The Philippines : an unsafe country for journalists

Percy Mabasa, a radio journalist was killed on the 3rd of October 2022, in a southern neighborhood of Manilla. One month later, the police accused the director of a jail named Gerald Bantag, to be responsible of this act. This news questions the safety of journalists in this country.

Better known as Percy Lapid, this journalist was the voice of the “ Lapid Fire” a program on a radio station. Because of his strong opinions, he rapidly became a target for the Philippine government. Percy Mabasa didn’t hesitate sharing his severe criticisms against the former president, Rodrigo Duterte and also close political friends of Ferdinand Marcos Jr, new president of Philippines. His thoughts cost him his life. In the evening of Monday October 3rd, he was shot in his car.

The death of Percy Mabasa touched a lot of people in Philippines @NouvellesDuMonde

If all the people related to this case aren’t arrested yet, there is nevertheless one man, who admitted to shooting the journalist, but the others remained silent. The investigation still proceeds, the police are accusing the chief of a jail of having ordered the murder of Percy Mabasa. The reason ? He couldn’t stand being exposed on the journalist’s radio show.

An uncompromising government

In May 2022, Filipinos elected their new president. The moment to turn the page of 6 years under Rodrigo Duterte’s governance. This period wasn’t easy for everyone, one thing marked his mandate : persecution of journalists. Without counting the verbal attacks and the judicial harassment against them, president Duterte is at the origin of the closure of dozens of radio and TV stations. 

For Rodrigo Duerte, the press needs to follow the line that he dictates. Therefore, if they decide not to respect it, they become a target. Many information portals were cyber attacked by pro-Duterte trolls. 

Then, one question emerges, where is freedom of speech in all of this ? The constitution of 1987 guarantees this fundamental principle but there is a loophole, the philippine law doesn’t protect the free exercise of journalism. Even if it is a democratic country, the insecurity is more than present.

A feverish security

The case of Percy Mabasa isn’t the only one. Since the arrival of Ferdinand Marcos, two journalists have been killed in the Philippines. Indeed, an average of three to four journalists are killed annually because of their profession. Even if these murders remain rare, this archipelago is classified among the most dangerous country for journalists: they are subjects to targeted attacks, like in many countries the press is a threat for the government. However, even if the threat reigns, the press is extremely dynamic.  

According to Reporters Sans Fontières (RSF), the Philippines are one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists. One principal event illustrates this fact. In 2009, a massacre took place in the south of the country, 29 journalists were killed. This is the biggest massacre of journalists in history. 

While attacks of the media have intensified under President Rodrigo Duterte since 2016, the Philippines has been a particularly dangerous country for journalists for much longer. In 2021, the Philippines were ranked 7th in the CPJ Impunity Index, that was based on a calculation of the percentage of murders of journalists that go unpunished in relation to the population of each country.  

Maria Pressa, a fighter for the freedom of speech

A classification established by RSF shows that freedom of speech is really restricted. The Philippines were ranked 134th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index of 2019. But today it’s worse, they are now 147th. 

Symbol of the website Rappler and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Maria Pressa is an example of revolution. Determined, she opposed the Duterte government but without any surprise, she didn’t get out of it without problems. Arrests, threats and prosecutions, she had them all. “She uses freedom of expression to expose the abuses of power and growing authoritarianism in her native Philippines”, said the Nobel committee. 

Maria Pressa is the funder of Rappler and she won the Nobel Peace Prize @LaPresse

She created Rappler with the ambition to offer a complete report of the news of the country through multimedia reports and the use of social networks, but she has rapidly been targeted by several legal proceedings after publishing critical articles of the policy use by the head of state. 

Arrested for defamation for the first time in 2019 then in 2020, Maria Pressa became a real target but she continued to believe in her fight. “We will resist all attacks on press freedom… This is a setback, but it’s not unexpected either. They are trying to scare us, but don’t be afraid.”, she affirms.

On June 15, 2020 Maria Ressa was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to six years in prison. Not wanting to give up, she announces in October 2022 that she will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court to avoid serving a long prison sentence. Unfortunately, this week, the Court of Appeals rejected Maria Ressa’s request to review her conviction. 

“To honor his commitment to press freedom, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. must stop the state’s attempts to jail Nobel laureate Maria Ressa”, according to RSF, the new head of the country must act.

As a matter of fact, this is a real question. With this new president, will the security of journalists and especially freedom of speech change ?  

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