Media groups urge Marcos Jr to ensure media freedom

Manila’s Cardinal Advincula: ‘When truth is at stake, remaining apathetic and being silent is a sin’

International and local media groups urged the incoming Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government to commit to protecting media freedom they said has since deteriorated after being restored upon the ouster of the first Marcos regime in 1986.

Reminding that the media was “restricted and regulated” during his father’s regime, seven media groups said media freedom has also suffered under the outgoing Rodrigo Duterte government with increased attacks on journalists and independent media.

“The president-elect of the Philippines as a result of the May 9 election must ensure the protection of media freedom in the country. Media freedom is important to fulfill the right to information for the public, which is one of the keys to democracy,” the seven groups said.

In a statement, the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Center for Independent Journalism, The Movement of Independent Media / Gerakan Media Merdeka, Freedom Film Network, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association, and Association of Journalists of Timor Leste cited that the Philippines has declined on the World Press Freedom Index in the last five years.

“Using new metrics to measure press freedom in its 2022 index, Reporters Without Borders ranked the Philippines 147th, the third lowest in Southeast Asia,” the groups said.

They added that the guarantee of media freedom must be implemented by enacting press freedom laws, establishing independent media councils, decriminalizing defamation, ending censorship and bans on the media, and stopping lawsuits.

The groups also said the Philippine government must stop the practice of impunity by committing to uncover and prosecute the perpetrators of attacks against journalists and media, both physically and digitally. Perpetuating impunity will result in a prolonged cycle of violence.

Letter to President-elect Marcos

In a separate May 23 letter, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) President Jodie Ginsberg requested President-elect Ferdinand Jr. to reverse Duterte’s “abusive acts and policies” targeting independent media and journalists and to restore the Philippines’ “once-proud standing as a regional bastion of press freedom.”

Ginsberg said that Marcos should undo Duterte’s long campaign of intimidation and harassment of the press and “give top priority to this urgent task.”

“The legitimacy of your administration should be based on independently reported facts that allow for the kind of true public accountability that is the hallmark of strong democracies. The people of the Philippines deserve no less,” Ginsberg wrote.

Ginsberg said the new Marcos administration should end the relentless persecution of journalist and Nobel Peace laureate Maria Ressa she described as “a global beacon of press freedom.”

“CPJ calls on your government to immediately drop all pending charges against Ressa, her colleagues, and the Rapplermedia group,” Ginsberg wrote.

She said the cases against Ressa and Rappler were trumped-up in attempts to shutter Rappler and carry potential prison penalties.

Ginsberg also mentioned Rappler reporter and NUJP director Lian Buan who complained of being shoved and blocked several times by the president-elect’s security detail and media relations officer while covering Ferdinand Jr.’s campaign events.

The CPJ said it also strongly calls on the incoming Philippine government to restore the operating franchise of ABS-CBN and to stop the Duterte regime’s red-tagging of journalists.

“Red-tagging is especially dangerous considering the Philippine military’s alleged role in extrajudicial killings and torture of accused communists,” Ginsberg wrote.

The CPJ also called on Marcos Jr. to drop the red tagging-related charges pending against journalist Frenchiemae Cumpio who has been languishing behind bars for over two years in an attempt to silence her reporting on the Philippine military’s operations against communist rebels and alleged associated human rights abuses.

“As the Philippines’ newly elected leader, you have the mandate to reassert your country’s damaged democratic credentials by forthrightly promoting and protecting press freedom. We urge you to seize this important moment and state clearly from the outset that journalists will be free to report without fear of reprisal, intimidation, or imprisonment during your tenure,” Ginsberg said.

‘Combat lies with truth’

Meanwhile, Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula warned of a “crisis of truth” and urged the Catholic faithful to combat lies.

Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula (wearing miter) mobbed by “selfie”takers at the end of the Thanksgiving Mass on the canonization of St. Titus Brandsma at the Cubao Cathedral last May 28. (R.VillanuevA/Kodao)

At the thanksgiving Mass for the canonization of Dutch Carmelite priest Titus Brandsma last Saturday, Advincula said the media should only be used to promote truth.

“When we seem to be experiencing a crisis of truth especially on social media, St. Titus inspires us to use social media as a pulpit from which we must proclaim, and if need be, defend the truth,” Advincula said.

Hailed as the Catholic Church’s martyr for press freedom, St.Titus Brandsma was arrested and killed by German occupiers for refusing to publish Nazi propaganda during World War II.

Advincula led the thanksgiving at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao with the Carmelite community in the Philippines after Brandsma’s elevation to Catholic Church sainthood by Pope Francis last May 15 in Rome.

