By Vince Ferreras, May 4, 2023; CNN Philippines
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) — The Philippines has improved its global standings in terms of safety of journalists as the country ranked 132nd among 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index.
The current ranking is an improvement from last year’s 147th ranking, ending a five-year slump in the annual list.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Philippine media “are extremely vibrant despite the government’s targeted attacks and constant harassment, since 2016, of journalists and media outlets that are too critical.”
The report noted that the election of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last year was “very unsettling” for most Filipino journalists due to the background of his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, who declared a bloody martial rule from 1972 to 1981.
However, RSF said that there were so far less attacks on journalists under the Marcos administration as compared during the leadership of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
“There seem to have been fewer and less violent attacks of this kind since Bongbong Marcos became president but they are still worrisome,” the report read.
Although the policy of the Marcos administration towards the media is “more consensual,” some government agencies still resort to tagging journalists as rebels.
“But the authorities still often resort to ‘red-tagging’ — a practice inherited from the colonial era and the Cold War, whereby journalists who do not toe the government line are branded as ‘subversive elements’ or ‘reds,’ which amounts to pointing them out to law enforcement as legitimate targets for arbitrary arrest or, worse still, summary execution,” the media watchdog said.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on Wednesday reported at least 60 cases of violations against media workers since Marcos took office.
These include 19 harassment (surveillance, verbal) cases, 12 instances of red tagging, nine cyberlibel and libel cases, six death threats, three denial of coverage incidents, three other forms of judicial harassment, two arrests, two killings, and one case each of online attack and harassment, censorship, cyberattack, and physical attack against the media.
The reported cases cover the deaths of broadcaster Percy Lapid on Oct. 3 last year and editorial cartoonist Benharl Kahil on Nov. 5, 2022.
“The 1987 Constitution guarantees freedom of the press but, in practice, Philippine law does not protect the free exercise of journalism,” the RSF said.
Marcos earlier asked newly appointed Philippine National Police chief Major General Benjamin Acorda Jr. to defend the weak and those who work with police for the same cause, such as journalists.
Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil assured the public last year that the Marcos administration is “strongly committed to the protection and safety of members of the media in the country.”
Norway topped the annual list again, with North Korea remaining at last spot.