The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed its deep concern over the campaign of harassment of media NGOs in the Philippines.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate, was alerted to a potential raid by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the evening of March 14.
Several media crews - who were apparently tipped off to the raid – arrived at the NUJP office on March 14, which in turn alerted to the NUJP that a raid might be in the offing.
The NUJP was unsure of what would be the AFP’s purpose in raiding the premises, or what material the AFP would be hoping to obtain.
Although the raid did not occur, the large media presence and the rumours preceding it indicates that the government intends to continue its harassment of press freedom organisations, despite an end to the state of emergency.
Alongside this, the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has fought to stave off a search warrant and sedition charges, which have been initiated by the politically connected sound engineer Jonathan Tiongco.
This is the second time that Tiongco has attempted to get a search warrant against the PCIJ, and the second time that such as warrant has been rejected.
In both instances, Quezon City Judge Alan Balot rejected the claims of sedition as the basis for a search warrant.
The Arroyo government employed Tiongco’s expertise with the hope of proving the inaccuracy of tapes that reveal Arroyo allegedly conspired with election officials to rig the last Philippines national election.
The ‘Hello Garci’ tapes have become the centre of a national scandal in the Philippines.
The search warrant application was in response to the PCIJ’s refusal to remove these recordings from their website.
Despite the refusal to issue a search warrant, it appears that the government may still be poised to charge the PCIJ with sedition.
Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defenso warned of the government’s intention to charge ‘certain media personalities’ with seditious activities.
“The ongoing harassment of these press freedom groups in the Philippines is an extremely worrying development,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
“It seems that even without a state of emergency, this government is continuing a campaign of harassment of any organisation whose agenda is the defence of free speech,” said Warren.
Furthermore, the government has indicated that it will be monitoring all broadcasts for ‘subversive’ and ‘seditious’ content, and President Arroyo has passed a by-law prohibiting such content.
There have already been three cases filed by the government thus far.
These developments follow severe crackdowns on media outlets during the state of emergency, or ‘Presidential Proclamation 1017’.
These notably included a raid upon the offices of oppositional national daily, The Daily Tribune, and the posting of troops outside the ABS-CBN and GMA networks, the country’s two largest networks.
At the lifting of the state of emergency, various prominent media organisations and journalists filed a petition in the Philippines Court of Appeal, to prevent “executive-branch officials from censoring the media.”
The petitioners, which included the NUJP, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), other organisations and prominent journalists, had two bases for their claim.
The first sought to prohibit the government from imposing content-based restrictions upon the press.
Secondly, the group demanded that any government decrees preventing the airing of broadcasts on the basis of being ‘subversive’ be annulled.
“The IFJ calls upon President Arroyo to cease harassing media NGOs and end the limits being placed upon press freedoms in the Philippines,” said the IFJ president.
For more information please contact IFJ Asia Pacific +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries