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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)

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)

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

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

Pahayag ng CEGP sa hatol na guilty kina Maria Ressa at Rey Santos Jr.

Nagbigay-pahayag si Anton Narciso, miyembro ng national secretariat ng College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), kaugnay sa hatol na guilty ng Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 kina Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa at dating researcher/writer na si Rey Santos Jr.

Nahatulang nagkasala sina Ressa at Santos sa kasong cyberlibel na isinampa ng negosyante na si Wilfredo Keng. Marami ang nagulat na nagpatuloy ang paglilitis ng kaso samantalang ang artikulo ng Rappler ay nailimbag sa website nito apat na buwan bago naisabatas ang cyberliber law.

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.)

On Panelo’s ‘honor’

Presidential legal counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the Inquirer.net with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue. Panelo is showing the Filipino people that this country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws are, more often than not, used as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office is drafting the libel complaints, against both media outfits for being “irresponsible” and “malicious.” To his mind, reports about his February 26, 2019 letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole forwarding Antonio Sanchez’s family’s request for executive clemency were meant to discredit him in public and to tarnish his honor.

“Balat-sibuyas” is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them. Officials of Panelo’s kind must at least admit that, in this case, those reports helped avert the travesty of the convicted rapist and murderer’s early release. Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends.

If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Inquirer.net. Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer. #

The National Directorate

NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

September 4, 2019

NUPL: Ouster plot allegation ‘absurd’

A progressive lawyers’ group slammed a news report linking it to an alleged ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte, calling the story “an imagination gone berserk.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said The Manila Times story “Oust-Duterte plot bared” published today and bylined by its chairman emeritus Dante Ang “fantastic” and “libelous.”

“This has certainly gone over the walls of credulity. It is absolutely false, totally baseless and completely ludicrous,” the NUPL said in a statement.

Ang’s story alleged the group, along with independent media groups and journalists including Vera Files, Rappler and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) are involved in a plot to oust Duterte.

The first matrix presented in The Manila Times report.

“There is a plot to discredit the President and destabilize his government,” Ang’s story said, quoting a anonymous source in the Office of the President said.

“There’s an obvious pattern of close coordination among some media organizations for the timely publication of anti-Duterte stories,” the source supposedly told Ang.

The story added the plot is utilizing the media, planting fake news, distributing them to the friendly media outlets, whetting the people’s appetite, arousing their anger, manipulating public emotion, touching base with the Leftist organization, enlisting the support of the police and the military, then going for the “kill.”

It added that journalist Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files is serving as main distributor of the videos of a certain “Bikoy” accusing Duterte, son and former Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte, senatorial aspirant Christopher “Bong” Go, among others as illegal drugs distributors.

The second matrix alleging Tordesillas acting as nexus of the distribution of videos accusing the Dutertes of having links with the illegal drug trade in the country.

“’Bikoy,’ obviously a pseudonym, was the source of the black propaganda, the matrix shows. From Bikoy, the stories go to Ellen Tordesillas, president of Vera Files, who acts as the nexus and distributor of the materials to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Rappler and the NUPL. These organizations, in turn, distribute the false narratives to their respective members,” Ang’s story said.

In a press briefing at the Malacañan Palace, presidential spokesperson and chief legal adviser Salvador Panelo said revealed Ang’s source was President Duterte himself.

“I was supposed to release this today. Naunahan lang ako ng Manila Times,” he said. (Manila Times was just ahead of me.)

Panelo said the matrix was the result of intelligence information gathered by foreign countries and shared to Malacañan.

‘Laying the ground for more attacks’

The NUPL however said their inclusion in the matrix is a mere bait to engage them in absurd and endless tit for tat to distract them from their human rights lawyering.

“[The allegations] would have been amusing were it not perilous to the safety, security, and liberty, if not the lives, of each of the 500 or so lawyers, law students, law professors, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, government lawyers, and paralegals who are members of the NUPL in more than 20 chapters nationwide,” the NUPL said.

