By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – In the Philippines, journalists are being attacked while perpetrators of extrajudicial killings go free, laments journalist and recently freed political detainee Lady Ann Salem.
“It is journalists like myself, Maria Ressa, and Frenchie Mae, and our news outfits, and not the perpetrators of journalist killings, political killings, and tokhang (drug-related) killings, who are made to suffer the weaponization of the law,” said Salem, communications officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television.
On Human Rights Day last year, December 10, Salem was arrested based on a defective search warrant issued by Quezon City Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert. Because of its many inconsistencies, Mandaluyong City Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio ruled on February 5 that the warrant issued by Villavert be voided and the case dismissed. However, it was only on March 5, a month after the ruling, that Salem was released.
Salem considers the dismissal of charges against her as a feat as another red-tagged journalist from an alternative media outfit, Frenchie Mae Cumpio, continues to face detention a year after her arrest.
Salem believes that the circumstances of Cumpio’s arrest are no different from hers.
Ressa, on the other hand, has been facing multiple tax and cyberlibel charges under the present administration. The series of charges against her and her colleagues, along with an overnight detention, Ressa added, appears to be an attempt of the government to show its might.
“If you have to do stupid things like that to make people feel that you have power, what kind of power do you really have?” Ressa said.
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has documented 223 cases of attacks and threats against the press. Of these, there have been 19 document cases of killings, 52 cases of intimidation, 37 cases of libel, and 20 cases of online harassment, among others. Data from NUJP also revealed that of the 223 cases, 55 cases were attacks against women journalists.
Dr. Ming Kuok Lim, advisor for communication and information of UNESCO’s office in Jakarta, said attacks against women journalists are constant and that it happens over a long period of time, describing its impact on journalists’ welfare as “slow burn,” which can be devastating if it will accumulate.
Misogyny, he added, is one of the key features of attacks against journalists, their families, sources, and colleagues.
In the same protest action, journalists from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and the Philippines shared how the pandemic worsened their already poor conditions, amid attacks and threats from those who want to silence them.
“We also like to recognize their work as journalists and truth-tellers,” said IAWRT President Violet Gonda.