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Philippines media faces ‘eternal threat of punishment’ after cyber libel convictions

The Duterte administration’s war on media has entered a new phase

By Karlo Mongaya

A Manila court convicted one of the Philippines’ leading journalists on charges of cyber libel in a case widely seen as the latest attack on dissenting voices and press freedoms in the country.

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa sentenced news website Rappler’s chief executive editor Maria Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. to 6 months and 1 day up to 6 years in jail and ordered them each to pay P400,000 (about US$8,000) for moral and exemplary damages on June 15.

Ressa and Santos are the first journalists in the Philippines to be found guilty of cyber libel since the law was passed in 2012. They were allowed to post bail pending appeal under the bond they paid in 2019, which cost 100,000 pesos (2,000 US dollars) each.

Rappler, an independent website of international renown has been targeted by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The court, however, found Rappler itself to have no liability in the cyber libel case.

Targeting Rappler

Press freedom advocates in the Philippines and across the world swiftly decried Ressa’s conviction as part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to terrorize and intimidate journalists.

The case against Ressa and Rappler was filed in 2017 by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 Rappler story covering his alleged links to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was being impeached on corruption charges at the time.

Keng’s case was initially dismissed in 2017 because it was beyond the statute of limitations. Moreover, the article itself was published four months before the cybercrime law was enacted.

But the case was subsequently readmitted by the Philippine justice department, which extended the period of liability for cyber libel claims from one year to 12 years and argued the article was covered by the law because it was ‘republished’ in February 2014, when Rappler updated it.

While Duterte and his spokesmen deny any links to the cyber libel case, Rappler has been on the receiving end of regular ire from the president and his allies for actively investigating and exposing the administration’s bloody war on drugs, social media manipulation and corruption.

Rappler reporters were banned from covering presidential press briefings in 2018, for what Duterte characterized as “twisted reporting” during a presidential address.

Pro-Duterte trolls deride Rappler as a peddler of “fake news” and hurl invective at its reporters.

The cyber libel case is but the first in a total of 8 active legal cases against Ressa and Rappler which include another libel case and tax violation allegations. All were filed after Duterte came to power in 2016.

The Duterte government moved to shut down Rappler in January 2018, claiming that it violated laws on non-foreign ownership of media outlets — a claim that is demonstrably false.

A protester calls for ‘mass testing, not mass silencing’ at a rally held on June 4, 2020, the day the Philippine Congress passed the anti-terror bill. Photo by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Curtailing dissent

The College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s premier state university, condemned the decision as a dangerous precedent that gives authorities the power to prosecute anyone for online content published within the past decade:

The State can prosecute even after ten, twelve or more years after publication or posting. It is a concept of eternal threat of punishment without any limit in time and cyberspace.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the charges that Rappler faces is only the latest in “a chain of media repression that has seen the forced shutdown of broadcast network ABS-CBN and a spike in threats and harassment of journalists, all because the most powerful man in the land abhors criticism and dissent.’’

The government forced the country’s largest television network, privately-owned ABS-CBN, off air last May after the pro-Duterte congress refused to renew the station’s broadcasting license.

Growing persecution of media comes against the backdrop of an anti-terror bill passed by the legislature that allows the president to create an anti-terrorism council vested with powers to designate individuals and groups as “terrorists.”

That designation in turn allows warrantless arrests and 24 days of detention without court charges, among other draconian provisions.

Authorities have brazenly denied the bill threatens freedom in the country.

AERIAL SHOT: 5,000 human rights advocates and activists observe physical distancing as they commemorate Philippine Independence Day and hold a ‘Grand Mañanita’ against the Duterte government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill today, June 12, on University Avenue, University of the Philippines- Diliman, Quezon City. Photo and caption by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Holding the line

At a press conference after her court hearing, Ressa vowed to hold the line:

Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.

A few days before Ressa’s conviction, thousands defied the lockdown to join anti-terror bill protests in Manilla despite threats of violence from the police.

