Voices, images from the frontlines
Last May 3, World Press Freedom Day, media groups published a pooled editorial, “Speak truth to power, keep power in check” in newspapers, the Inquirer among them. Behind it were Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Philippine Press Institute. At the media forum held that day, they presented a report on the dismal and alarming state of media freedom under the Duterte administration.
To quote: “Rodrigo R. Duterte’s presidency has altered and controlled the public discourse so radically in its favor in ways rude and bold. One tragic result: It has restricted and narrowed the celebrated freedom of the Philippine press and the people’s cherished right to know.
“In his first 22 months in power, Mr. Duterte has earned the dubious honor of logging 85 various cases of attacks and threats on these dual values that the Constitution upholds as inalienable rights of the citizens. The number far exceeds those recorded under four presidents before him.”
To read the entire report, go to the PCIJ website (pcij.org) and feel yourself sinking into the dark depths and moaning de profundis, “How have we come to this?”
But just as disturbing are the five brief personal accounts, “Voices from the frontlines” by reporters and photojournalists, “the boots on the ground of Philippine media.” The accounts form part of the report on the state of media freedom in the Philippines.
Inquirer reporter Aie Balagtas See’s “A bloody trail of patterns” is about her police beat coverage and the nights she witnessed 8, then 14, then 26 bodies of alleged drug users and pushers showing up on the streets of Manila. See asked: “And where did we find the dead? In the slums, of course.”
A group of photojournalists who call themselves “The Nightcrawlers” prowled the city streets night after night to document with their cameras Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. Their prowling resulted in images too real to ignore.
Wrote these denizens of the night: “The President himself has called many of our works as ‘fake news’…. we have received insults, threats and harassment on and offline. And yet we continue our work. For us it is not about political colors … it is about looking beyond the death toll, and humanizing the victims.”
Last month, Manny Mogato, senior correspondent for Reuters, and his colleagues Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall, received the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for “relentless reporting that exposed the brutal campaign behind Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.”
Revealed Mogato: “Reuters found sources inside the police who trusted journalists with information about the mechanics of the drug war, the rewards list and the staged encounters. These sources freely showed to Reuters journalists their mobile phones with text messages from the senior regional officials ordering them to do things related to the drug war. These are courageous police officers who shared sensitive information with journalists who they believed can be trusted.”
A senior TV correspondent wrote about the five-month siege of Marawi City and prior incidents of conflict in Mindanao. “As with any other conflict, the line between propaganda and factual information are almost always hard to distinguish. But in the battle for Marawi it was cranked up to the highest level. Access to the actual main battle area was tightly controlled by the military, and for good reason.”
PCIJ’s content producer Vino Lucero has filed with various units of the Philippine National Police over a hundred letters of request for data and documents on the war on drugs. His lament: “The Philippine National Police has set up all sorts of hoops and obstacles … One is wont to ask: What are the police trying to hide?”
Can’t hide this pattern of headlines: “Catanduanes newspaper publisher slain” (12/19/16), “Sultan Kudarat native first Mindanao journalist slain since martial law” (8/7/17), “Blocktime radio anchor shot dead in Kidapawan City” (2/2/17), “Broadcaster shot dead in Zamboanga del Sur” (8/6/17), “Dumaguete broadcaster declared dead after gun attack” (4/30/18), “Broadcaster-university professor killed in Ilocos Sur” (1/7/17), “Radioman shot dead day after Ombudsman ousts Bislig mayor” (10/24/17), “Hard-hitting Masbate columnist gunned down” (3/13/17).
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