MANILA – The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) is in high gear as it celebrated Monday its 5th year anniversary as the forefront agency of the government in defending press freedom by protecting the life, liberty and security of media workers in the Philippines.
As one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s legacies to the Filipino people, the PTFoMS was created on Oct. 11, 2016 as an inter-agency task force dedicated to ensure the safety of journalists against threats and violence - the very first in the world.
Through the “whole-of-government” approach that now characterizes the way the Duterte Administration has effectively handled important social issues - a unified effort between government agencies to maximize all available resources to achieve its goals - the task force has come a long way from its very humble beginnings.
Citing the achievements in the last five years, Undersecretary Jose Joel Sy Egco, Executive Director of the PTFoMS, said the agency will be relentless in going after perpetrators of violence against media workers.
“We have been at the forefront in the fight to protect the life, liberty and security of media workers in the Philippines. Not only my mandate but my advocacy,” Egco said.
With a dedicated mandate to resolve media killings in the country, the PTFoMS recorded the 51st case of media killing that resulted in a guilty verdict out of the total of 187 cases being monitored by the task force since the time of President Corazon Aquino, bringing to 68 the total number of media killers that were convicted by the courts, while 56 cases were regarded as “closed” for various reasons.
Far less journalists have also been killed ever since PTFoMS’ creation compared to the last two administrations that saw a slew of killings of media workers, most notably the Ampatuan Massacre that happened during the time of President Gloria Arroyo. While tragic, there were fewer media workers that were killed during the present administration, far lower than the 40 victims in the time of the presidency of the late President Noynoy Aquino and 82 during President Arroyo.
PTFoMS also directly oversaw the filing of 15 cases in court against perpetrators of media violence, arrested nine suspects and investigated seven killings with the help of its core member agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra chairs the task force.
A total of 80 cases involving media practitioners who were unduly threatened were also quickly acted upon, assisted and/or resolved by the task force. Media workers who were in danger were immediately given round-the-clock police protection.
"President Rodrigo Roa Duterte knows the importance of press freedom in a democratic society. That is the reason why establishing PTFoMS was the very first administrative order he signed upon assuming office,” Egco said. “This commitment of the President with the fourth estate by institutionalizing the task force will be one of his most important legacies in preserving Philippine democracy.”
Egco also said that during the pandemic, the PTFoMS became more proactive in providing for the needs of media workers aside from ensuring their protection.
"The welfare of our media workers is our primary concern. We have taken the initiative by providing financial, medical and food assistance to many of our media practitioners all over the country who were badly affected by the onslaught of the Covid19 pandemic, with the help of the National Press Club and ACT-CIS party-list” said PTFoMS Co-Chairman and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin M. Andanar.
The Task Force closely monitors all cases of media violence even during the pandemic through regular virtual case update meetings with law enforcement agencies.
In coordination with the Philippine National Police, the PTFoMS has extended its mandate by providing real time security even to the families of victims of media violence and eyewitnesses to media killings.
“Today (Oct. 11) as the PTFoMS observes its 5th anniversary, we echo the call of hundreds of thousands of media workers across the country for the passage of the proposed Media Workers Welfare Act (MWWA) that has already been approved by the House of Representatives in 2020 and is now pending approval for a long time in the Senate. The MWWA is proposed legislation exclusively for media workers that aims to dramatically improve their economic welfare,” Egco said.
The bill grants media workers with hazard pay, living wage, employment security plus additional insurance and hospitalization benefits. PTFoMS – an agency under the Office of the President – actively participated in crafting the bill and lobbying for its passage in Congress.
To reiterate, through the guidance of Egco as its Executive Director, the PTFoMS has come a long way in making the country a safer place for the media.
In 2018, the Reporters without Borders (RSF), an international media watchdog, finally removed the Philippines from its list of Top 5 most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In 2019, the Philippines became a beacon of hope for press freedom by giving justice to the 31 media workers who were among those slain in the infamous Ampatuan Massacre when a court convicted 43 individuals including the masterminds behind the tragedy.
In 2020, the country was declared as the biggest mover in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index, noting that the Philippines was the most improved country in its 2020’s rankings. The Philippines is also not included in CPJ’s list of “World’s Worst Places to Be a Journalist” or “10 Most Censored Countries”.
The 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has cited gains made by the present Administration through PTFoMS in the realm of media safety, such as the setting up or strengthening of monitoring mechanisms to track attacks against journalists which have contributed to better reporting on the safety of journalists; the putting up of measures to prevent crimes against journalists; and the establishment of specific bodies dedicated to ensuring the prosecution of crimes against all media workers.
And to set the record straight, despite notable declines in 73 percent of all countries in the world, the Philippines fared well in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) of the RSF. While noting a slight 2-point drop in the index, the country’s ranking for the past five years remained better than during previous administrations. In fact, President Duterte's lowest grade in the index was President Noynoy Aquino’s highest.
Indeed, in spite of the extreme challenges brought about by the pandemic, the Philippine media remains free, colorful and vibrant as ever.
Meanwhile, the Task Force is already in the 6th leg of its regional webinar series exclusively for media workers that promote best safety practices in the midst of the pandemic and in the upcoming national and local elections. Media workers from all over the country will get the chance to participate and learn from this webinar.
The PTFoMS also continues to engage with the international community in the promotion of press freedom and safety of journalists such as the United Nations, UNESCO, European Union and media advocacy groups like the CPJ and RSF, in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Human Rights Committee.
Needless to state, the PTFoMS will continue to remain proactive, unwavering and relentless in its mandate to defend press freedom in the Philippines in the years to come. (PR)