By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA – Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, that President Rodrigo Duterte “recognizes the role of the press in a vibrant democracy such as the Philippines.”

Panelo noted the government considers the media as their “partners for genuine change.”

“As he himself said to the members of the media and by paraphrasing the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her book entitled The Friends of Voltaire, ‘I may not agree with what you have to say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’,” Panelo said, noting President Duterte has no quarrel with the press and it does not condone the violence perpetrated against media and repression of information.

“In fact, the Chief Executive issued and implemented orders which advance freedom of information within this branch of government and further the protection of media workers through the creation of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security during the first months of his presidency,” Panelo added, referring to the office of Presidential Communications Operations Sec. Martin Andanar, who is working closely with media organizations to stop the use of propaganda and fake news.

Attacks and threats against journalists
As journalists celebrate World Press Freedom Day, media organizations in the Philippine led by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have presented the state of local media in the Philippines.

CMFR board member and former University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication Dean Luis Teodoro said they have recorded 128 cases of attacks and threats against journalists during the first three years of the Duterte administration since June 30, 2016.

The cases include 12 incidents of killings, 18 cases of on-line harassment, 16 cases of intimidation, 12 threats sent through text messages, 12 libel cases and 10 incidents of website attacks.

In a report by The Philippine Star, Teodoro said they also recorded eight cases of journalists being barred from coverage and slay attempt, five cases of verbal assault or threat, physical assault, arrest and cyber libel, three incidents of physical harassment and corporate related issues and two incidents of bomb threats, shooting and article takedown.
Teodoro added the attacks came from 60 state agents, 17 on-line trolls and 17 private citizens among others.

“NUJP National Chairman Nonoy Espina expressed concern over recent threats against the media, including the red tagging of members of their organization and the denial of service attacks against alternative media websites,” the Philippine Star reported.

In another report by The Philippine Star, alternative media organization Altermidya labelled the Duterte administration as the biggest threat to the public’s right to press freedom, freedom of expression and other human rights.

“Since December last year, sustained distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have been unleashed against Bulatlat, Kodao, Pinoy Weekly, Altermidya and the NUJP,” the organization said, accusing the government of “using the entire coercive power of the state to attack and quell the independent press.”

“Sweden-based digital rights group Quirium identified two information technology companies, IP Converge and Suniway, as the source of the on-going cyber-attacks aimed at taking down our websites. We have filed cases against these two entities and we expect this to go to trial very soon,” Altermidya added, noting they believe the entities are acting on behalf of the masterminds of state forces.

“We accuse Duterte of instigating these attacks against press freedom and the people’s right to know. Even before he assumed power, he has already justified the killing of journalists. After ranting madly in his speeches, worsening attacks, harassment and vilification are then launched against the independent press,” Altermidya said.

“These attacks go hand-in-hand with the killings of activists, farmers, indigenous peoples, lawyers, church people and many others on top of the unjust arrests and filing of trumped-up charges in a grand scheme called the whole-of-nation approach to quell legitimate dissent,” it added.