Philippine Press Freedom: Is It Really Under Attack?
by Maria Romero, March 07, 2019 2:43pm
Art by Dani Elevazo
It’s easy to disregard the forlorn state of Philippine Press Freedom under an autocratic government for the sake of gaining power for personal interest, even at the expense of toiling your sworn endeavor as media practitioner.
Former journalist and now senatorial aspirant under Sarah Duterte’s Party List Hugpong ng Pagbabago slate Jiggy Manicad is now criticized for claiming that Philippine’s Press Freedom is not under attack. In an interview at Rappler's #TheLeaderIWant series, he also said Rappler’s legal troubles are “isolated” and that the government has enough basis to investigate.
The Basic Role of the Press
The Philippines has been enjoying a Democratic government for 33 years after late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ regime. Under such democracy, every Filipino has the fundamental rights of Free Speech and expression subject to reasonable restrictions guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution. This democratic system is impossible without the people being informed about important social issues—the significant role media plays constitute in keeping the democracy alive.
Over the years, the media has undoubtedly progressed as it actively sparks social conversations that later on turned to notable social changes. As the fourth state tasked to balance the existing branches of the government—executive, legislative, and judicial—media should have the freedom to call out erring government officials without bias.
A democratic state cannot exist without Free Press—a press that is allowed to publish materials as long as it abides by the constitution. But what if the freedom was replaced with intimidation and suppression?
The Current State
In 2017, Philippine Daily Inquirer’s owners were indicted with legal charges. President Duterte also threatened to block ABS-CBN's franchise renewal and to file charges of multiple syndicated estafa against the TV giant.
Last year, the Security and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s license after accusing the online publication of violating the Article XVI, Section 11(1) of the Constitution and the Securities Regulation Code while allegedly operating under foreign ownership. Early this year, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa was jailed for an article published in 2012. These are obvious moves by the government to intimidate the media.
Under Duterte’s regime, at least six cases of intimidation including Pia Ranada’s case, seven attempted murders, and 12 media killings were documented as part of the 99 cases of press freedom violations compiled by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
Maybe Jiggy Manicad was looking in the wrong direction when he said the government’s actions towards the media have “no chilling effects”.
Despite all these circumstances, can we still say Philippine media has the freedom to uphold the democracy?
Hold the Line
The press is here to stay and to provide the most reliable information people can get and protect people from a tyrant regime by safeguarding and upholding human rights. In our government where freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, everyone needs to unitedly work against any form of state harassment on media.
A democratic state cannot exist without Free Press—a press that is allowed to publish materials as long as it abides by the constitution.
Part of being a politician is not to be onion-skinned. As public servants, politicians must uphold the utmost integrity even when criticized. They may protest over a story but they can’t attack a reporter’s personality. As stated in our bill of rights, every citizen has the police power vested in the legislature by the Constitution to govern, and to make, adopt, and enforce laws for the protection and preservation of public welfare. As Pia Ranada put it, “If I can be targeted, so can anyone else who is critical.” Whether a member of the media or not, a good citizen’s job is to fact-check reports and then decide which is true or false.
Only a government run by a dictator could control the media and view them as propaganda toolkit. Such government springs off writers tossed in jail for writing unflattering stories about people in power. The Philippines has long been departed from such a government style—but it seems like we're seeing history repeats itself.
We did not fight for our democracy only to see the dark days happen again. We need the Free Press to maintain our democracy.