Protesters ironically described their demonstration as a “mañanita” — the word that Police General Debold Sinas, a Duterte ally, used to justify his birthday party celebration, which took place amidst severe restrictions on gatherings.

Double standards for Duterte allies and the weaponization of laws against critics were a constant theme in tweets that used the #DefendPressFreedom hashtag in response to the Ressa case.

(Kodao is a content partner of Global Voices)

Resist the further erosion of our rights

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines bewails the filing of another cyber libel complaint against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa over a tweet she posted in February 2019.

The suit brought against Ressa by Wilfredo Keng, the same complainant in the cyber libel case for which she and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted, this time cites a February 15, 2019 Tweet showing screenshots of a 2002 Philstar.com article on the businessman’s alleged links to the murder of a former Manila councilor.

This article, which Philstar took down on February 16, or a day after Ressa’s tweet, because “the camp of Mr. Wilfredo Keng raised the possibility of legal action,” was one of the sources cited in the article over which the first suit was filed.

As grave as the implications the conviction of Ressa and Santos hold not only for the media but for every Filipino who uses the Internet and social media, we fear this complaint, if the State further perverts the law, could spell doom for freedom of expression online.

To our colleagues in the community of independent journalists, let us remain vigilant and continue to resist all attempts to intimidate and silence us.

To the people, we call on you to stand with us. We cannot afford to lose freedom of the press because it belongs to you, the people we serve. It is this freedom that allows us to serve your right to know by delivering you the timely and accurate information you need to decide on your individual and collective futures.

To the State, we ask: Do you really believe you can continue to subvert the rule of law and further erode our already diminished rights and freedoms without an accounting?

The NUJP National Directorate

Tinututulan namin ang Panukalang Batas sa Terorismo

Bakit kaya laging naiisip ng mga opisyales ng ating pamahalaan na ang batas at kaayusan, kapayapaan at seguridad ay napapagtanto lang pag natatamaan ang ating mga karapatan?

Kami, mga mamamahayag, samahan ng mga midya, mga grupo ng lipunang sibil (CSOs), akademya at iba pang nababahalang indibidwal ay talagang tinututulan ang panukalang batas laban sa teror na mabilisang isinagawa ng Kapulungan ng mga Kinatawan sa pamamagitan ng malawakang pagpapatibay sa Panukalang Batas ng Senado Blg. 1083, upang maisagawa na ng kumperensya ng komiteng bicameral at agarang maipasa ito’t maisabatas.

Isang bagay lang ang dapat maging malinaw: Laban kami sa terorismo.

Gayunman, kasingsama man ng Human Security Act of 2007 ang panukalang batas na ito, magiging mas masahol pa ito kung maisasabatas, kaya’t mas angkop pang tawagin itong Panukalang Teror o Terror Bill.

Hindi lamang lilikhain ng panukalang batas na ito ang isang “Konseho Laban sa Pananakot o Anti-Terror Council” na may kapangyarihang magtalaga, sa “maaaring dahilan” lang, sa mga tao o sinupaman bilang mga terorista o grupo ng mga terorista, pinapayagan din nito ang Anti-Money Laundering Council, na kasapi ng ATC, na pigilin ang mga ari-arian ng mga taong ito o grupo, lahat nang walang binibigay na pagkakataon sa kanila upang ipagtanggol ang sarili at ipagkaila ang anumang impormasyon laban sa kanila.

Mas masama pa, pinapayagan ng panukalang batas ang ATC na magkaroon ng kapangyarihang ikulong nang walang hudisyal na mandamyento de aresto ang mga suspek ng hanggang 14 na araw ng kalendaryo, na maaaring pahabain pa ng 10 araw.

Ang mga ito’y maliwanag na paglabag sa iginagarantiya ng Saligang Batas sa nararapat na proseso at naglalaman ng pangungubabaw sa kapangyarihang panghukuman.

