MANILA – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) recognition of the Philippines’ significant progress in protecting journalists is a “validation” of the Duterte administration’s efforts to uphold press freedom in the country, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) said on Sunday.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary and PTFoMS co-chair Martin Andanar issued the remark after the UNESCO’s 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity showed that “significant progress was made” by the country in the case of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, pointing out that on December 19, 2019, the court convicted 43 individuals, including the masterminds behind the attack.
“This is a validation of the relentless efforts of the government through the task force in protecting the life, liberty, and security of media workers in the country amid the pandemic. While there is more work that needs to be done, rest assured that the Duterte administration will always uphold press freedom,” Andanar said in a press statement.
PTFoMS Executive Director Undersecretary Joel Sy, for his part, noted how the UNESCO report highlighted that the Philippines was among the countries which have strengthened monitoring mechanisms to track attacks against journalists.
The UNESCO report also emphasized that the Philippines put up measures to prevent crimes against journalists and media workers and established specific bodies dedicated to ensuring the prosecution of crimes against journalists.
“Despite the rhetoric of some groups with questionable motives, UNESCO’s report shows that the government has made tremendous strides in the fight against perpetrators of media violence,” Egco said.
UNESCO also cited the “Handbook on Personal Security Measures for Media Practitioners”. Launched in 2018, it provides good practices for journalists on how to protect themselves and their family against violence, threats and intimidation.
PTFoMS gives away the handbook to media workers. An updated edition was released in 2020.
Although the report cited “worrying trends”, the 2018-2019 UNESCO report of 156 journalists killed worldwide indicated a 14-percent drop from the previous two-year period.
The Philippines is believed to be the first country in the world to establish a government body devoted exclusively to media security.
On October 11, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte created PTFoMS by virtue of Administrative Order No. 1 to establish an inter-agency task force with the goal of providing a safe environment for media workers.
It is headed by the Department of Justice, co-chaired by the PCOO, with the Department of National Defense, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Office of the Solicitor General, Presidential Human Rights Committee, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and National Bureau of Investigation, as members.
Egco also announced that the task force will hold a webinar series starting March 24 titled “PTFoMS MOVING 4WARD: Safeguarding Press Freedom During The Pandemic And Elections”.
The webinar will tackle safety protocols while covering the news during the Covid-19 pandemic and the upcoming 2022 elections, with experts and veteran journalists as resource speakers.
According to Egco, much has been accomplished by the current administration through PTFoMS in improving the country's human rights situation, particularly in protecting freedoms of expression, opinion and of the press.
In 2018, he said the country was finally removed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists by the Reporters Without Borders.
In 2020, the nation was declared as the “biggest mover” by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its annual Global Impunity Index released last year.
The Philippines was not included in CPJ’s list of “World’s Worst Places to Be a Journalist” or “10 Most Censored Countries”.
“With the unwavering commitment of this government in bringing to justice perpetrators of threats and violence against media workers through a dedicated agency such as the PTFoMS, we can now proudly proclaim to the world that the so-called culture of impunity has finally ended,” Egco added. (PNA)