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CHR and the safety of journalists

/ 05:06 AM June 09, 2021

The Commission on Human Rights, in a recent forum, unveiled enhanced safety mechanisms for journalists as its contribution to the protection of press freedom in the country. How much difference can the CHR, already in the crosshairs of the Duterte administration, make in an environment increasingly dangerous for media and human rights defenders?

“The state of press freedom in the country is a cause for concern for the CHR,’’ executive director and spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in the online launch of the “Safeguarding Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines,” a project funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Media Support (IMS) and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication.

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Rafael de Bustamante, deputy head of the political, press, and information section of the EU delegation to the Philippines shared that protection of human rights and press freedom is a priority for the EU worldwide “but especially in the Philippines’’ where he noted that the “situation now is far from perfect.”

Since 1986, 171 journalists have been killed in the country, 19 of them under the Duterte administration. The Philippines is ranked the 7th deadliest place in the world for journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalistsʍalready an improvement from the previous fifth place ranking, but still a dismal place to be for a country that calls itself a democracy. The World Press Freedom Index has showed a steady decline in the Philippines’ ranking, from 133rd out of 180 countries in 2018 to 138th this year.

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To help protect the media in this hostile climate, the CHR has set up hotlines and help desks in the CHR central office and regional offices in Bicol, Cebu, and Cotabato where journalists can file complaints. The commission will continue to monitor reports on killings and human rights violations and conduct its own investigations. It will also enhance its presence on social media to provide better access to the public, said De Guia.

As early as 2018, the CHR had set up the Task Force on Media-Related Extrajudicial Killings. So far, 21 media killings from July 2016 to May 2021 are under investigation in CHR regional offices. The Task Force is also investigating cases of unlawful or arbitrary arrest and detention, frustrated murder, and the Red-tagging of journalists. But the lack of witnesses and unidentified perpetrators hampers the search for justice.

De Guia said these safety mechanisms are in response to the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists (PPASJ), a multisectoral strategy to protect freedom of the press and information forged in 2019. The 48-page national action plan was the result of two years of consultations with the media, academe, and government agencies and is supported by the EU, Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Unesco. The PPASJ was anchored on the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity established in 2012, of which Unesco is the lead UN agency.

At the forum, Police Brig, Gen. Vincent Calanoga, chief of the Philippine National Police Human Rights Affairs Office, stressed that the PNP values the media as an “indispensable partner in policing’’ and that it will work with the sector and the CHR to address media attacks and killings.

“The PNP remains firm in its commitment to ensure freedom of the press, to ensure human rights for our media personalities,’’ he said. It is easy to dismiss this as lip service, but hopefully the PNP, under its new chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar who has promised “internal cleansing,’’ will walk the talk.

IMS Philippine program manager Roby Alampay asked De Guia how sustainable the CHR’s mechanisms would be as a new commissioner is expected to take over in May 2022.

Whoever will be at the helm of the CHR or Malacañang, “We will stay strong and committed,’’ replied De Guia.

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“The CHR has been in existence for 34 years now and it’s a very strong institution and we value being independent.’’

The commission needs all the strength and fortitude it can find, because it is under constant threat from an administration that considers human rights defenders as enemies. In 2017, President Duterte said the CHR, one of the constitutional commissions created under the 1987 Constitution, should be abolished.

“We are so much misunderstood,’’ said De Guia. “Human rights is for all—this should not be a polarizing issue, this should not be divisive.’’

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Juliet Labog-Javellana is associate publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Email [email protected]

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TAGS: CHR, Inside Track, Juliet Labog-Javellana, press freedom, safety of journalists
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