To mark the beginning of a fresh chapter in safeguarding press freedom in the country, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) has introduced a new approach in the campaign to end impunity by combining the twin efforts of ensuring the delivery of justice for victims of attacks and promoting the professional and economic welfare of journalists.

Dubbed “PTFoMS 2020: Reinforced, Reloaded”, the campaign will usher in more active engagements with media workers as well as future journalists around the country. It will be launched in Tacloban City by the end of the month.

“The Task Force will also continue to be more relentless and proactive when it comes to protecting the life, liberty and security of media workers. Besides running after so-called enemies of press freedom as we have done in the previous years, we will also strongly push for the enactment of the Media Workers Welfare Bill under House Bill 2476, which seeks to uplift both the economic welfare and skills of local journos,” PTFoMS executive director, Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco said.

Officials of the Task Force and its media partners will hold seminars on media safety, welfare, and ethics in various provinces.

Sy Egco said the PTFoMS will be reorganized and will hire additional personnel to man its teams in Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and the National Capital Region.

“For starters, inter-agency tracker teams will be created soon to intensify the manhunt for the remaining Ampatuan Massacre suspects who are still at large. We will also be printing “WANTED” posters all over the archipelago in line with this effort,” the palace official said.

Earlier, he said the past decade was a “dark chapter in Philippine media history”, owing largely to the infamous massacre that has placed the country among the “most dangerous” in the world for journalists.

“From being one of the most dangerous and one of the deadliest, our country now holds the distinction of being the only country in the world that has convicted this huge number of killers of media workers.” 

“From being one of the most dangerous and one of the deadliest, our country now holds the distinction of being the only country in the world that has convicted this huge number of killers of media workers,” Sy Egco said during the launch the #DuterteLegacy campaign led by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) recently at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

49 convictions, a world record

From this humiliating decade-long reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, the Philippines has risen with the conviction of 31, including the principal suspects (Andal Jr., Zaldy, Anwar Sr., Anwar Jr. and Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, et. al) in the Ampatuan Massacre case on Dec. 19, 2019 by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221.

Besides this, PTFoMS has also uncovered 18 previous convictions on various cases of media violence, bringing the total number of convictions to 49, an unprecedented feat in the history of the worldwide campaign against impunity.

Due largely to the promulgation of the decision on the massacre and obtaining justice for the murdered journalists, the Task Force (TF) expects a much better rating for the 2020 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Global Impunity Index (GII), if not a total delisting from the index.

“We’re expecting that the upcoming CPJ report would remove the Philippines from their list of the five deadliest countries for journalists, including being number one in Southeast Asia,” Sy Egco said.

“The figures are a testament to the Duterte government’s sincere, honest, and genuine resolve to protect human rights and uphold human lives and human dignity,” he added.

In October 2019, the CPJ published its GII, in which it stated that “the Philippines has been among the worst five countries nearly every year since the index was first published in 2008. The country’s fifth-worst ranking is due in part to the deadly ambush of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on November 23, 2009.”

The Philippines, however, was not mentioned anywhere in the 2019 Reporters without borders (RSF) report.

The CPJ, meanwhile, has also not included the country on the list of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, contrary to some sectors’ unjust and biased claims of the supposedly worsening and repressive state of media workers in this part of the world.

Sy Egco said these positive gains negate the shameless lies peddled against the Philippine Republic by biased critics.

“It took a humble regional trial court in this side of the world, presided by one Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, to make a world of a difference.” 

Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee and a member of the Task Force, has declared that the historic promulgation of the massacre case was both unprecedented and unmatched.

“Not since the post-world war Nuremberg trials of 1945-49, which saw the conviction of 18 war criminals, has the world seen this large number of persons convicted by a single court. Even the much-vaunted International Criminal Court, in all its 17 years in existence and after having spent more than a billion dollars, has only convicted four personalities. And it took a humble regional trial court in this side of the world, presided by one Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, to make a world of a difference,” Catura said.

A few weeks after the decision was handed down by Judge Solis-Reyes, authorities were able to capture two of the fugitives– Faisal Dimaukom alias Kagi Faizal and Gambayan Kasim, also known as Lori Alip.

Dimaukom was nabbed at Barangay Kabinge, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao on January 6, while Kasim was captured three days later at his home in Shariff Aguak also in Maguindanao.

“I reiterate what our Co-Chair and Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar has said — we are counting down to the eventual capture of all those involved in this case. They can run and they can hide, but we will catch them one way or the other,” Sy Egco said.

The recent arrest is a significant development in the intensified nationwide manhunt for the remaining suspects as ordered by Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa.

Media Workers’ Welfare Act

Sy Egco said they were able to map the most vulnerable regions for journalists in the country with Mindanao topping the list.

While observing that the phenomenon of media violence in the country is a direct byproduct of the hostile or violent geopolitical environment, journalists are also prone to risks due to the performance of their duty, pursuit of their advocacy against corruption and criminality, and head-on crusade against the usual subjects of their criticisms.

To address the various vulnerabilities of the media sector, the Task Force has forged a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the ACT-CIS party-list to push for measures seeking to improve the welfare of thousands of media workers in the country.

No less than Andanar appealed to media workers to be united and supportive of the campaign to pass the Media Workers Welfare Bill into law.

“Our fellow media, especially in the provinces, have a high economic vulnerability. They become blocktimers. They look for supporters, sponsors, and more often than not these sponsors are politicians. If the politicians ask them to criticize an opponent, the latter becomes angry or annoyed. If it cannot be talked over, they’ll just shoot you,” the communications chief pointed out.

He said the proposed measure also ensures capacity to avail of housing programs, regular employment, job security, and health benefits.

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