Philippines: Government attacks journalist over documentary

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has accused reporter Atom Araullo from GMA broadcast network of spreading inaccurate news following a documentary on the education of the Lumad indigenous group. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to denounce the accusation and urge the authorities to respect the independence of media institutions and journalists.

Documentary entitled Ang Iskul kong Bakwit or My refugee School. Credit: GMA Network

Araullo highlighted the Lumad schools in Metro Manila in a 20-minutes documentary entitled Ang Iskul kong Bakwit or My refugee School in the I-Witness program which was premiered on GMA on August 14. 

The documentary focuses on the efforts of the Lumad young generation, from Mindanao, to seek an education. They left their hometown to pursue an education in Metro Manila. However, the government closed the schools, arguing that the curriculum was unsuitable to their cultural heritage.  Volunteer Lumad teachers joined forces to keep one school running with the financial help from international NGOs. The school’s location was kept confidential so as not to jeopardise the student’s access to education. Indigenous people have long faced challenges in securing their basic rights, including access to education, and are often displaced from their traditional lands.

Following the airing of documentary, Datu Rico Maca, the Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, published a statement decrying the documentary. He said it presented a one-sided story, calling the documentary a “blatant propagandistic documentary”.

This statement then was reiterated by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict through its Facebook post published on August 17. The agency said that documentary failed to describe the reasons behind the closure of the Lumad schools, accusing the schools of being “terrorist training camps set up by the CPP NPA NDF”. The task force also added that students were trained to be child warriors and radicalised with the violent and communist ideology.

NUJP said: “The NTF-ELCAC should stop attempting to control the narrative by vilifying those that present a contrary view. It is ironic that an agency that professes to defend democracy seeks to stifle freedom of the press and freedom of expression, without which no society can claim to be democratic."

The IFJ said: “Journalism’s role is giving voice to underrepresented groups. What the reporter did with the documentary is simply present the challenges of indigenous people. IFJ joins NUJP to stand solidly behind I-Witness and Araullo.

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