MANILA – On the eve of the observance of World Press Freedom Day, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMs) on Saturday hailed Filipino journalists and media professionals as “heroes” in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic in the country.

In a press statement, the PTFoMS recognized the importance of media workers’ role amid the country’s fight against Covid-19.

The PTFoMs also acknowledged the Philippine media’s bravery to be on the front-line and risk their lives to “showcase to the world the Filipino’s brand of truth-telling.”

“Just like the work being done by Filipino health workers in saving lives against this dreaded disease, the media has been indispensable in the fight by bringing truthful information to millions of Filipinos regarding the virus, including ways to protect oneself pursuant to the guidelines and advisories issued by the government,” it said.

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every May 3 to remind the public that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights.

The PTFoMs was grateful that the Philippine media turned into an ally of the government in the fight against the new coronavirus.

“Indeed, the Philippine media has become united with the government in the war against Covid19,” it said.

Media workers are among those exempted by the government to observe strict home quarantine amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, the co-chair of PTFoMS, thanked Filipino journalists for raising public awareness amid the Covid-19 crisis.

“The government extends its utmost gratitude to our brave men and women of the Philippine media who have dedicated their lives in the service of the Filipino people against the pandemic. You truly are heroes in the war against Covid-19,” Andanar, also a veteran journalist, said.

Press freedom protected

PTFoMS executive director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco ensured that the government is serious in upholding press freedom.

He also guaranteed the safety and security of media practitioners under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Nothing, not even a pandemic can stop the administration from fulfilling its mandate in protecting the lives, liberty, and security of media workers. No amount of destructive narrative against President Duterete and the government can deny the fact that we have proven effective in addressing threats against the media,” Egco said.

Egco said since Duterte assumed office in 2016, press freedom has been strengthened, prompting the Reporters Without Borders in 2018 to exclude the Philippines from the list of “Most Dangerous Countries in the World for Journalists.”

Egco also cited the Committee to Protect Journalist’s database, which showed that no journalist in the Philippines has remained in prison.

“This is largely due to the government’s commitment to respect the sacred right of every individual to due process of law,” he said.

Through the continuing efforts of PTFoMS, the government has identified and suppressed most threats against Filipino journalists and media professionals, Egco noted.

“The government, through PTFoMS, will continue to be relentless and proactive in its drive to protect the lives and liberty of Filipino media workers and to ensure their economic well-being and security,” Egco said.

Proposed media welfare act

The PTFoMS also acknowledged the efforts of media practitioners to help their colleagues amid the health crisis through various relief operations conducted nationwide.

Egco, however, took note of media workers’ vulnerabilities such as lack of hazard pay and other amelioration.

He said the PTFoMS would continue to push for the passage of House Bill 2476 (HB) 2476 or the proposed Media Workers’ Welfare Act, a bill recognizing the invaluable contribution of media workers to society.

The proposed measure seeks the granting of mandatory additional insurance benefits by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System, including death and disability benefits, and reimbursement of medical expenses.

HB 2746 also creates a Commission on Press Freedom and Media Security that will act as media workers’ safeguard from all forms of attacks and as a development center for journalism.

Duterte has already endorsed the measure as a priority bill. (PNA)