MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte marked Monday's World Press Freedom Day by saying his administration would protect the media, even as killings and red-tagging of members of the industry remained rampant.
Duterte described press freedom as "a public good" and "an indispensable requirement with vibrant democracy."
"Let me assure everyone that this administration should remain committed in promoting press freedom as a vital component and indicator of progress anywhere in the world," he said in a taped message.
At the same time, he urged the media "to uphold fairness and transparency while also making a positive impact on the people’s lives."
Duterte in 2016 created a task force to look into media killings.
Despite this, at least 19 journalists were killed during the four years of the Duterte administration, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said in November last year.
The Philippines slipped two notches in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 138th out of 180 countries.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders cited the allegedly politically-linked killings last year of at least 4 Filipino journalists, the denial of a fresh franchise for ABS-CBN Corp, and alleged government "judicial harassment" of news website Rappler and its chief Maria Ressa.
Red-tagging also "returned in force" in 2020, said the media watchdog.
However, Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque earlier said the country's slide in the index is "de minimis... wala masyadong ibig sabihin (doesn't mean much)."
"We dispute also the ranking," he said in a press briefing.
Members of the Securities and Exchange Commission who revoked Rappler's certificate of corporation were not appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte, while ABS-CBN just needed a franchise, he said.
"These two issues should have not led to the decline in our ranking," he said.
The World Press Freedom Index is based on questionnaires sent to experts around the world, combined with data on abuse and acts of violence against journalists to form a picture that includes pluralism, media independence, self-censorship and other factors.
In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 of every year as World Press Freedom Day.
The occasion is meant to remind for governments to respect their commitment to press freedom.