By Kristine Joy Patag, April 18 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has slipped further on the World Press Freedom Index of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF).

The country sank a notch lower to the 134th spot out of 180 countries. The Philippines had a score of 43.91.

In 2018, the Philippines ranked 133rd, which was six notches lower than the country’s 2017 ranking 127th spot.

READ: Philippines down 6 notches on World Press Freedom Index

Duterte tirades vs media

The media watchdog noted that President Rodrigo Duterte, early in his presidency, had issued a warning: “Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.”

Duterte has continued to launch his verbal attacks against members of the local press.

On Wednesday night, the president slammed journalists following the release of an investigative report on his family’s wealth and accused them of being paid hacks.

“Bayad ‘yan lahat. Kasi itong mga p***** i**** ‘to, kung ang negosyo lang nila magsulat-sulat lang, mga pulubi kayo sa totoo lang. Hindi kayo makabili ng mga kotse, mga ganun. P*** mapupunta pa kayo doon sa mga — kay Belo nagpaganda. Saan niyo kunan ng pera? Milyonaryo kayo?” Duterte said.

(They’re all paid. Because these sons of bitches, their only business is to write — all of you are beggars to be honest. All of you can’t even buy a car or go to Belo for cosmetics procedures. Where do you get your money? Are you all millionaires?)

READ: Duterte slams media over report on wealth: Bayad ‘yan lahat, mga pulubi kayo

The president’s tirades followed the release of a Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report that showed the incomes of Duterte and his children – Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and former vice mayor Paolo Duterte – rose significantly while they were in office.

Over time, the government “has developed several ways to pressure journalists who dare to be overly critical of the summary methods adopted by ‘Punisher’ Duterte and his notorious ‘war on drugs,’” the RSF said.

It noted that in 2017, national broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcast giant ABS-CBN were at the receiving end of Duterte’s tirades.

The president has accused the two media outfits of “slanted” reporting against his administration. He has threatened to not renew the franchise of ABS-CBN, and the government has filed suits against the owners of PDI.

Cases against Rappler

The RSF added that the “temperamental president” trained his ire and “waged a grotesque judicial harassment campaign” at online news site Rappler and its editor Maria Ressa in 2018.

Ressa, a veteran journalist, is facing at least nine cases pending before local courts; her company meanwhile faces 11 cases. She has also been arrested twice, in a span of two months, and has had to post bail eight times.

RELATED: Rappler’s Ressa among Time’s ‘100 Most Influential’

The RSF also noted that the in The Philippines, the persecution “was accompanied by online harassment campaigns waged by pro-Duterte troll armies.

The cyber attacks were also launched on alternative news websites and the site of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

On March 29, alternative news sites Bulatlat, Kodao Productions, Altermidya and Pinoy Weekly filed a civil complaint against IT companies they believe are involved in cyberattacks on their websites.

The websites of these alternative news outlets have been targeted by Distributed Denial of Service attacks, which result in the temporary unavailabilyt of the website, since late December 2018.

Earlier this week, New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists lamented that the cyberattacks on smaller media websites are not under the purview of the Presidential Task Force of Media Security.

READ: Foreign journos’ mission finds ‘increasing levels of intimidation’ vs local press

The committee also said it “found increasing levels of intimidation and a shrinking space for the free press in the country.”

Malacañang dismissed the committee mission’s findings as “baseless” and a “hasty generalization,” as it stressed that Rappler and Ressa are not a representative of the Philippine media.

RELATED: National Press Club sees no repression in revoked Rappler registration | National Press Club: Ressa arrest ‘smacks of bad taste,’ but not harassment

Norway top spot for three years

Norway topped 2019 World Press Freedom Index, its third year running.

Meanwhile Finland jumped two places and took the second spot, while Sweden came in third.

Netherlands, where two reporters covering organized crime were put under permanent police protection that RSF said, ranked 4th.