Mas matindi pa, palalalain pa ng panukalang batas na ito ang impunidad kung saan karamihan sa ating mga batas at karapatan ay nilalabag na ng mismong mga sumumpang poprotektahan at itataguyod ang mga ito sa pamamagitan ng pagtatanggal ng mga mahihigpit na parusang inilaan upang mahadlangan ang anumang pang-aabuso sa pinakadambuhalang hakbang ng panukalang batas na ito, ang ekstra hudisyal na paghuli at pagkulong sa mga suspek.

Isinasapanganib din ng malubha ng nasabing panukalang batas ang mga prinsipyo ng kalayaan ng pamahayagan at pagpapahayag sa Seksyon 9 na tumutukoy sa krimen ng “pang-uudyok sa terorismo,” na maaaring maisagawa “sa pamamagitan ng mga talumpati, proklamasyon, sulatin, sagisag, balatengga o iba pang mga representasyong tulad niyon” at mapaparusahan ng 12 taon sa kulungan.

Gayunman, ang probisyong ito’y madali pang lagyan ng anumang malawak na aplikasyon tulad nito at ginamit na ng mga nakaraang administrasyon ang mga umiiral na pagkakasalang pang-uudyok sa sedisyon at rebelyon upang durugin ang malayang pagpapahayag at takutin ang mga kritiko.

Ang epekto, ang pag-ulat ng mga tao at grupong itinuturing na terorista, o kahit na pag-uulit lang ng sinabi nila, ay maaari nang mangahulugang pang-uudyok sa terorismo.

Bagamat lahat tayo’y sumasang-ayong mahalaga ang paglaban sa terorismo at kailangan ng pakikilahok at kooperasyon ng bawat isa, pinaninindigan naming ang nasabing panukalang batas ay lantad sa pang-aabuso ng mga despotikong gobyerno upang isagawa ang terorismo laban sa mga kritiko at sa mamamayan sa pangkalahatan.

Kung pagninilayan ang isang batas na lalaban sa terorismo, pinakamahalagang dapat isaalang-alang ay ang paggalang at pagtatanggol sa karapatang pantao. #

(Salin sa Filipino mula sa orihinal na Ingles ni Greg Bituin Jr.)

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We Reject the Terror Bill

Why do our government officials always think law and order, peace and security can be realized only at the expense of our rights?

We, journalists, media organizations, civil society groups, academics and other concerned individuals unequivocally reject the anti-terror bill that the House of Representatives railroaded through the wholesale adoption of Senate Bill No. 1083, to do away with the bicameral committee conference hasten its passage and enactment into law.

Let us be clear about one thing: We are against terrorism.

However, bad as the Human Security Act of 2007 is, this bill, should it become law, would be much worse, so much that it would be more apt to call it the Terror Bill.

Not only does this proposed law grant an “Anti-Terror Council” the power to designate, on mere probable cause, persons or entities as terrorists or terrorist groups, it also allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council, an ATC member, to freeze the assets of these persons or groups, all without granting them the opportunity to defend themselves and refute any information against them.

Worse, the proposed law would also allow the ATC to authorize the detention without judicial warrant of arrest of suspects for up to 14 calendar days, extendible by another 10 days.

These clearly violate the Constitution’s guarantee to due process and constitutes a usurpation of judicial power.

Worse, this bill would worsen the impunity with which many of our laws and rights are violated by the very ones sworn to protect and uphold these by doing away with the stiff penalties intended to prevent any abuse of this legislation’s most draconian measure, the extrajudicial arrest and detention of suspects.

The bill also poses mortal danger to the principles of freedom of the press and of expression in Section 9 defining the crime of “inciting to terrorism,” which can be committed “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations of the same” and is punishable by 12 years in prison.

This provision is, however, prone to broad application much like this and previous administrations have used the existing offenses of inciting to sedition and rebellion to quell free speech and intimidate critics.
In effect, reportage on persons and groups deemed terrorist, or even merely repeating what they say, could be interpreted as committing inciting to terrorism.

