MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday disputed the claim of press freedom groups that the Philippine media has never been so threatened since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.
In observance of the World Press Freedom Day, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the Philippine Press Institute released a statement noting how Duterte’s presidency “has altered and controlled the public discourse so radically in its favor in ways rude and bold.”
The groups said the actions of the government against the media have “restricted and narrowed the celebrated freedom of the Philippine press and the people’s cherished right to know.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, disputed the groups’ claim on supposed attacks against journalists, saying “media killings have gone down in the Philippines” under the Duterte administration.
"Well I dispute that po, kasi pagdating sa patayan, bumaba po talaga ang patayan sa Pilipinas, at bumaba po ang ranggo ng Pilipinas doon sa mga listahan ng most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Let’s give credit where it is due,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.
(I dispute that, because [media] killings have gone down in the Philippines, and we rank lower in the list of countries most dangerous for journalists. Let’s give credit where it is due.)
Roque also cited government efforts to protect journalists, including the establishment of a task force on media security.
The media groups said in Duterte’s 22 months in power, there have been 85 cases of attacks and threats against journalists.
These include 9 killings, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attacks, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies.
The groups said these cases “have made the practice of journalism an even more dangerous endeavor under Duterte.”
“These cases project the force of presidential power dominating the political sphere, with zealous support from Duterte allies and appointees, and their sponsored misinformation army online and off. They have hurled at members of the press insults and unfair labels, and allegations of corruption and misconduct without firm basis in fact or in law,” the groups said.
“These cases linger amid effete efforts at solution by state agencies, and in the context of the hostile and vicious discourse against the administration’s critics and the critical media.”
The ninth and latest journalist to be killed under the Duterte administration was Dumaguete City radio braodcaster Edmund Sestoso.
Roque said the Palace condemns Sestoso’s killing, even as he promised that the government would provide protection to journalists whose lives are being threatened.
“Kinokondena po natin lahat ng patayan na ‘yan at sinisiguro ko naman po na ang gobyerno po ay gumagawa ng hakbang para tuparin ang kaniyang responsibilidad ‘no. Iimbestigahan po natin ‘yan, lilitisin at paparusahan ang mga pumapatay,” he said.
(We condemn these killings and I assure you that the government is taking steps to fulfill its responsibilities. That will be investigated and those behind it will be brought to justice.)