“This makes St. Titus very relevant to our times. If there are forces that use social media to deceive and spread lies, let us come combat them with flooding it with the truth of God’s word,” the Cardinal said in his homily.

“St. Titus reminds that when truth is at stake, remaining apathetic and being silent is a sin,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Titus as Journalist: Titus Brandsma and the Freedom of the Press

By Raymund B Villanueva

(Lecture delivered last April 26 to an Institute of Spirituality in Asia webinar as part of Titus Brandsma Canonization 2022 Committee celebrations of the Order of Carmelites in the Philippines. Pope Francis is set to canonize Blessed Titus Brandsma, OCarm with nine others at the Vatican today, March 15.)

Thank you once more for inviting me to yet another Institute of Spirituality in Asia webinar. This time, I won’t be talking about something I am very familiar with. In fact, it is a bit presumptuous of me to accept the invitation to talk about the Blessed Titus Brandsma as a journalist because I am quite sure he is more familiar to you than he is to me. I accepted because I believe I can make comparisons, parallelisms and juxtapositions to what he endured to defend freedom of the press and of expression and what we as practicing journalists of today have to contend with as well. Also, it is quite an honor to be made part of the Philippine celebrations in anticipation of his canonization next month, one that should not be declined lightly.

Aside from being a philosophy teacher, a Carmelite religious, mystic, reformer and many other things, Titus took on the role of a journalist and was chief editor of De Stad Oss, which he gave a new identity to. He wrote an impressive number of articles for the Carmelrozen Magazine that focused on spirituality. Sources said journalism occupied a special place in Titus’ heart, considering it an excellent opportunity to give the spiritual life a place in what was then an increasingly secularizing Dutch society. He also wrote articles on Dutch piety in De Gerderlander and served as an adviser to the Roman Catholic Journalists’ Association.

Here is where I will attempt to draw parallelisms and juxtapositions.

I consider those who enter the world of journalism lucky because it was not only their dream but also because they have spent their young lives preparing to become one. They are blessed with not only clear dreams and definite goals and so have studied and trained to become one from school. Many were fortunate to be hired and to work as one, and more blessed are they if they have spent the best years of their lives being, serving and living as journalists.

They must have seen and still see journalism as a life worth living, a force of good not just for themselves but for others. To devote oneself to such a lifelong undertaking, they must consider the calling as beyond just trade, skill, a way to earn a living, or, for personal glory by way of the byline. Sure, these are reasons by themselves, but journalism, good or bad, is beyond all these.

Blessed Titus’ journey into journalism started, I believe, like most lifelong journalists did and do, at least in the Philippines. He was not a child who dreamt of being a journalist and formally studied to become one. He studied and trained to become a religious and, when he was already one, became a journalist as well, among many other concerns and personal projects.

I have heard it said repeatedly that becoming a good journalist is not necessarily premised on having studied journalism formally. In fact, one should study and master other disciplines in order to become a knowledgeable journalist, one who is not just a master in stringing words together but someone who may also know a thing or two about what s/he reports about. For example, one who has studied economics has a better chance of becoming a good business reporter or a political science graduate is more likely to become a good correspondent reporting on government.

But what about news writing and reportorial skills? Shouldn’t prospective journalists study that as their main training? Well, yes. But what I am trying to say is, becoming anything is not solely dependent on one’s academic training. One can become good at anything if s/he puts his/her mind and body into it which, in Blessed Titus’ case, was successful. Journalists do not just come from journalism schools. They come from everywhere, as Fr. Ritche Salgado, OCarm, who was already a licensed physical therapist before becoming a journalist and later on a religious, showed us. I am another example of sorts. I studied Philosophy and Letters at a school that had no journalism program, yet here I am fancying and styling myself as one.

But Blessed Titus was, of course, a cut above our humble examples. Because of his spirituality, he became a journalist to amplify his thoughts, beliefs and faith. His journalism became an energetic conduit to sharing, informing, educating, evangelizing and witnessing. He wrote, edited and published to give more fullness to his calling and mission. He was a force in arguing for the spiritual life in an increasingly secularizing society.

Blessed Titus’ spirituality and his journalism were not nebulous things. They were also firmly anchored in the temporal, such as denouncing and fighting evil in this world like Nazism and the assassination of freedom of the press and expression. It came to fore when the Third Reich invaded his homeland The Netherlands in May 1940. He did not only write against this evil, he also took on the very dangerous mission in January 1942 to deliver by hand a letter from the Conference of Dutch Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers ordering them not to print official Nazi documents, as was dictated by the German occupiers. He also urged Catholic newspapers and magazines to not accept and print advertisements from groups that supported Nazism. He had accomplished delivering this message to 14 editors before being arrested on 19 January of that year. He is now known, most of all by the Philippine Carmel, to be the Martyr of Press Freedom for refusing to let falsehood and evil see print, even at the cost of his life.

