MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police has set up at least 133 “media security vanguards” to protect members of the media from harassment and violence during the high-stakes 2022 election, the PNP announced on Saturday, January 29.
PNP spokesperson Brigadier General Roderick Alba said in a Laging Handa briefing that there must be a “greater focus” on protecting media personnel as the election season heats up.
“Sa itong election, talagang may possibility kung minsan na naiipit ‘yung ating mga members ng media, lalo na pumupunta sila sa area na intense ‘yung political rivalry and we don’t want [na mangyari] na kasama ‘yung media na maaapektuhan diyan. So sa part po ng PNP, we have an existing 133 media security vanguards or focal persons,” said Alba.
(This election, there is a real possibility that members of the media will get caught in between, especially when they go to areas where there is intense political rivalry. We don’t want them to get involved in these situations. So on our part in the PNP, we have an existing 133 media security vanguards or focal persons.)
Alba said the media vanguard program was launched on January 20. Police stations will still be the operating arm of cases involving the media, as local police would validate complaints. He said that if there was enough evidence against a respondent, the police “could do warrantless arrests.”
Meanwhile, Presidential Task Force for Media Security (PTFoMS) executive director Joel Egco said that his office was investigating cases of killings involving former media workers who were running for positions in office.
“Nakatingin tayo sa anumang maaaring kaharaping danger o panganib ng mga kapatid natin sa hanapbuhay, lalo na sa mga tumawid na sa pulitika. Halos nakikipagbanggaan na sila doon sa lokal, doon sa mga dating pulitiko na kanilang subject lamang sa kanilang mga programa,” said Egco.
(We are monitoring any danger our friends in the media may face, especially those who have moved on to politics. They are now butting heads with local politicians who used to be only subjects of their programs.)
Egco also said that the task force will meet with the Commission on Elections on February 2 to come up with an arrangement to expedite requests for “high-risk” media workers who need exemption from the election season’s gun ban.
Alba and Egco said that the PTFoMS and the police were exerting extra effort on media protection to avoid a repeat of the Maguindanao Massacre almost 13 years ago.
In the November 23, 2009 tragedy, 58 people were murdered. The private army of the Ampatuans – Maguindanao Representative Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s political rivals – killed members of his family, aides, lawyers, and supporters who were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for governor. Thirty-two journalists and other media workers were part of the victims.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called it the single deadliest event for journalists in history.
“Ayaw nating may masaktan, ayaw nating may matakot, ayaw nating may mamatay (We don’t want anyone to get hurt, to be afraid, or to die),” Egco said.
Egco, however, said in December 2021, that journalists in the Philippines are not necessarily targeted because of their work. He was referring to the killing of journalist Jesus “Jess” Malabanan in Samar, a case that had just been mentioned at the time by Rappler CEO Maria Ressa in her Nobel lecture.
While he did not mention Ressa, he had referred to a “Nobel Peace Prize awardee” who talked about Malabanan’s slay and insisted that Malabanan was killed for other reasons, even when the investigation into his case was still ongoing. “Don’t believe in the propaganda that journalists are really being directly targeted here for being journalists. There’s an ocean of reasons,” Egco had said, a statement that drew flak from journalists.
The Philippines began the official election period on January 9. The campaigning period will officially begin on February 8 for national posts, and March 25 for local posts. – Rappler.com