Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was silent on press freedom issues during his second State of the Nation Address. The situation on the ground is no better.
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — Media organizations in the Philippines decried the deteriorating state of press freedom in the Philippines a year into the Marcos Jr. administration.
“Marcos Jr. has not lifted a finger to undo the excesses and abuses of Duterte. His inaction is taken as a go-signal by those who continue to violate the people’s right to free speech and free expression,” a joint statement of media organizations said.
“The entire state machinery, under the guise of the ‘whole-of-nation-approach’ is used to curtail not only free expression but also the right to organization of different sectors pushing for their rights and welfare,” the statement added.
Among the signatories were AlterMidya-Alternative People’s Media Network, Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)–Philippines.
Prior to the second State of the Nation Address (SONA), Marcos Jr. addressed press freedom issues during the 50th anniversary of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP). He claimed that the government will remain committed to “ensuring transparency, and good governance, freedom of expression and of the press, and the protection of media practitioners and their rights in the practice of their profession.”
Less hostile does not mean less dangerous
Last July 18, media organizations, artists and free expression advocates gathered to discuss the state of free expression in the country during the first year of the Marcos Jr. presidency.
While it is true that Marcos Jr.’s office is relatively less hostile, they said that little progress has been made in improving press freedom.
According to them, at least three journalists have been killed since he took office last year. The administration, they added, does little to combat the impunity that perpetrated these murders and ignores red-tagging and legal attacks against journalists.
Frenchie Mae Cumpio has remained in detention since February 2020 on trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms, terrorism financing and even murder.
NUJP recorded 84 attacks against the media from June 30, 2022 until July 24, 2023.
Out of the 84, harassment— usually in the form of surveillance and verbal intimidation, was the main form of attacks against independent media.
Last July 14, the organization posted an alert that three journalists from Pastrana, Leyte survived a shooting incident while covering a story.
According to the alert, San Juanico TV (SJTV) reporters Lito Bagunas, Noel Seniosa and Ted Tomas were interviewing farmers involved in a land dispute in Brgy. Jones, Pastrana, Leyte when a woman stopped them and told them to go away.
The woman, identified as Staff Sergeant Rhea Mae Baleos, reportedly grabbed Sianosa’s phone which was being used to record videos and pushed him away.
The video posted by NUJP even showed how Baleos forcefully pushed the journalist away before gunshots were heard.
Tomas said that he saw men in police uniform fire the shots. This was later disputed by Pastrana local police who said that the shooting incident was only “disinformation.”
On July 17, the media outfit lodged a formal complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman against Baleos and seven unidentified members of Pastrana, Leyte PNP who were involved in the incident.
The situation remains tense after SJTV staff observed multiple incidents of surveillance among their employees.
In a follow-up alert by NUJP on Friday (July 21), they stated that the media outfit noticed suspicious men in unlicensed vehicles tailing the reporters and the station manager of SJTV all the way to their homes after the shooting incident.
The alert stated that SJTV recorded seven different incidents of tailing and surveillance since the incident in Pastrana, Leyte.
No concrete action in ensuring the safety of journalists
Despite the evidence shown in the video of the shooting incident, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) disagreed that the police were the ones who fired the gun at the reporters.
“Indeed, gunshots were fired but it did not come from the local police nor were the local members of the press targeted by the police contrary to initial reports of the incident by some quarters,” PTFoMS Executive Director Paul Gutierrez said.
This was after the agency had its representative visit Leyte on Thursday (July 20) to meet with the people involved in the incident.
In a statement, Gutierrez said that there was “no truth” that the involved reporters were purposely targeted by the police. The agency believes that the news that followed the incident only made it seem that way.
They also claimed that Sianosa, who was one of the reporters involved, expressed his desire to drop the matter instead of filing charges. He was said to be urged against it by one of his colleagues who “want to exploit the situation to embarrass the PNP and sow hatred and fear of the authorities at the local level.”
Gutierrez said that the best course of action is to settle the matter amicably.
In their reply, SJTV said that PTFoMS’s statement deviated from what was discussed during their visit. The station also disproved the agency’s claim that one of their reporters wanted to drop the charges filed against the policemen. “This was untrue, and it only strengthened our resolve to file a case.”
NUJP also supported SJTV and said that they disagree that filing a case over the manhandling of a member of the press on coverage is meant to “embarrass the [PNP] and sow hatred and fear of the authorities.”
They also added that the case filing is not “exploiting the situation” as PTFoMS had said, but is a right that journalists are free to exercise.
“That our colleagues continue to be subjected to surveillance and harassment indicates the audacity of the perpetrators,” they added.