And here is another parallelism: fascism is still with us today, no less evil as when Nazi boots trampled Blessed Titus’ people. Spilled blood paint streets, lives ebb as plaintive cries rend the air. Poverty is the people’s reality while our rulers flaunt wealth sucked from the sinews and marrows of emaciated bodies of workers. Have you seen how our people patiently wait for the chance to catch a ride morning and night, dreaming of laying their heads for a few hours of rest before another day’s suffering? Titus would have looked at these scenes and wrote about them from and with his light. It is possible that had he been a journalist during our times, he would have railed against the social injustices and be persecuted.

Many journalists today die because because of such stories. Marlene Esperat exposed the fertilizer scam and died for it when armed men stormed into her house one night and shot her in front of her children. Broadcaster Gerry Ortega railed against the rape and plunder of the environment and was shot to death in full view of many people in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Under the Rodrigo Duterte regime, at least 22 journalists have been killed. We have documented hundreds and hundreds of attacks on press freedom including cyber-attacks, vilification, arrests, trumped-up charges, red-tagging and many others.

Because as in the time of Hitler, so it is today with Duterte. In the face of social injustices, many journalists try to be as Titus, refusing to be dictated upon, muzzled, and ordered to be the purveyor of falsehood and evil. They may not have heard about Titus Brandsma, but one thing with goodness and light is that they manifest in other humans and through acts that may be described as spiritual for one.

In a few weeks’ time, the Church will elevate Blessed Titus to its pantheon of saints. He shall be another intercession for our collective dream for fullness of humanity. And this blessing could not come at a better time for journalists and the Filipino people. When the religious, the journalists, human rights defenders, public interest lawyers, land reform advocates, militant labor, are being killed, St. Titus would implore us to be with them as witnesses. When falsehoods are misrepresented as facts, when the media are subverted and corrupted, when trolls try to be the definers of truth, St. Titus, by his witness, would implore us to counter with real truth. #

(The author is the 2015 Titus Brandsma Philippines awardee for Emerging Leadership in Journalism.)

Pope Francis to elevate journalist to sainthood

Carmelites: Canonization comes during ‘our present struggles against the venom of deceit, lies, fake news, historical revisionism and all other forms of disinformation’

Pope Francis is set to canonize a journalist revered as a “martyr of press freedom” and may be one of only two saints of the profession.

Titus Brandsma, one of 10 candidates for canonization at Vatican City on May 15 was a Dutch Carmelite priest, educator and journalist executed at the Dachau concentration camp on July 1942 for his refusal to publish Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers.

Brandsma was subjected to hardship and starvation and killed with carbolic acid injection in the same year. He was 61.

Brandsma’s fellow Carmelites in the country said they rejoice at the martyr’s ”much anticipated” elevation to the Roman Church’s roster of saints, saying his canonization is a gift to the order in the Philippines.

“The canonization of Titus Brandsma is truly a milestone and an inspiration, not only for the Church but particularly for Filipino Carmelites,” Prior Provincial of the Philippine Province Rev. Fr. Rico P. Ponce, O.Carm. said in a statement.

Brandsma is the patron of the Order of the Carmelites in the Philippines (formally the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel), a Roman Catholic mendicant religious order for men and women.

“Having our Province named after this modern-day martyr and mystic is made more meaningful by our own present struggles against the venom of deceit, lies, fake news, historical revisionism and all other forms of disinformation,” Fr. Ponce said.

“We have much to learn and to imitate from Titus Brandsma, who defended Truth and Press Freedom until his dying breath,” Fr. Ponce added.

The Carmelites in the Philippines named an institution and a program after the “martyr of the faith” patron.

The Titus Brandsma Media Center in Quezon City is learning resource institute for media education and pastoral care for media professionals while its Titus Brandsma Media Awards honors media practitioners “whose work reflect of truth, freedom, and genuine service to the poor and marginalized.”

Fr. Ponce said Brandsma’s canonization comes at a time when the country is “currently embroiled in a battle against the vicious enemies of truth, as well as those who try to manipulate the use of media and communication technology for their own selfish ends.”

“It is a great consolation for us to have someone from a not-so-distant generation praying and interceding for us in our current struggles, and who knows how it is to be persecuted for defending his beliefs in the light of his faith,” Fr. Ponce added.

Brandsma was director of Catholic newspapers in The Netherlands like Maximilian Kolbe who the Roman Church earlier named patron saint of journalists. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)