Mindanao journalists free but threatened under ECQ, professors urge journalists to be more responsible

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DAVAO CITY — Days before the world celebrated Press Freedom day on May 3, a Mindanao journalist filed his counter-affidavit before the court as she is charged cyber liber for showing a photo describing how people waited for government ration.

The journalist posted photos of three plastic basins along the street early morning with a caption saying “Kaluoy sa Planggana nabuntagan an lang walay ration ning abot (Pity, the plastic basin waited until morning, no ration came)”.

The journalist just expressed the sentiment of the people who endlessly waited for nothing overnight, but after a week, a police car loaded with personnel barged into her house to serve the subpoena. This time, she is facing cyber libel and for violating the Bayanihan Act.

A Mayor’s staff who is also a staunch supporter of a Congressman filed the case while people were busy looking for food.

More than that, her colleagues were also invited to witness the incident, it was public shaming on her part but she endured. The case is now pending in court, but for some reason, we cannot divulge her details but we will the facts.

While the journalist continues to cover, they run the risk of being called fake newsmaker since some details about each coronavirus case are wanting, even if health protocol is invoked.

Meantime, everyone in the newsroom and even legal luminaries would say, there was no malice and there was no defamation about the post since it just expressed the sentiment of the people who remain jobless and hungry because of the Enhanced Community Quarantine being implemented by the government.

As the world celebrates Press Freedom week, Newsline interview some personalities whose opinion matter to journalists.

In Cagayan de Oro City, some journalists experienced red scare as their names were reflected on a list telling among others they are sympathetic to the cause of the communist insurgence, but until now, no one claims responsibility for its distribution.

As to the death of North Cotabato radio broadcaster Ed Dizon, the Presidential Task Force on Media Safety (PTFomS) claim for justice has been served but some accomplices to the crime are still on the loose, although the alleged mastermind in now in jail.

For  Azziz Monk Rasteen Olamit, one of the leaders of the Mono National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Mindanao, he said people still trust journalists although he added, “The Philippines is in chaos because of politics,  tapos naging uso rin ang fake news. So sad. Pero continue fighting for it. People trust you (The Philippines in chaos because of politics, then fake has become a trend, so sad. But continue fighting for it, people trust you.”

In this time of crisis when everyone can say what is on her mind through the social media, seasoned editor Daisy Canarias-Apat said “It’s about telling a story that is of great relevance to a majority affected without fear or reservation . . . and, is responsibly telling the truth”.

When asked of his opinion if press freedom is still alive, Veteran Davao Lawyer and former Integrated Bar of the Philippines Davao-Chapter President Ramon Edison Batacan said  “Seriously? As a lawyer, I believe in the essential freedom of every individual. However, freedom does not come without responsibility. It means that we take responsibility for all our consciousness and actions. So that no one enjoys freedom without accepting responsibility”.

As it is now, Batacan said “There are no prior restraint regulations against journalism. Anything goes really even up to the point of stupidity, frankly. It is alive, yes. It is free but the responsibility is not”.

Cotabato City veteran journalist Charlie Señase said “Of course, we are free as a bird with a reminder to colleagues the essence of self-regulation that we are responsible to face any complaints legal or otherwise; that we are not untouchables or so-called sacred cows that when arraigned we face them squarely. Let’s cherish and treasure things that money can’t buy. With Truth, who can be against us for in the end, our article will set us free. “ 

According to him, a journalist should stand with the truth no matter who gets hurt, fairness is the utmost demand among journalists.

In areas where a journalist cannot refuse an offer from sources, a journalist revealed fairness, and fear is mixed and the best option is “Just do it without ill-will and malice bisag kinsa ang maigo basta  (no matter who is criticized) just and fair. No fees – freely given, freely received”. 

Former Ateneo de Davao University professor and Gabriela Party-list representative  Luzviminda Ilagan, said  “Press freedom has never been more alive than today. Technology and its accompanying have made the world smaller and communication faster.  Social media is a case in point when even developing countries are counted as texting capitals, having a large number of their population owning cellular phones. This easy access to communication channels has increased the freedom to send and receive information.”

Ilagan who is now Undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) added,  “The press has internalized this phenomenon. It has utilized this to the fullest so that it has become a powerful tool to convey information from any platform with all kinds of agenda – social, political, ideological, or personal. Press freedom is very much alive even  if new laws and moves from interested parties will try to stifle it.”

She suggests  “Journalists should be more discerning in screening news to be delivered to the public.  More importantly, they should not be a party to the spread of fake news for this is counter to the ethical protocol of professional journalism”.

The Duterte administration has been criticized by some quarter for adopting a strong stance against criminality adding on to human rights abuses done by government instrumentalities,

If the narrative of those who shared their view is to be believed, press freedom is alive in the Philippines, however, journalists still run the risk of getting charged before the court for any report involving onion-skinned government officials.

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