Next to war-torn Syria and Iraq, the Philippines ranked third among the most dangerous countries for journalists in 2013, according to the London-based International News Safety Institute (INSI).
This was based on the number of journalists killed while on reporting assignments last year. The Philippines recorded 14 deaths, including five who lost their lives in natural disasters. Syria had 20 and Iraq had 16. Those were among 134 journalists and media support staff killed on duty in 2013.
The Philippines is also touted as having one of the world’s freest media following the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. The Bill of Rights in the 1987 “freedom” Constitution recognizes freedom of the press as an infrangible human right.
Thus, Section 4 of Article III states: No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
It sounds strange though that Marcos who sent journalists to jail did not have as much record of journalists killed than his successors. I don’t think it means that fighting for freedom means having to sacrifice human lives. It also does not follow that having a controlled press translates to tallying fewer deaths in the ranks of media persons.
It is just puzzling why the government, not just the incumbent, seems to be paying mere lip service to protecting the so-called fourth estate.
Perhaps, the government subscribes to the listing of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that does not include the Philippines among the five “deadliest” countries for journalists in 2014 but instead has Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Somalia. India is in sixth place.
CPJ is an American organization that promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists.
World media organizations no longer count the Philippines as having one of the freest press, particularly after the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 32 out of 58 people killed on a single day were members of the media industry as reporters and editors or support staff.
It was heart-breaking to see the Philippines sliding to 149th place among 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index released last February by the France-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF). It was 147th in the previous year. Myanmar, which just recently relaxed its rules for journalists, has overtaken the Philippines to be at 145th place.
I was in Myanmar in 2008 and at that time, being identified as a journalist could put you at risk of deportation or detention even when you were in the country as a tourist.
According to Zaw Naing Oo, a Burmese reporter of Channel News Asia and 2007 fellow of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa), “the political transition in Myanmar seems to be showing the world how press freedom is crucial for people in demanding their rights.”
“People are all now walking with limited freedom of press in our hand. I say ‘limited’ because journalists are still threatened by the authorities. This means we are not really free. But, no matter how the oppressors restrict the people, press freedom will eventually usher people toward the right path and become the platform to better lives. Myanmar might just be that example,” he said as the world marked Press Freedom Day on May 3.
RWB ranked Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Luxemburg and Andorra among the countries with the freest press, followed by Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, and Sweden. The United States was 46th, down 14 spots from 2013.
While the Philippines boasts of having a democratic system of government, it has been dilly-dallying on the proposed legislation of a Freedom of Information Law aimed at eliminating corruption in the bureaucracy by opening government transactions to the public and holding government officials accountable for their actions.
While the Constitution already institutionalized the principles of transparency and accountability in government, the long-pending FOI bill identifies specific documents that should be open to public scrutiny.
The first FOI bill was filed in Congress 21 years ago. Four years ago, the 14th Congress almost had it enacted were it not for the last-minute effort to kill it on the technicality of lack of quorum when the bicameral conference committee report was called for ratification at the House of Representatives on the last day of session in 2010.
The incumbent administration, many of whose allies were pushing the FOI when they were in the opposition in the 14th Congress, has been suspiciously dilly-dallying on its passage.
It is ironic that while Congress is deliberating on an FOI bill, some government entities have become stingier with public records and documents. It is now more difficult to get copies of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth of public officials because they fear being scrutinized over possible unexplained wealth or undeclared properties.
Even in police stations, access to blotters has become difficult even to student interns who have short-duration press IDs. Most police stations ask for a letter, in addition to the press ID, addressed to the station commander for approval before student interns could take a peek at crime reports in the blotter.
It looks like we’re stepping forward once but backward twice.
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