role as the voice of the Mindanao community.”

“In a national landscape where dissenting voices are increasing and systematically silenced, independent and community-sourced bearers of information have become our last stronghold of democratic practice. Community journalism should flourish to serve the community as Davao Today has been doing,” the outfit said in a statement.

AlterMidya said it sees the latest attacks against itself and its members as a form of intimidation to force critical journalists into silence amid growing discontent among the people due to the Duterte government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AlterMidya said it will pursue legal action against NTF-ELCAC’s “malicious smear campaign.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP: Stand with AlterMidya, Defend Press Freedom

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines calls on the community of independent Filipino journalists and on all Filipinos who cherish freedom and democracy to support the alternative media against the utterly malicious and clearly criminal red-tagging by security officials at the December 1 hearing of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation.

It has always been a matter of pride for the NUJP to have the alternative media with us and count some of their best journalists as leaders of the organization.

These small but courageous news outfits play a vital role in serving the people’s right to know through reportage and analysis that provide fresh perspectives to often under-reported social issues – land reform, human rights, the environment and injustice, to name a few – and oft-neglected sectors – the peasants, small fisher folk, the urban poor, laborers and indigenous people.

The otherwise unheard or ignored voices they bring to the national conversation strengthen our democracy by helping shape a fuller, more accurate picture of our society, of our people.

This, of course, is what those who seek to impose their will on us fear most and why they seek to silence not only the alternative media but independent Philippine media as a whole.

Baseless accusations against the alternative media are nothing new, of course. But the level of vilification from this administration, through the agencies and officials in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, indicates that government and its security machinery are bent on silencing contrary views and voices, and force conformity on our people.

Make no mistake, this assault on the alternative media is no different from the silencing of ABS-CBN and the continued attacks on Rappler and other critical and independent news organizations that insist on fulfilling our role of watchdog, of holding power to account, of speaking truth to power.

We cannot, we must not, allow them to succeed. Let us once and for all show them that we, the Philippine media and people, are free not because we are allowed to but because we insist on being free. #