Stop the killings and attacks against journalists!

Thirteen years since 58 persons, including 32 media workers were mercilessly killed in Maguindanao, the need to commemorate the single biggest attack against journalists in Philippine history is more urgent than ever.

Recent history gives us ample proof that threats and attacks against journalists and the right to free speech have not abated, and have instead taken newer and more menacing forms.

Since the Ampatuan Massacre of 2009, forty-nine more journalists have been killed —23 under the Duterte regime which was openly hostile to the media, and three under the Marcos II regime.

Nowadays, news organizations and journalists are routinely red-tagged and branded as “terrorists” by government and security officials, marking them as potential targets of discrimination, harassment and murder.

Fuelling the culture of impunity that emboldens the attackers of free speech are old and new laws that pose various restraints on press freedom.

The antiquated laws in the Revised Penal Code that criminalize libel and oral defamation have been buttressed by a new “cybercrime” law prescribing harsher punishments for criminal libel and granting authorities massive powers to shut down websites and monitor online information.

Worse, Section 9 of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 has concocted the new crime of “inciting to terrorism,” prohibiting speech, proclamations, writings, emblems and banners without providing a clear definition of what constitutes terrorist acts. This renders all media practitioners vulnerable to bogus charges and wrongful arrests and creates a chilling effect on the media.

In particular danger are independent, critical and investigative journalists.

Already, media outfits like ABS-CBN, Rappler, Pinoy Media Center, Bulatlat, Altermidya, Kodao and other independent media organizations are under constant attack. The two latest victims of media killings, radio journalist Percy Lapid (killed on October 3) and editorial cartoonist Benharl Kahil (slain on November 5), were known for their incisive and hard-hitting criticisms of government and had been red-tagged before they were murdered. Rappler CEO and award-winning journalist Maria Ressa is under fire from legal charges instigated by Duterte. Community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio remains behind bars for trumped up criminal charges, including the law on terrorist financing.

Karapatan demands an end to the notorious combination of media killings and repressive laws being perpetrated by the State that magnifies the prevailing culture of impunity and keeps an ever-tightening stranglehold on press freedom. #