Media Clampdown Amidst Political Chaos in the Philippines

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the clampdown of press freedom in the Philippines following the declaration on February 24 of a state of emergency called by president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

With the introduction of the Presidential Proclamation PP1017, president Arroyo declared a state of emergency, to pre-empt an alleged coup against her government allegedly instigated by renegade military officers and supported by civilian supporters and leftist groups. Arroyo blamed historical enemies of the state and the media for “magnifying” their claims as justification for PP1017.

“With reports of journalists under surveillance; raids of newspapers; arrests of journalists, trade unionists and civilians; possible government-set reporting standards; stationing of troops at radio and television stations; and the revoking all permits for rallies thus banning freedom of assembly; it appears that the media and civil liberties are the biggest casualty of Arroyo’s state of emergency,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.

The IFJ supports its affiliate in the Philippines, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in its call for the Arroyo administration to allow journalists and media organisations the fullest freedom to air and print news and information on the political crisis.

“In times of crisis it is imperative that the media sticks to its right and responsibility to report all sides of the unfolding events free from government intimidation and control,” said Warren.

The following is a summary of media infringements under the crisis:

35 civilians arrested including journalists and trade union leaders

On February 24, Business World columnist and lawyer, Argee Guevarra and columnist Randy David as well as 35 other civilians were arrested and held by police for allegedly inciting sedition and leading protestors. Guevarra was also legal counsel of Marin colonel, Ariel Querubin, one of the two top military officials charged with the planning of the failed coup attempt.

At approximately 10am on February 25, Crispin Beltran, a trade union leader and workers’ representative to the Philippines Congress, was arrested without warrant after leaving his house. Beltran was taken to Camp Crame in Manila along with his wife, grandchild and two-security personnel. Whilst undergoing questioning by the Criminal Investigations and Detection group (CIDG) under the Office of the Anti-Organised Crime and Businessmen Concerns Division a warrant was produced. The warrant reportedly provides for Beltran’s release only on condition that he provides proof of clearance in a sedition case filed against him under the Marcos administration.

Raid of Daily Tribune

On Saturday February 25, Philippine National Police officers raided the offices of the pro-opposition newspaper Daily Tribune. Approximately 15 police officers of the CIDG took mock copies of the newspaper’s Saturday edition – bannering Arroyo’s declaration as well as several story drafts and photos.

Police from national headquarters were stationed inside the editorial and business offices of the newspaper, while Manila district Police officers were stationed outside the building.

Daily Tribune editor in chief, Ninez Cacho-Olivarez, reported that she was tipped off a day prior to the raid that she was on a black list of people to be arrested by the government.

Inspector Jonathan Pablito of the Police Community Relations Group later confirmed that the police were asked to secure the Daily Tribune, as it was seen as a possible source of destablisation. Pablito clarified that they were warned not to impede the work of the publication’s editorial staff.

Its reported that other officials were reportedly stationed at another pro-opposition newspaper, Malaya, and its sister tabloid publication Abante.

Presidential chief of staff, Mike Defensor, has stressed in media reports that the stationing of police at the editorial offices of the Daily Tribune, was intended to caution other media organsiations against aiding those wishing to overthrow the government and not to interfere with the editorial content of the paper.

According to Defensor, the police and military presence at media organisations is not a regular government policy but a reaction to elements of the media ‘recklessly’ promoting the cause of those who want to overthrow the administration.

Troops deployed to broadcast media

Troops were deployed around the Manila compounds of the Philippines two largest TV networks, ABS-CBN Channel 2 and GMA channel 7. According to the government the military personnel are there to protect the media organisations in the event that lawless elements try to take control of them.

The National Telecommunications commission threatened broadcast networks with closure or takeover if they did not adhere to government rules on coverage.

Consequently radio stations have stopped broadcasting interviews with union and other popular leaders speaking out against the state of emergency.

Possible government imposed reporting standards

On the afternoon of February 25, the PNP Director, Gernal Arturo Liomibao warned that police would take over any news organisations that did not conform to standards set by the government, in accordance with Presidential General Order No. 5, directing the country’s armed forces – to maintain “peace and order and prevent and suppress lawless violence.”

General Order 5, gives the armed forces the ability to shut down any media organisation that hinders the growth of the economy or sabotages the people’s confidence in the government.

Under the State of emergency the government has the power to take over media facilities whose operations are deemed a risk to national security. PP1017 invokes Section 17, Article 12 of the Philippines Constitution giving the president the power to “temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest” in times of national emergency.

It has been reported that the government is discussing with newspaper publisher’s possible guidelines for reporting on the government and the crisis and that a small group of investigators and prosecutors will monitor the news to ensure these guidelines are adhered to.

“It is the basic right and responsibility of the media to provide independent, critical and ethical reporting of the crisis in the Philippines Government,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.

”It is unacceptable for the government to be warning media sources to report only one side of the emergency,” said Warren.

Ironically, Arroyo has declared respect for civil and democratic rights of the people whilst simultaneously ordering the violent dispersal of any opposition.

“If president Arroyo is serious about democracy in the Philippines it is imperative that she put media freedom and journalists’ safety as a top priority for her administration,” said Warren.

“As long as journalists continue to be killed and media freedoms remain curtailed, true democracy will remain an illusion in the Philippines,” said Warren.

The latest crackdowns come after the failure by the administration to take strong steps to protect journalists and media practitioners against violence. Eleven journalists were killed in the Philippines in 2005 with two deaths already in 2006.

US human rights NGO, Freedom House, gave the Philippines a 3 for political rights and a 3 for civil liberties on a scale of 1-7 in their recent Freedom of the World, publication, with Freedom of the Press ranking the Philippines as having only a “party free’ media environment.

The IFJ as written to president Arroyo condemning the crackdown on civil liberties and media freedoms and is calling on all IFJ affiliates to do the same in addition to lobbying foreign ministers to put pressure on president Arroyo to respect human rights in the Philippines.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries