MANILA – The Duterte administration has created a "safe environment" for Philippine journalists, Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) executive director Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco said on Tuesday.
During the second day of the Duterte Legacy Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, Egco said the outgoing administration, through the PTFoMS, was able to end the supposed "dark chapter" in the history of Philippine media.
The PTFoMS, Egco said, is "indeed a Duterte legacy," considering its accomplishments in expediting the investigation and resolution of cases of media-related violence.
Egco said media workers in the country were in a "very dark place," until President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016.
"Before the creation of the task force, the Philippine media was really in a very sorry state, in a very, very dark place due largely to that single, deadliest attack against journalists that would be known as the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre," he said. "This and other incidents of media violence became the very catalyst for the creation of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security."
Egco was referring to the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre that killed 59 people, including 32 journalists.
Duterte's marching order to ensure the protection and security of the journalists in the country has prompted the PTFoMS to strive hard to resolve media killings, Egco said.
The PTFoMS' hard work bore fruit, recording a total of 52 cases of media killings that resulted in a guilty verdict, Egco said, adding that 69 killers of media workers are facing life imprisonment.
"The PTFoMS is relentless, steadfast, proactive, because for us, as ever, since the beginning, failure is not an option. Therefore, I am sure we were able to deliver. Together, under the banner of tapang at malasakit, ito po ang ating legacy, ang legacy ng ating Pangulo (courage and compassion, this is our legacy, the legacy of the President)," Egco said.
Safeguarding press freedom
The Philippines, which has been considered as the most dangerous country for journalists from 2019 to 2016, has seen a "biggest improvement" after being declared as the "biggest mover" by the Committee to Protect Journalists in its annual Global Impunity Index in 2020, Egco said.
"The PTFoMS is indeed a Dutert legacy," he said. "We were able to plant the seeds of change when it comes to safeguarding press freedom in this part of the world."
On October 11, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Administrative Order 1, creating the PTFoMS to make the country a safer place for media workers.
PTFoMS is headed by the Department of Justice and co-chaired by the Presidential Communications Operations Office. Its members include the Department of National Defense, the 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.
The composition of the PTFoMS, Egco said, is a "brilliant example of the whole-of-government approach."
"The task force is directly under the office of the President and chaired by the secretaries of the Department of Justice and the PCOO. We have a vast number of law enforcement agencies as members. We also have in this task force both public and private stakeholders as observers and resource persons," Egco said.
During the Duterte Legacy Summit, Egco also touted the accomplishments of the PTFoMS, which include the launching of 24/7 hotline (+639178406790), creation of quick response team, and increased online visibility to ensure prompt response to complaints, grievances, or requests for assistance by media workers receiving threats and intimidation.
Egco said the PTFoMs was also able to assist over 80 media workers who were unduly threatened.
The task force, he added, also provided financial aid to some media workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
"At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the task force was hand-in-hand with media groups and other benefactors in providing relief and financial assistance to media workers," he said.
Egco said the PTFoMS also led the first Philippine Summit on Online Media Security in January 2022 and the first Cybersecurity Forum for Media Practitioners in March 2022.
He added that the task force also collaborated with international communities and media advocacy groups to promote press freedom and safety of journalists.
"Maraming positive reviews po sa atin despite the fact na marami namang negative criticisms mula sa ating mga kababayan. Pero okay lang po, yun hindi kami nadi-distract ng mga negative dahil kami ay nakatutok sa aming trabaho (We are receiving positive reviews, despite the fact that we are also receiving negative criticisms from our fellow countrymen. But that's okay, we're not distracted by negative comments because we are focusing on our job)," he said. (PNA)