MANILA – Dubbed as a “crucial milestone in the history of Philippines journalism,” the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) successfully concluded the first ever Philippine Summit on Online Media Security on Friday.

PTFoMS Executive Director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco spearheaded the event for online media practitioners which sought to professionalize the fast growing industry as well as to find ways to provide safety and security for journalists in this era of social media.

“This event marks a crucial milestone in the history of Philippines journalism as we, as a collegial body, will move forward from this date and declare henceforth if online media practitioners are journalists in every sense of the word,” Egco said during his opening remarks.

The summit was organized by the PTFoMS with the support from various media organizations, such as the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC), the Kapisanan ng Mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the Philippine Online Broadcasters Association (POBA).

Egco said “the evolution of information technology gives journalists a new platform for information dissemination that is accessible and convenient to the public.”

“The Duterte Administration is mindful of its duty to move and adjust to technological advances in the field of journalism,” he added.

Guest of honor and PTFoMS Chairperson, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, said this summit for online journalist is very timely on account of the elections, pointing out that “the media remains democracy’s most important vanguard and ally not only in guaranteeing informed electoral choice but also in securing free choice.”

Guevarra added “the safety of our media and media practitioners – especially at this important juncture in our history – is therefore our paramount concern” as a “forced silence” of the press “could deal the deadliest blow to the torch of our democracy.”

US-based Sarah Balabagan-Sereno, who is now an online broadcaster, also attended the summit and told the attendees to strive to become legitimate online broadcasters.

For his part, NPC President Paul Gutierrez urged online media workers to strictly abide by the Journalist’s Code of Ethics and to be proud of their work.

He emphasized that a journalist should never allow “personal motive and interest” to cloud his or her profession as this will lead to unbalanced reporting and may expose oneself to media violence.

On the other hand, Errol Dacame, president of POBA, said the recently concluded Online Media Security Summit crafted by the PTFoMS was “a very commendable gesture of this government in finding ways how to better protect online media journalists.”

POBA stressed its commitment in adherence with the Code of Ethics and other globally accepted standards as the primary ways to shield themselves from harassment and threats.

Founded in 2018, Errol said POBA is an organization for professional online broadcast journalists. Its primary advocacy is to professionalize the ranks of online media practitioners.

Also present during the summit was Major Mark Gerald Norbe of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who discussed the “Cybercrime Threat Landscape in the Philippines”, particularly online threats to media practitioners. The PNP is one of the most supportive and effective member agencies of the Presidential Task Force.

During the open forum, Egco asked attendees if they should be considered as “legitimate journalists” in order for the Presidential Task Force to better protect them from media violence, especially in the coming elections.

He emphasized that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has always been at the forefront of protecting and securing the welfare of broadcast, print and now, online journalists with the signing of his very first Administrative Order in 2016, A01, creating the PTFOMS, the first agency in the world for the protection of media workers.

Quoting Guevarra, Egco said the PTFoMS, which is under the direct supervision of the Office of the President, “underscores the value this administration places on the security of those who toil to keep alive an informed citizenry crucial to democracy. It also serves as a warning that no less than the full force of Presidential power will be brought to bear upon those who, for whatever end, seek to do harm to our democracy and the people who keep it alive.”

Undersecretary George Apacible of the Presidential Communications Operations Office who represented Secretary Martin M. Andanar, said the Task Force is a “guardian angel on hand. It shall be there for the weak, the injured, the abused, the moments of severity and the impending dangers and the menacing threats to the workers in media. This Task Force was conceived and created precisely for those intents, and there can be no procrastination regarding their presence whenever the need is required.”

The summit was hosted by Pia Morato and broadcasted over Facebook live. (PR)