MANILA - Aksyon Demokratiko presidential candidate Isko Moreno Domagoso on Tuesday guaranteed a free press if he wins the upcoming elections, jesting he deserves a gold medal for being accessible to interviews.
Domagoso gave the statement on World Press Freedom Day, when he was asked how he would treat journalists and the media if he becomes president.
"Malamang kung may gold medal for interview, malamang gold medalist ako," he said, laughing.
"Tingnan ninyo 'yung ibang kandidato, nai-interview niyo ba nang ganito? Natatanong niyo ba ng anuman ang gusto niyong itanong?" he said.
(If there is a gold medal for interviews, I would most likely be a gold medalist. Look at other candidates, can you interview them this way? Can you ask them all the questions you want to ask?)
Domagoso has so far been one of the most accessible presidential candidates and local chief executives.
As a presidential aspirant, he allots an interview with reporters at least once a day before he starts his campaign sorties. As Manila Mayor, reporters are free to ask questions either via text message or during chance interviews when he attends various events.
"Wala naman akong kinukubli sa inyo. Tinext ko ba kayo kung ano ang itatanong ninyo sa akin? Never," he said.
"This is the kind of presidency [I offer]. I'll speak my mind, I'll speak my heart, walang sugarcoating," he added.
(I never hid anything from you. Did I ever ask you for advance questions? Never. This is the kind of presidency I offer. I'll speak my mind, I'll speak my heart, no sugarcoating.)
"Some people may understand it. Some people may not understand it immediately. But it's real."
When asked how he would deal with reporters who come up with headlines that may be unfavorable to his administration, Domagoso said: "Hindi kita iba-ban. Hindi ako magsasara ng prangkisa."
(I will not ban you. I will not deprive you of a franchise.)
Despite this, Domagoso warned journalists to exercise caution and prudence when doing their reports, noting that their credibility is at stake.
"Be careful kasi (because) you may lose your credibility," he said.
"If you keep on doing biases or slant... imbis na direct yung statement tapos hindi papayagan ng desk, kailangan ipababago sa iyo... it is the consumer or the reader who will judge you, who will watch you."
(If you keep on doing biases or slant... instead of directly saying the statement, or if your desk asks you to change something... it is the consumer or the reader who will judge you, who will watch you.)
There are a lot of networks and journalists that are now "disregarded" by the public due to their perceived biases, Domagoso said.
"It is your profession, it is your career, it is your journey," he said.
"Masakit din na sabihin sa inyo kapag sinabihan kayo ng fake news, especially if you are just doing your job," he added.
(It is also painful for you to be labeled as fake news, especially if you are just doing your job.)
"Habang totoo na kailangan natin ng malayang pamamahayag, malayang pagsabi ng damdamin, ikaw na journalist ay mayroon ding obligasyon sa iyong bansa dahil ikaw ay mamamayan din ng bansa," he said, borrowing the wisdom from late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew.
(While it is true that we need a free press, the freedom to express ourselves, journalists also have obligations to the country because they are also citizens.)
In 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte was included in a list of 37 heads of government "who crack down massively on press freedom," according to global watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler, and ABS-CBN were Duterte's "favorite targets" as these companies may be considered as the "last sources of resistance" to his "authoritarian excesses," the group said.
In 2017, the Philippine Daily Inquirer was "bought up" and "its journalists were brought to heel" following Duterte's criticism, the RSF said.
ABS-CBN was denied a fresh broadcast franchise in July 2020 despite government regulators clearing the company of alleged irregularities. Duterte has repeatedly mentioned in public speeches that he would not allow the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a permit to operate for the network even if Congress grants it a new franchise.
Duterte has criticized ABS-CBN over the political campaigns in the 2016 elections.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, meanwhile, is facing multiple libel and tax evasion charges, while reporters of the online news website have been banned from physically covering the President's official events.