While we all agree that the fight against terrorism is important and needs the participation and cooperation of everyone, we maintain that the proposed law is open to abuse by despotic governments to visit terror against critics and the people in general.

If a law to fight terrorism is to be contemplated, let the respect and defense of human rights be the paramount consideration. #

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Initiated by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, this joint statement is being signed by thousands of individuals and organizations.

Radio station condemns threats and attacks from LGU

A Central Luzon radio station is condemning threats of criminal charges by local government officials using the government’s coronavirus emergency law.

In a statement, Radyo Natin-Guimba (RNG) in Nueva Ecija said the Guimba Municipal Council’s recent resolution authorizing mayor Jose Dizon to file charges against the radio station for alleged violations to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020 (Republic Act 11469) is a direct violation to press freedom.

The station added that the Council’s move is also tantamount to the suppression of the people’s right to demand assistance and relief amid massive loss of livelihood resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ano ba ang masama at nalabag sa ginagawa ng Radyo Natin Guimba na isaboses ang tinig ng mamamayan, marinig ang kanilang apela, reklamo at daing habang sila ay nakakwarantina at hindi makapaghanapbuhay?” RNG asked. (What is wrong and what violation is committed by Radyo Natin Guimba when it only gives voice to the people in order for their appeals and complaints to be heard while they are under quarantine and are unable to work?)

RNG explained that because of the slow distribution of the national government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) by the LGU, many townsfolk went to their station to broadcast complaints.

Many of the complaints arose from reports that some SAP beneficiaries were rich farmers while many poor peasants have been left out, the station added.

“Ilang matanda, nagpapasusong ina , buntis, solo parent, at mahihirap na pamilya ang dumulog sa aming istasyon at kanilang inirereklamo ang mga Barangay Health Workers (BHWs), Day Care Workers, Kapitan at Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) sa pagpili ng bibigyan ng SAP,” RNG said. (Some elderly, lactating mothers, pregnant women, solo parents and poor families asked help through our station and complained of discrimination by Barangay health workers, day care workers, Barangay Chairperson and the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office.)

RNG also said Guimba police also prevented them from taking photos and videos of people lining up to complain about being excluded from SAP.

Townsfolk crowd Guimba’s municipal hall during SAP distribution. (RNG photo)

Elderly complainants were holding up placards saying “Nasaan ang ayuda?” (Where is the assistance?) “Protektahan ang matatanda.” (Protect the elderly.) “Help us.” “Nagugutom na kami!” (We are already starving!) that the local police also threatened to file charges against, RNG said.

The police also took Ina Jo Colcol, a resident of Brangay Balingog East, and Dexter Eusebio of Barangay Sta. Veronica to the local police headquarters and ordered to delete their photos and videos last May 4, the station revealed.

A RNG field reporter was also prevented from taking photos and videos of the people who trooped to the municipal mayor’s office to appeal their SAP exclusion, the station revealed.

Townsfolk crowd Guimba’s municipal hall during SAP distribution. (RNG photo)

Other attacks on press freedom

Before the town council session last May 11, Municipal Councilor Bonbon Dizon, son of Mayor Dizon, confiscated RNG field reporter Lina Villaflor’s media identification cards issued by the Presidential Communications and Operations Office and the station and took photos of them, RNG reported.

The councilor passed the identification cards’ details to Nueva Ecija assessor OJ Manuel Cornejo via a phone call, RNG said.

It was at the May 11 session that the Council approved Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 52 s.2020 allowing the filing of criminal charges against RNG by the mayor.

In an emergency meeting of Guimba’s League of Barangay Chairpersons, Cornejo–reportedly a frequent presence at the mayor’s office while the head of a provincial government office–publicly declared the planned charges against RNG.

Last May 18, RNG’s reporter was told to leave the session room as the topic being discussed was “sensitive.”