The NUPL said Ang’s story lacked evidence and credibility given his close association with Duterte and House of Representatives Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Basic it is that for evidence to be credible, it must not only be credible in itself but must also come from a credible source. And more so if it is cloaked under a fictituous anonymity that does not give the object of such calumny a fair chance to contest,” NUPL said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also scored Ang’s report, calling it “a marvel of unethical and amateurish writing.”

“Based on a single anonymous source and a matrix showing a web of threads so tenuous it would not hold up in the slightest breeze, Ang’s piece of claptrap wouldn’t even pass muster at any self-respecting high school publication,” the NUJP said in a statement.

“In fact, proof that the matrix, the source and the story are hogwash is the fact that former NUJP chair – AND former [Manila] Times editor – Inday Espina Varona is listed in the matrix as among NUPL members. She is neither a lawyer nor connected to the NUPL,” the group added.

The NUJP also said what Ang has done is similar to the narco-lists Duterte is fond of trotting which often amount to hit lists, death sentences without the benefit of trial.

“What we do fear is that this “revelation” could be a prelude to a crackdown against independent media and human rights lawyers,” the group said, adding that Ang should be held accountable should any harm come to those named in his article. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bulatlat, Rappler long-listed in international media award for independent reporting

Two Philippine online news outfits suffering harassment from various fronts close to the Rodrigo Duterte government have been “long-listed” in this year’s One World Media Awards

Bulatlat and Rappler are two of 10 media outfits in the world listed as possible winners of the special award category in recognition of their independent journalistic outputs.

Along with other critical media outfits in the Philippines, Bulatlat and Rappler are victims of attacks and charges they said are because of critical reports they published on the Duterte government’s so-called drug war.

Bulatlat and other alternative media groups have been the subject of sustained and malicious distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks since December last year.

It has filed a civil complaint against two companies that Sweden-based digital rights group Quirium identified as behind the DDoS attacks.

Rappler on the other hand is facing numerous civil and criminal charges in local courts while its chief executive officer Maria Ressa had been forced to spend a night in jail for being arrested after office hours.

United Kingdom-based One World Media (OWM) is an international group that provides support to independent journalism and recognizes the best global media coverage of developing countries.

It is partners with BBC, Al Jazeera, British Red Cross, the British Council, Save the Children, Sky News, among others.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) congratulated both Bulatlat and Rappler for “being long-listed in the One World Media Awards, which recognize the best media coverage of the developing world, reflecting the social, political and cultural life of people around the globe.”

“The inclusion of the two news outfits is an affirmation of the quality and value of the work they do and a testament to the fierce independence and courage of Filipino journalists in both the mainstream and alternative media who refuse to buckle under the continued assaults by the enemies of press freedom,” the NUJP in a statement said.

The media group added it takes particular pride in Bulatlat, “which houses an NUJP chapter and from where many of the leading journalists in the country today, both in the mainstream and alternative media, come from.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Rappler correspondent evicted from CDO school where Duterte appeared

NUJP ALERT
March 25, 2019

Rappler’s Cagayan de Oro City correspondent was told to leave the campus of the University of Science and Technology in Southern Philippines (USTP) Sunday, March 24, hours before President Rodrigo Roa Duterte arrived to lead the campaign rally of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan.

Rappler correspondent Bobby Lagsa said he was outside the USTP gymnasium, where the campaign rally was underway, doing person-on-the-street interviews when he was approached by a staff of the Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO) and told to leave the campus “Para ‘di na tayo magkahiyaan (to avoid embarrassment).”

Lagsa said he was doing interviews outside the venue after he was denied accreditation to cover the event the day before.

He said he tried to get accredited via the Cagayan de Oro City Information Office (CIO) which referred his application to the MARO.

Lagsa said he did not encounter any problem getting inside the USTP campus at about 5 pm and was able to interview several persons outside the gymnasium before he was told to leave.

He said he was wearing his Rappler ID while doing the interviews but said he did not try to get inside the gymnasium. #