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Philippine journalists demand end to attacks on press

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Philippines 132nd among 180 countries in Press Freedom Index
Demonstrators hold placards at a rally calling for justice following the murder of a Philippine radio broadcaster, in Quezon City in suburban Manila on Oct. 4, 2022

Demonstrators hold placards at a rally calling for justice following the murder of a Philippine radio broadcaster, in Quezon City in suburban Manila on Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo: Jam Sta. Rosa/AFP)

Published: September 12, 2023 12:00 PM GMT
Updated: September 12, 2023 12:13 PM GMT

Filipino journalist groups and civil society organizations have reiterated their demand to end ongoing attacks on journalists and attempts to impose censorship on media in the country.

The administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. continues attacks on freedom of expression, said a Sept. 11 statement from 21 groups including media outlets 

They wanted the government to allow the reopening of 28 sites, including two media outlets --  Pinoy Weekly and Bulatlat -- which were blocked by National Security officials during the tenure of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Pinoy Weekly, a Philippine-language news magazine specializing in investigative journalism, was shut down in 2020 after the police seized its copies branding it “subversive material,” the statement said.

The statement accused Marcos of taking a cue from his dictator father. It noted “an alarming growth in state violence” that targeted his critics since he assumed office in June 2022.

The Marcos government wants to promote "self-serving narratives and harmful lies," the group said. They vowed "to oppose crimes against free expression."

"We must not allow crackdowns on our rights to persist with such impunity,” they said.

Their statement came as a Philippine court on Sept. 12 acquitted Nobel laureate journalist Maria Ressa, a staunch critic of Duterte, from a tax evasion charge.

Ressa, the editor of Rappler newspaper, is among journalists fighting legal battles after they criticized the government policies and actions.

Her acquittal came a day after broadcast journalist Atom Araullo filed a defamation case against a government official and a host of a state-sponsored Radio-TV show for labeling him a member of the National People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The Philippine government has designated the National Peoples Army a terrorist group.

Political observers say it is common to label critics of the government, including journalists, as members or sympathizers of the Communist Party of the Philippines and level criminal charges against them.

“Every person must, in the exercise of his rights, and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honestly and good faith… they violated this because they acted with malice,” Araullo said in a press conference after the lawsuit.

Press freedom watchdogs routinely place the Catholic-majority nation as one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks the Philippines 132nd among 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.  

In 2022, four journalists were gunned down in the country in the line of duty, according to statista.com.

Since 1987, a total of 187 journalists have been killed in the country, RSF reported.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, chairman of Catholic bishops’ Social Action, Justice and Peace Commission said the church supports all “guardians of the truth and democracy.”

The church has recently joined the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for dialogue, Bagaforo said.

“Before any harassment is done, please have dialogue with us so we can respond properly,” he told UCA News.

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