(Photo courtesy of AP News)
We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.
— Former United States senator John McCain
CALOOCAN CITY, Metro Manila — In the current year, the Philippines’ ranking dropped once again in the World Press Freedom Index, sliding notches to the end at 147th place among 180 countries. It is the fifth time we have fallen in ranking on the list by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), starting in 2021 we ranked 138th, then 136th in 2020, 134th in 2019, and 133rd in 2018.
This has happened despite our Constitution ensuring freedom of the press since 1987. And now, once again it is guaranteed under the watch of our 17th president, Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., who upon assuming the presidency, committed himself to personally face the media when it comes to pressing issues, thus he did not designate his own spokesperson.
During the celebration of National Press Freedom Day last August 30, press secretary Rose Beatrix ‘Trixie’ Cruz-Angeles made the assurance: “The (Marcos) administration . . . recognizes and respects press freedom in the country.”
Cruz-Angeles disclosed that it has been the expressed command of the former senator that government should work closely with media organizations to protect and uphold the rights of journalists.
Republic Act (RA) 11699 was signed by Marcos Jr.’s predecessor, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, declaring August 30 of every year as National Press Freedom Day in honor of the country’s father of journalism, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, who wrote under the pen name ‘Plaridel’ and was born on the same day in 1890.
And the RSF (in French, Reporters sans frontiers) described Philippine media as “extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment, since 2016, of journalists and media outlets that are too critical.”
According to the press freedom watchdog, radio and TV remain the most popular media in the country, with networks continuing to grow their presence online, while print has lost momentum in recent times with most regional newspapers struggling to survive as they lack an online presence in social media.
But the Philippines is due to emerge from Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year presidency in 2022—six years marked by countless verbal attacks coupled with judicial harassment targeting any media deemed overly critical of the government—and yet, in terms of the legal framework, local laws do not protect the ability of journalists to work freely despite the press freedom guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution.
Defamation and derogatory reports are still criminalized with journalists facing the possibility of imprisonment as a result of legal actions brought against them before the courts. For this, the Philippines has been tagged as one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists—as seen most shockingly when 32 reporters were massacred in the southern province of Maguindanao in 2009.
I remember two of my friends who were killed in the bloodbath and I joined a march to ask justice for them and the others who were slain—triggered by the Ampatuan clan’s wrath. That time, I donned Death’s cowl carrying a giant scythe as we marched to Malacanan Palace. But it took years to achieve that.
Hopefully this time it would be different and we in the media will once again have the honor to be the people’s watchdog against corruption and catalyst for the protection of freedoms and rights.
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