Free press stressed

JOURNALISTS in Baguio City are pushing to continue to uphold press freedom.

In a statement by Kathleen Okubo, chair of the National Union of Journalists in Baguio and Benguet, said “all attacks aim to silence media institutions and media workers who put out stories critical to government policies and program. All of these are attacks to press freedom and the people’s right to know. A free press is essential to democracy. A genuinely free press serves the people.”

“Ten years has passed since 32 media workers were among the 58 people slaughtered and backhoed into the ground on a hilltop in Barangay Saqlman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009. The other victims were relatives and supporters of then Buluan town vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who intended to file his candidacy for governor of Maguindanao against Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr.,” Okubo said.

Ampatuan Jr., together with his father Andal Ampatuan Sr. and brothers Zaldy and Sajid were later charged as mastermind and primary suspects along with their minions and police officers who were identified by witnesses. The Ampatuan clan has ruled the province for decades.

“The incident remains to be the worst case of electoral violence in the country and the deadliest single-attack against journalists ever recorded,” Okubo added.

In the Cordillera, Brandon Lee, a correspondent of the Northern Dispatch survived a shooting attack on August 6. Before the shooting incident, he has been red-tagged by soldiers of the Philippine Army stationed in Ifugao where he was based. He has received a death threat in 2015.

In an August workshop of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed conflict in Baguio, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency tagged Northern Dispatch, a local independent media organization, as a publication of rebels.

Sherwin De Vera, now the managing editor of the Northern Dispatch, was among the more than 600 individuals the Department of Justice accused as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Frank Cimatu, a veteran journalist who now writes for Rappler, is facing cyber libel charge filed by Manny Piñol when he was still the secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Cimatu caught the ire of the government official because of a “status” post on his social media account.

Rappler as a media institution has also gained the ire of the Duterte administration for its relentless critical reportage of programs and policies of the present dispensation. Other media organizations that include ABS-CBN are also under threat.

Last year, Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) Undersecretary Joel Egco pressured SunStar Baguio to take down a story about him which he claims to have been false. He even called the writer, Jonathan Llanes, names during a radio interview, conduct unbecoming of a government official.

SunStar did not take down the story saying that it was verified and factual.

“Ten long years after, with Ampatuan Sr. dead, Sajid out on bail and Zaldy hospitalized for heart ailment, promulgation on the case was announced, to the families and colleagues of the victims, it has been an excruciating ten long years of battle for justice. We expect nothing less than a conviction,” Okubo said.


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