Last May 19, local police again confronted a RNG reporter covering the distribution of rice seeds to farmers.

The police reportedly told the reporter to first seek a permit from Mayor Dizon.

“We will not agree to the harassment by the LGU. It is our duty to report truthfully and give the people accurate information as is their right. We do not agree that press freedom is a violation to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” RNG said in its statement.

LGU denies harassment

In a phone interview with Kodao, however, Guimba municipal information officer Sherwin Guiuo denied RNG’s allegation of harassment by the mayor and the council.

“The LGU acted on reports from barangay officials that some whose photos were posted online reacted negatively to RNG’s uploads. In the first place, they are not hungry as the LGU was in fact distributing relief,” Guiuo said.

The officer said the resolution is not harassment but obedience to RA 11469’s Section 6 on penalties.

Section 6’s item F orders penalties on “individuals or groups creating or perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the Covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms.”

“The council is duty bound to give the mayor the authority to take such actions as provided by the law. The mayor in turn is duty-bound to implement the law,” Guiuo said.

‘Abusive’

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairperson Nonoy Espina however said the LGU’s actions and plans against RNG are abusive.

“The harassment of RNG and its staff by the Guimba LGU is a shameless trampling on freedom of the press and on the right of their own constituents to know what is happening in the municipality,” Espina said.

“This is clear abuse of authority that has no place in a democracy,” Espina added.

RNG is a member of both the Manila Broadcasting Company’s Radyo Natin project and People’s Alternative Media Network. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Harry Roque owes CNN-Philippines and reporter an apology, NUJP says

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque should apologize to CNN Philippines for berating its reporter in an online press briefing Tuesday, May 12.

In a statement, the media group said Roque owes the media company and reporter Triciah Terada an apology for “his boorish and, as it turned out, misbegotten tirade.”

Reacting to a CNN tweet on Monday, May 18, Roque denied he admitted that the government has no coronavirus mass testing program and would leave it to private businesses.

It was reported that the government has no plan or action, or that the expanded target testing is not a priority. This is very wrong,” Roque said in Filipino.

He said reporter Terada quoted him “out of context,” adding that CNN’s tweet insinuated that the government has passed on to the private sector the responsibility for expanded testing.

CNN said in a statement it is standing by its story, adding the report was not written by Terada.

“CNN Philippines assures the public that we reported the facts in the May 18 story,” it said.

Roque was in fact responding to the request of GMA’s Joseph Morong to confirm that government had no mass testing program, to which he replied, “[I]n terms of mass testing that Wuhan (China) did with all its 11 million residents, we have no such program and we leave that to the private sector.”

NUJP said that, ironically, even as he berated Terada, Roque unwittingly proved in effect the report right when he said, “It is not mass testing that we are doing, it is expanded targeted testing.”

Multiple news organizations also carried the same story that quoted Roque.

“Officials who earn public ire for their pronouncements should not blame journalists who are merely doing their jobs,” NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Statement condemning NTF-ELCAC’s black propaganda against ABS-CBN and Maria Ressa

10 May 2020

We, media groups, news outfits, journalists, and academics, condemn the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for a black propaganda offensive on social media against ABS-CBN and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

These Facebook posts, while they have been taken down, are a brazenly criminal abuse of authority on the part of the NTF-ELCAC, replete with half-truths and outright lies that willfully endanger Maria and the management and personnel of the network that government shut down.

The only reason we can think of why a government entity tasked to combat the communist insurgency would wage a propaganda offensive against media persons and outfits is if government now considers us the enemy.

In fact, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, NTF-ELCAC spokesman and Southern Luzon Command chief, indicated as much. In a May 8 Philippine News Agency report, while insisting that press freedom was alive in this country, also warned critics of the ABS-CBN shutdown: “Yes to law and order! Otherwise you might just get the martial law that you deserve.”

