JOURNALISTS in the Philippines are enjoying their press freedom, as President Rodrigo Duterte advocates for "free marketplace of ideas," Malacañang said Tuesday, April 17, in an attempt to refute supposed "oppressive" working environment for media in the country.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) claim about the condition of the Philippine press was baseless.
Panelo made the remark, as he stressed that neither Rappler nor its head, Maria Ressa, represents the entire media in the country.
"The expression of sympathy of New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists to the plight of Ms. Maria Ressa, noting that the alleged oppressive working environment for journalists in the Philippines is alarming by citing the cases filed against her and Rappler, is a hasty generalization that has no basis in fact nor in law," he said.
"Ms. Ressa or Rappler does not represent the entire media in the Philippines. There are local journalists who are similarly critical, even outrageously hostile and biased of the policies of the administration, but they continue to enjoy the practice of their profession free from charges or suits by reason of their not violating any law outside of the practice of their profession," he added.
The New York-based CPJ raised worry over the allegedly "oppressive" and "alarming" conditions being faced by journalists who "challenge" President Rodrigo Duterte's administration.
The CPJ said there seemed to have a pattern of harassment against local press that are critics of the Duterte government, citing the 11 overall cases lodged against Rappler.
Panelo, however, told the foreign group that press freedom has nothing to do with the filing of cases against Ressa.
He added that Ressa invokes free speech and hides before the mantle of press freedom "when she is criminally charged for a violation of law not related to her exercise of her right to free speech."
"We stress that she is facing criminal charges due to her commission of illegal acts, which include the offenses of tax evasion, breach of our anti-dummy statute and violation of our cyber libel laws, which the investigating prosecutor and the courts trying her found probable cause that she could have probably committed the same," Panelo said.
"She cannot escape liabilities for these just because of her profession or politics. Ours is a system of law and no one is above it nor exempt from it," he added.
Debunking the CPJ's allegation, Panelo said the government is doing its best to protect the press in the country under the leadership of the President.
He stressed that it was under Duterte's watch when the Philippines has been delisted as one of the deadliest countries for media in the 2018 annual report of Reporters Without Borders.
He also noted that Duterte also issued his first administrative order that is designed to promote media security.
"It (administrative order) also created a task force which made significant strides in providing a safe working environment for media workers in the country by, among others, investigating and acting on more than 30 cases of reported threats and harassment against journalists, as well as reinvestigating the most forgotten cases of media killings in the barangays," Panelo said.
"The President himself advocates for the free marketplace of ideas and will continue to do so while preserving our country's vibrant democracy," he added. (SunStar Philippines)