MANILA – Describing it as journalists’ “first line of defense,” Undersecretary Jose Joel Sy Egco, executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), has welcomed the directive of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to designate officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP) as Media Security Focal Persons in each province and city nationwide.
“With the elections fast approaching, we are very grateful to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya for this welcome and important development in our quest to protect the life, liberty and security of media workers,” Egco said in a news release on Wednesday.
He added that “this is a significant milestone to shield journalists from threats and other forms of violence throughout the archipelago.”
Egco earlier cited the increasing incidents of violence against journalists before, during, and after the elections which the Task Force seeks to prevent as one of the reasons for the request to designate Focal Persons coursed through Malaya as Undersecretary for Plans, Public Affairs and Communication.
"The infamous massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao in November 2009 is a constant reminder that media workers are mostly vulnerable a few months before, during and a few months after every election," Egco said. “We will never let this happen again.”
PTFoMS’ request was expeditiously and favorably acted upon by the DILG in anticipation of a possible increase in violent incidents involving mediamen during the election season as it shared the views of Egco as head of the Task Force on the need to protect journalists and other media practitioners from threats and violence during this critical period.
The DILG and the PNP are both members of the Task Force under the Office of the President.
Egco said as the “first line of defense” of journalists even in the most far-flung areas of the country, the Focal Persons will be the first to receive and respond to all threats leveled against any media worker.
He said the Focal Persons will also coordinate directly with the assigned PTFoMS Special Agents (SAs) in expediting the resolution of cases of violence against journalists.
“We took this initiative to request for high ranking PNP officers as Focal Persons because we could foresee what will be necessary for the future in terms of safety and security for members of the 4th Estate as mandated by President Rodrigo Duterte in his Administrative Order No. 1 (AO1),” the Palace official added.
Created by Duterte in 2016 to stop the slew of media killings that happened during past administrations, by 2021, PTFoMS oversaw the 51st case of media killing that resulted in a guilty verdict, bringing to 68 the total number of media killers that were convicted by the courts.
He said media freedom in the country is stronger than ever as proven by Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2021 Press Freedom Index where the country’s ranking for the past five years remained better than during past administrations. This, as the RSF noted a global decline in the Index because of the pandemic.
Egco said Duterte's lowest grade in the index was the late President Noynoy Aquino’s highest grade.
He added that far fewer journalists have been killed in the present administration than during the terms of former President Gloria Arroyo or Aquino, a testament to the political will of Duterte to end media violence.
Egco also pointed out that with the immense support of Duterte, it was only in 2019 that justice was finally served to the perpetrators of the Ampatuan Massacre when the masterminds and their cohorts were convicted by a Quezon City court for multiple counts of murder, including members of the once-powerful Ampatuan clan.
The Ampatuan Massacre of 2009 claimed the lives of 58 individuals, including 32 media workers. Considered to be the worst attack against journalists in the world, the incident placed the country among the worst places for journalists in 2009.
“Indeed, despite the pandemic, the Philippine media remains free, colorful and vibrant as ever, contrary to claims by noisy critics who have very little contribution to solving the problems besetting Philippine media,” he said. (PR)