Worse, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) aided in the slander by sharing these posts on its own page, although it later took these down, apparently after generating backlash from netizens.

While Communications Secretary Martin Andanar issued a statement saying the NTF-ELCAC posts were shared “without the usual vetting process of our office” and were “not in any way an official statement or an opinion of the PCOO,” neither did he apologize for his agency’s involvement nor even promise an investigation to identify those responsible for this reprehensibly irresponsible action.

We demand that government, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), immediately mount an investigation into who in the NTF-ELCAC were responsible for ordering and creating the slanderous posts and why.

At a time when our people are battling a deadly pandemic, it is extremely unacceptable that there are those in government who are making media repression, not saving lives, as the priority. #

(Signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals as of May 12, 2020. For a full list, click this link.)

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

By THE NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

May 4, 2020

This is the kind of government we have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MABUHAY AND MALAYANG PAMAMAHAYAG!

National Directorate

Int’l and local media groups call for Tacloban journalist’s freedom amid COVID

Media organizations worldwide are calling for the release of Tacloban-based reporter Frenchie Mae Cumpio and other jailed journalists throughout Asia amid the sweeping coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter dated April 27, 74 organizations called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong to release imprisoned journalists in response to calls from various quarters to decongest and prevent coronavirus contagion in jails.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) began a campaign on March 30 called #FreeThePress, launching a petition and publishing an open letter to world leaders urging the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned for their work.

“Given that a staggering number of these imprisoned journalists are held in jails across the Asian continent, we are reiterating that call to your respective countries at this time of grave public health concern,” the letter reads.

The media and rights organizations said the release of the jailed journalists is in line with the protection of free press and the free flow of information at the current crucial times.

“For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care,” it adds.

According to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census conducted last December 1, there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia, including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.

As of March 31, at least five journalists have been released, four in China and one in Vietnam, according to CPJ research.

However, at least five more journalists have been arrested since December 1, including Cumpio in the Philippines, Sovann Rithy in Cambodia, Chen Jiaping in China, Gautam Navlakha in India, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in Pakistan.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michael Forst supports the call for the release of Frenchie Mae Cumpio (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao)

Cumpio, reporter and executive director of the community media group Eastern Vista and a radio host at Aksyon Radyo in Palo, Leyte was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by the police at a Church-owned property on allegations of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Cumpio’s colleagues and supporters said the police charges are not only trumped-up but ridiculous.

The letter, sent electronically to the said heads of state, was signed by 74 media, press freedom and human rights organizations, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

“Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression without interference and the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” the letter notes.

It further cites the World Health Organization: “People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

World Press Freedom Day 2020: Let us remain free

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

May 3, 2020

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

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

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

And this is just physical safety.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us continue to serve the people through our work.

Let us continue to be free.

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

#WorldPressFreedomDay2020

Rights groups decry harassment of campus journalists

Free expression groups and advocates are outraged at village officials and public school teachers in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija who forced a campus journalist into issuing a public apology over his criticism of the Rodrigo Duterte government’s handling of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

Arts and media alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) said the officials and teachers “deserve nothing but our (LODI) contempt and scorn” for being “bad examples to the youth” when they forced University of the East Dawn editor in chief Joshua Molo into issuing a public apology over his online criticisms of the president and the government.

 “In their attempt to silence Joshua, they abused their positions of influence in the community and merely helped cover up the negligent and inept who Joshua wished to expose,” LODI said in a statement.

Molo caught the ire of Barangay San Fernando Sur officials and his former high school teachers when he questioned the Duterte administration’s “inaction” in posts on his Facebook wall. The post has since been taken down.

Molo’s posts piqued three of his former teachers at Cabiao National High School who professed their unquestioning support of the president.

LODI identified Molo’s former teachers as Jun Ainne Francisco, Rochelle Galang, Wilma Manalo, Mel Garcia, Delmar Miranda, Jonifel Ventura, and Rogelio Dela Cruz. The barangay officials are unidentified.

