UNITED Nations special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan, along with a human rights officer, met with officials of Central Visayas police and media representatives Monday, Jan. 29, 2024, to discuss the state of press freedom in Cebu City.
The meeting took place at the headquarters of the Police Regional Office-Central Visayas (PRO 7) in Cebu City, and it was attended by human rights officer Thibaut Gaston from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and representatives of the Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists, Cebu Citizens-Press Council, and Defense PNP Press Corps.
The PRO 7 highlighted during the meeting the programs it has been implementing since 2022, especially those focusing on women empowerment and the care of persons under police custody. It also emphasized its good relationship with the media, as it promised to address any issues promptly, maintain transparency, and protect especially those who receive death threats.
Lt. Col. Gerard Ace Pelare, spokesperson for PRO 7 chief Police Brigadier General Anthony Aberin, assured Khan that the police in Central Visayas practice maximum tolerance during protests.
He said they had monitored 83 protests since 2022 but had not arrested any members of militant groups. He noted that all protests launched had no permits, but those who participated in these activities were given freedom to express their sentiments.
Pelare also expressed the PRO 7’s desire for further meetings with media representatives to strengthen their relationship with the press.
Lawyer Hue Jyro Go, chief of staff of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, said the meeting Monday aimed to assess the freedom of opinion and expression, especially in Cebu.
He said Khan appreciated the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) adherence to international human rights standards.
“She was surprised and she was delighted that our PNP here ... adhere to international human rights standards, under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he said in a mix of Tagalog and English.
“There are only a few exceptions when it comes to restraining speech or opinion. First, when it’s against public morals or if it breaches the freedom of others, and secondly, when it comes to national security. So here, we can see that when a person expresses themselves, they have different kinds of opinions. As Irene Khan mentioned, these different opinions, although not necessarily factual, can lead to informed decisions because you get different pieces of information in a free-flowing democracy,” said Go.
Khan will return to Manila Monday to deliver a lecture on International Human Rights and Freedom of Opinion and Expression at the Ateneo de Manila University’s law school.
Khan arrived in the country last Jan. 22. She then started her meetings with civil society and government officials on Jan. 23. Her meetings will end on Feb. 2.