Media groups denounce arrest of Panay journos, say health crisis used to curtail press freedom

“In this time of crisis, asserting our right to free expression is crucial. During these dark times, our voices need to be heard, not stifled.”


MANILA — Press freedom advocates have raised the alarm on successive violations of press freedom by government agents using the enhanced community quarantine as a pretext for arresting and harassing journalists and press freedom workers critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arrested were Mace Sulayao, Kervin Bingansinco, Krisma Nina Porquia, Gaybel Rei Gullen of Panaysayon, Julrod Prino of Panay Today, Bryan Bosque and Crimson Labinghisa of Dampig Katarungan. They were covering the indignation motorcade last May 1 participated by grieving family, friends, and colleagues of slain activist Jose Reynaldo “Jory” Porquia, who also happens to be the father of one of the arrested journalists, Krisma.

They were released on bail the next day, May 2.

“Like the many previous cases of arrests, the COVID-19 pandemic has again been used as a convenient excuse to further curtail our fundamental rights,” Altermidya, the national network of alternative media outfits, pointed out in a statement.

“Instead of addressing the pandemic and assisting the millions of Filipinos affected by COVID-19, the government is wrongly using its time and resources to suppress the legitimate rights of the people,” it added.

Altermidya is a network of alternative media outfits that includes Bulatlat.

It denounced the detention of the seven journalists “just days before the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.”

“The rising attacks against the media have been alarming under the Duterte administration, and it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has only given it more pretext to suppress press freedom,” it reiterated.

The International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) – Philippines expressed disappointment at the crackdown on journalists and of relief workers on the pretext of the ECQ.

“The right to freedom of expression has not been suspended under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), and it is not a crime to seek justice against impunity,” it said in a statement.

“It appears that covering for public information and giving aid to the hungry have become criminal offenses,” it said, asking, “Is it now a crime to seek justice for the murder of a family member who was only doing humanitarian work for those who were left unaided in difficult situations brought about by the pandemic our country is facing?”

Both Altermidya and IAWRT-Philippines pointed out the harassment experienced by their members. Particularly, Altermidya mentioned the “vicious cyberattacks” the Northern Dispatch has been experiencing since early April, which forced them to shut down for several hours. In addition, correspondents of the said outfit and of Pokus-Gitnang Luzon are continuously being harassed and red-tagged by the military and the police, while alternative newspaper Pinoy Weekly, was maliciously used by the police as justification in the arrest and the filing of sedition charges against relief volunteers in Bulacan.

The statement also mentioned of the detention of Frenchie Mae Cumpio who was unlawfully arrested last February. Cumpio is the executive director of Eastern Vista and the coordinator of Radyo Tacloban, a project of IAWRT.

Frenchie Mae Cumpio’s brave truth-telling

“In this time of crisis, asserting our right to free expression is crucial. During these dark times, our voices need to be heard, not stifled,” Altermidya continued.

“We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to join us in demanding for the immediate release of our colleagues and others arrested on Labor Day, and in asserting our invaluable right to free expression,” it added.

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