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Press freedom violations still rampant under Marcos regime

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – The situation may not be as bad as the time under the previous Duterte administration, but true press freedom remains elusive under the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Press freedom violations are a regular occurrence under the current government. So says the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which marked the 30th World Press Freedom Day this week by reporting no less than 60 cases of violations against media practitioners since the son and namesake of the late dictator assumed office last year.

The NUJP is the nationwide organization of working journalists in the country which exists as a watchdog for press freedom.

The 60 violations were listed as:

*19 harassment incidents, including surveillance and verbal assaults;

* 12 cases of red-tagging by government officials;

*9 cases of libel and/or cyberlibel;

* 6 death threats against media workers;

* 3 instances when legitimate media practitioners were denied coverage of a newsworthy event;

* 3 other cases of judicial harassment;

* 2 arrests;

* 1 online attack/harassment;

* 1 censorship;

* 1 cyberattack; and,

* 1 physical attack against pressmen

The most serious cases involved the assassination of broadcaster Percy Lapid on October 3, last year, followed by the killing of editorial cartoonist Benharl Kalil a little more than a month later, on November 5, 2022.

Of the total, 72 percent of the victims were individual media practitioners, while the remaining 28 percent were media organizations.

NUJP data showed that 90.2 percent of the victims were from Luzon including Metro Manila, 3.5 percent were from the Visayas, and 1.2 percent took place abroad.

Oddly enough, there were no documented cases of press freedom violations in Mindanao.

In a statement, the NUJP said: “On World Press Freedom Day, we remind ourselves that while there have been victories – in court, with the acquittal of Maria Ressa and Rappler of tax cases, for example – many, far too many of us are still facing threats and that our freedom is still fragile.

The organization, however, also noted that there have been restrictions on the freedom of the press, notably the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act and the SIM Registration Act that binds individual freedom.

The NUJP added that there hangs the threat of the use of the tactics that the Duterte government used against the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler, and ABS-CBN “that continue to chill our community.”

In a related development, the human rights group Karapatan said the Marcos regime continued the weaponization of laws against the media.

This weaponization of laws to attack the rights to press freedom and free expression “must stop,” said Karapatan.

The group said the Marcos government must support the decriminalization of libel and also review the cybercrime law.

The Philippines is  one of the very few countries in the world where libel is a criminal, rather than a civil, offense.