By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
FILIPINO journalists remained at risk of getting killed and harassed under the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“All four of the murders in the Philippines were of radio journalists covering local politics, highlighting the dangers faced by the press in the country even as it transitioned to the administration of President Marcos in June,” the global watchdog said in a report on Tuesday.
The group cited the murder of radio broadcaster Percival C. Mabasa in October that sparked outrage from the local press and human rights groups in the Philippines.
A suspended prison chief is facing a murder complaint for allegedly ordering his killing after he reported on corruption allegations.
Radio broadcasters Renato Blanco, Federico Gempesaw and Jhannah Villegas, all of whom covered local politics and corruption, were also killed last year, according to CPJ.
Presidential Communications Office chief Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.
At least 66 journalists were killed during the year — the highest since 2018 and an almost 50% increase from 2021, it said.
It cited the high number of deaths of journalists covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine war, as well as in Latin America and Haiti. At least 41 journalists globally were killed in direct connection with their work, the watchdog said.
More than half of the 66 deaths occurred in just three countries — Ukraine (15), Mexico (13) and Haiti (7), the highest yearly numbers CPJ has ever recorded for these countries, it said.
Danilo A. Arao, who teaches journalism at the University of the Philippines, said the recent killings under Mr. Marcos rule showed the worsening culture of impunity in the Philippines.
“We should fight the weaponization of the law and bureaucracy, not to mention red-tagging and online threats (including death threats) against journalists,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
Jonathan P. de Santos, who heads the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), said the Marcos administration appeared to be making efforts in engaging with the local press.
“Maybe it is more helpful to see the press freedom situation or the struggle to assert press freedom as a long-term one that isn’t defined by presidential terms,” he said in a Viber message.
He added that tools, tactics and policies of intimidation used by the Duterte government were still being used against local journalists.
Human rights abuses continued under the first six months of the Marcos government, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Jan. 12. Journalist killings and harassment persisted in the past year, it said.
“During the year, the government used the Cyber-libel law several times against journalists, columnists, critics of the government and ordinary social media users,” HRW said.
The Department of Justice’s Office of Cybercrime earlier said it had received 3,700 cyber-libel complaints as of May 2022, 1,317 of which were filed in court and 1,131 were dismissed.
Twelve cases ended in conviction. Among those who have been convicted of cyber-crime was Maria A. Ressa, founder of news website Rappler, it said.
The NUJP has said government officials continued to use libel to harass and intimidate journalists.
In July, the government sought to silence journalists critical of the administration by shutting down the websites of Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly, two alternative press publications.
The National Security Council sought to close these two outlets because of their alleged links to communist insurgency, a charge the editors and journalists denied.
A Quezon City trial court in August stopped the government from blocking access to Bulatlat’s website, saying it violated press freedom.
The Philippines remained the seventh worst country in the world where journalist killers get away with murder, the CPJ said in a report in November. The country had 14 unsolved murders involving reporters between 1992 and 2022, it said.
Justice spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV has said the Marcos government would continue its probe of journalist murders and harassment.
The country slipped two notches in the World Press Freedom Index released by the global watchdog, ranking 138th among 180 countries last year.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla has said the government does not sanction attacks, harassment or intimidation of journalists.
The Philippines last year accepted more than 200 recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council, including protecting journalists.
In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the embassies of the Netherlands, Canada and France said journalist killings “curtail the ability of journalists to report the news freely and safely.”
The Council for People’s development has said impunity in the Philippines impedes freedom of expression and the people’s right to access reliable information.
“Their deaths underline the extent of threats faced by the press around the world, including in countries with democratically elected governments,” CPJ said.