In a recent event organized by the Philippine Bar Association of the Philippines it was argued that despite what its critics may say, the Duterte administration places great importance on the role of a fair and democratic media in having an empowered and well-informed Filipino society.
This argument, however, contradicts the reality that many journalists and media professionals in the Philippines currently face. Just look at the controversial ABS-CBN shutdown, the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, and the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, these three examples offer an alternative take on the Duterte administration’s true feelings towards media.
In addition to this, the Philippines also ranked poorly in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Philippines ranked 136th out of 180 countries. This is the third consecutive year that the Philippines plummeted on the listing, with the country placing 133rd in 2018 and 134th in 2019. The RSF attributed the country’s poor showing to the Philippine government’s harassment of media outlets and journalists that are critical of the current administration and the continued cyberattacks of troll armies on various news websites including the site of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
Press freedom in the Philippines, a cornerstone of its democracy, is under attack. By ‘weaponizing’ the legal system the Philippine government seeks to harass its critics and enforce policies that threaten the rights and civil liberties of the Filipino people. And if this campaign to ‘weaponize’ the law against mass media continues, it will have long-term implications not only on journalists and press freedom but also on the country’s democratic norms and institutions.
Defending press freedom is essential to ensure that those in power are held accountable and that human rights are protected and respected. With this, the Stratbase ADR Institute calls on the Philippine government especially those involved in the administration of justice to uphold the rule of law and prevent it from being weaponized against the very people it was meant to protect.
Prof. Dindo Manhit
President, Stratbase ADR Institute