“No one has ever been censored in the Philippines,” Harry Roque stated as he addressed the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Maria Ressa last 2021. He declared that the Nobel Prize is “not a slap” to the government and described Ressa as a convicted felon.
Ironically, the Philippines ranked 7th as the world’s most dangerous place for journalists. The government utilizes Ressa’s award as proof that press censorship and repression are not present in the country. However, Ressa is facing terms of nearly 100 years in prison as a result of eight criminal charges against her due to the politically motivated response to her website’s criticism of President Duterte and his administration’s drug war that resulted in thousands of extrajudicial deaths. Although the Philippines is a democratic country, persecution and suppression of journalists jeopardize press freedom and the right of the public to access reliable news and information.
Red-tagging and accusing journalists and news media organizations as terrorists, fake news peddlers, and communist sympathizers are just one of the numerous attempts against them to silence the truth. It was recorded in 2021 that an estimated number of 293 journalists were imprisoned around the world as a result of their job. In one of the few countries where libel is a criminal violation, journalists in the Philippines confront a flurry of libel cases on a regular basis. Adding fuel to the fire, news websites such as ABS-CBN News, CNN, Rappler, and Vera Files have been subjected to cyberattacks as a result of their open criticism of the administration.
As if putting them behind bars was not enough, forgotten names and stories of truths, too, are incarcerated and buried six feet under the ground. At least 190 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986, with 21 of them killed during the current administration. The President goes around referring to journalists as individuals who are “not exempt from assassination.” It is not a simple joke, but also a glimpse of how authoritarians view the lives of journalists as something dispensable.
Although the current administration is about to end, journalists are facing yet another set of challenges due to election-related incidents. They are deprived of the rights and opportunities to provide sufficient information about current events due to the rash of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on news websites during presidential interviews, and online hostility is also directed at news organizations and reporters for their coverage of the candidates. Additionally, after labeling them as “biased,” some reporters are banned from campaign events with candidates refusing to attend media-hosted debates. These continuous attacks and deprivation against the media lessened the public’s access to information, leaving them with no choice but to feed on insufficient news and misinformation from unreliable sources.
We live in a world where journalism is viewed as a product that should satisfy what the people want instead of what they need, while journalists are treated as dispensable objects when they lose the favor of entitled and self-serving leaders pretending as owners of the money-making business called the Philippines. These influential individuals cover the mouths of journalists with threats, physical abuse, and murder to succeed in taking away their opportunity to speak about the truth. They are creating a world with fictional stories through twisting facts to make a fool out of their countrymen who believe that they are compassionate, competent, and efficient leaders — while milking Filipinos who tolerate their lies.
On the other hand, we keep on electing politicians who make terrible decisions to take advantage of the country, and criticizing them about it means voluntarily pointing a gun at the center of our head. Instead of reading and watching factual information from reliable news websites, some of us opt to close our eyes to swallow lies and disinformation peddled on TikTok and YouTube. As a result, we tolerate abuse against journalists because of our ignorance and apathy towards various societal issues that do not affect us personally.
The right to freedom of expression and information is the core of a democratic country. Attacks against the press who report about corruption, killings, and injustice equate to assaulting Filipinos; instead of empowering them to make the right decisions that will bring about a positive social change, they become victims of the perpetrator’s deception and lies. It is essential for us to understand that the silence of a journalist puts everyone at risk because their stories become part of our history that should never be forgotten nor repeated.
If you are pro-Philippines, facts and criticism should not be viewed as hostility but a call for accountability. A sacrifice of a journalist is salvation for thousands of lives. Never forget that the cost of your personal freedom and safety was the lives of the people who stood up and fought against injustice throughout history. It is about time for you to stand, fight, and build a better and safer world free from suppression and annihilation of journalists for telling the truth.
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