In the Philippines, journalists insist on being free

Photo by AlterMidya – People’s Alternative Media Network


MANILA – On the 30th World Press Freedom Day commemoration, media organizations and press freedom watchdogs here reminded fellow journalists that press freedom remains fragile as many journalists continue to face threats.

This is despite Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index showing that the Philippines rose fifteen spots from its 2022 place at 147th.

Now sitting at 132nd, RSF noted that there have been fewer violent attacks since President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., took office last year, but the constant environment of terror-tagging, as well as the passage of laws constricting free expression, remains worrisome, according to media groups.

“We are still under threat and the struggle continues,” said National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Chairperson Jonathan de Santos in a forum last May 3.

According to the NUJP, there have been 60 recorded violations against the free press since Marcos Jr. took office last June 30, 2022.

Among those 60 cases, 19 are cases of harassment; which included surveillance and profiling of journalists, while 13 of these incidents are legal cases filed against journalists who were only doing their job. The organization also recorded 12 cases of red-tagging and nine cases of libel and cyber-libel during this ten-month period.

Frenchie Mae, red-tagging of journalists

De Santos also highlighted how Tacloban-based community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio remains in detention three years since her arrest.

“The slow pace of the case — especially in contrast with the quick resolution of other, more high profile ones — is a violation of her right to a quick trial and also deprives the communities that she used to report on and for,” he said.

The International Association of Women in Radio and Television – Philippines also took note of Cumpio’s continued incarceration and called for her release.

“Women journalists have been subjected to relentless attacks, particularly gendered disinformation and online harassment that attempt to discredit them and their critical reportage of issues affecting marginalized communities. Others have been charged with trumped up charges, including one of our colleagues, Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who continues to be detained for more than three years.”

Altermidya – People’s Alternative Media Network, where Cumpio’s media outfit is a part of, says that there will be no press freedom while attacks on media continue.

“With every day that Frenchie Mae and independent journalists are deprived of their freedom, burdened by fabricated charges, and silenced by unjust blocking orders– and we Filipinos are deprived of the full realization of our right to expression — it becomes ever more clear that we as a people must continue to fight for press freedom and assert our most fundamental rights,” the network said in its statement.

De Santos, for his part, also pointed out that Cumpio has been red-tagged and subjected to surveillance prior to her arrest.

RSF also noted how authorities in the Philippines still often resort to ‘red-tagging’ to brand journalists who are critical of the government. This branding often makes journalists legitimate targets of arbitrary arrest.

“Frenchie is just one case to show how that can be done, and is being done,” said De Santos.

De Santos himself was a subject of red-tagging, when an alleged rebel returnee went on air recently, and accused him of spending his youth as part of the underground movement.

On lawfare

The NUJP said that libel and cyberlibel also remain as one of the most used weapons to stifle critical media in the Philippines, with community journalists who report on local politics being the most vulnerable to it.

The group also pointed out the implications of laws such as the Anti-Terror Act and the SIM Card Registration to the practice of journalism in the country. Meanwhile, the Philippine congress is also pushing for the passing of a law that seeks to penalize “fake news,” which De Santos said, could be used to refer to views and reports that are “inconvenient to the government.”

There is also the continued blocking of 27 websites in the Philippines, which includes two news sites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.

“We will continue to report, and we will continue to insist on being free,” De Santos said.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also renewed its vow to continue its fight for free press, amid the growing challenges for journalism.

“As challenges grow, journalists in the Philippines and abroad — from Myanmar to Ukraine — continue to risk their lives to report the truth and inform the public,” the group said.

“FOCAP calls on the government, public officials, executives, and other people in power to respect and uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and its vital role in a functioning democracy.”

State censorship, press freedom as a human right

On World Press Freedom Day, alternative online news Bulatlat criticized the moves of social media giant Meta to take down their post, which contained a direct quotation from the late communist leader Benito Tiamzon from its previously published article.

Bulatlat appealed to Meta to lift this restriction, however, the company has denied the outfit’s appeal.

According to the notification Bulatlat received today, May 5, Meta said it will keep the post down, and had even changed Bulatlat’s Page Quality on their platform to “Not Recommendable.”

“We ask Facebook: Why are we being singled out? What is your concept of responsible gatekeeping?”

Bulatlat also questioned Meta’s algorithm system and said that it seemed like the system cannot even distinguish between legitimate coverage and disinformation, instead it seemed to follow the logic of the government’s red-tagging.

“Journalism is not about airing only the official narratives, or what government officials want the public to know,” the outfit said. “Journalism must and should always persevere to present relevant issues in any society, including revolutions and other movements.”

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), said that press freedom is a right that belongs to the people.

“This annual exercise is rooted in the context of human rights,” De Jesus said, pertaining to the yearly reports the coalition releases. (JJE, RVO) (

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