That Molo was eventually “forced” to issue a public apology and take down his posts have earned the ire of free expression and rights groups and advocates.

Violation to free expression

In an alert, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said Redwire, an independent publication run by students of UE-Manila first broke the news and quoted friends who were in contact with the campus journalist as saying that the barangay officials threatened to file a libel case against Molo and have him picked up by police if he refused to apologize.

“A video posted on the UE Dawn editor’s social media account Sunday afternoon, April 5, showed him (Molo) making the ‘apology,’ taking his cue from persons outside the frame of the image to begin reading the message he had prepared on his phone, a possible indication he was under duress at the time,” the NUJP said.

Before removing the video, the campus journalist posted a comment saying a former teacher had asked him to take it down, the group added.

LODI said the Molo’s criticisms of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic are “non-crimes” and that he was right in pointing out the slow delivery of relief items for the citizens placed under quarantine.

Molo’s student publication, the UE Dawn, also condemned “in the strongest possible terms” actions against its editor, adding “preventing someone from expressing his or her opinion on matters such as grievances against the government is an act of oppression.”

Alumni of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the national alliance of student publications that count the UE Dawn as its member, expressed full support to Molo and condemned “the cowardly acts of harassment against him.”

 “The coronavirus pandemic is no excuse to deny anyone, including students, the right to air grievances against government and to hold government accountable for its ineptitude and neglect. The limits on physical movement render free public debate online all the more important. Students have every right to participate in the debate,” the CEGP alumni said.

In a statement, the group asked Molo’s teachers to reconsider their plans to file charges against the campus journalist.

“[They should]…allow Joshua to freely speak his mind, and to instead to help him ventilate the valid complaints he is raising regarding the Duterte administration’s response to the pandemic. Teachers should be the last ones to discourage critical and independent thinking among students. Neither should they encourage blind, unthinking obedience to authority,” the CEGP alumni said.

Human rights group Karapatan for its part said, “We are alarmed on this incident as it is a case of curtailment of the right to free expression. Karapatan would like to remind authorities that the right to free speech is protected by the Philippine Constitution and international human rights instruments. Anyone who wishes to express dismay over government’s actions should never be threatened and penalized.”

Philippines Graphic editor in chief Joel Pablo Salud also publicly criticized Molo’s former teachers, asking “What sort of teachers would take the constitutionally-assured exercise of free speech against this university student editor? These are former teachers in high school; the young man is now in college,” he said.

“Is this the kind of system these teachers are propagating–coercion, intimidation, harassment of those who will exercise their right to free speech? To make matters more disturbing, these teachers were allegedly his former Campus Journalism instructors in high school,” Salud added.

Journalist Inday Espina-Varona said the barangay officials were wrong in coercing submission from Molo on issues way beyond the specific complaint.

“Threatening Molo with arrest on grounds of anti-government sentiment is a violation of his constitutional right to free expression,” Espina-Varona said,

 ‘Acting like a dictator’

In the same statement, the CEGP also condemned Cebu governor Gwendolyn Garcia’s threat against Today’s Carolinian (TC), student publication of the University of San Carlos in Cebu, that published an editorial critical of the local executive.

“She [Garcia] is not exempt from the requirement of accountability of public officers, and she has no legal authority to limit what can or cannot be said, or what can be asked or commented on,” the article reads.

The editorial entitled “A governor is not above the Constitution” was a criticism of Garcia’s announcement to form a unit to track down people with critical online posts.

Garcia responded with an “invitation” to TC editor in chief Berns Mitra to “beam some light into your clearly uninformed mind that has hastily jumped to an erroneous conclusion.”

The former officers of the CEGP however said Garcia should simply answer the questions and concerns raised by Cebu campus journalists.

“The pandemic is not a license for Garcia to act like a little dictator. She remains a public servant required by law to be accountable at all times to the people,” they said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)