Karapatan condemns worrisome and escalating attacks on journalists amid upcoming elections

Photo by Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Human rights alliance Karapatan on Friday condemned the cyberlibel charges filed against Rappler journalists and researchers and Solicitor General Jose Calida’s petition against Rappler’s fact-checking partnership with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), as well as the recent attempt on the life of Baguio City-based journalist Aldwin Quitasol, as the group expressed concern over “worrisome and escalating attacks” on journalists amid the upcoming elections in May.

“With the national elections fast approaching, any form of attack against journalists and the media — such as the cyberlibel charges against the journalists and researchers of Rappler, Calida’s petition against Rappler’s fact-checking partnership with Comelec, as well as the attempt to shoot Aldwin Quitasol in Baguio City — is a grave threat not only on press freedom and democracy but on the integrity of the elections itself,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Members of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) church founded pastor Apollo Quiboloy, spiritual advisor and close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, filed a dozen cyberlibel charges against Rappler along with its regional head Inday Espina-Varona, Mindanao bureau coordinator Herbie Gomez, former researcher Vernise Tantuco, and Ateneo de Manila University professor and sociologist Jayeel Cornelio for Rappler’s investigative reports on the cases of sexual abuse involving Quiboloy and the KOJC.

Last March 7, Calida filed before the Supreme Court a petition to void the Rappler-Comelec fact-checking partnership. Comelec has since suspended the partnership with Rappler. Palabay asserted that the cyberlibel charges and Calida’s petition “are clearly part of the Duterte government’s long string of attacks targeting Rappler — and part of efforts to keep disinformation unchecked in the upcoming elections.”

Meanwhile, motorcycle-riding assailants fired at Quitasol around last March 1; he managed to drop to the ground when he heard the shot as the assailants fled. Quitasol is the president of the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club and a member of the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines’ chapter in the city. He has criticized the tokhang-style “Dumanon Makitongtong” strategy adopted by the Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council and has been repeatedly red-tagged.

“Elections marred by violence, threats, and harassment such as red-tagging against journalists and the media are no free elections: such attacks gravely imperil the people’s right to know, which is integral in the free exercise of the right to cast our votes in the elections in May. These whole spectrum of attacks — from judicial harassment to outright violence — must be condemned,” the Karapatan official continued.

“We stand in solidarity with the journalists of Rappler in calling for the immediate dismissal of these baseless and malicious cyberlibel charges and the sinister efforts to halt its fact-checking initiatives. We also call for an immediate independent investigation into the attempt on Quitasol’s life as well as the previous threats and red-tagging against him. We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand for our rights and resist these attacks,” she ended.