ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – Media organizations in Southeast Asia called on presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to ensure press freedom and the protection of media workers in the Philippines.
“The presumptive president-elect of the Philippines as a result of the May 9 election must ensure the protection of media freedom in the country. Media freedom is important to fulfill the right to information for the public, which is one of the keys to democracy,” said the May 20 joint statement from seven media groups in the region.
Signatories included the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Center for Independent Journalism, Movement of Independent Media, Freedom Film, Network, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association, and Association of Journalists of Timor Leste.
Aside from Marcos Jr. refusing to join presidential debates and interviews, his camp was known to block and sideline journalists who asked tough questions during the campaign period.
The statement also noted that Bongbong’s father, Ferdinand Marcos, curtailed the Philippine press when he declared Martial Law in September 1972 until his ouster in 1986.
“Although restored by the 1986 ouster of Marcos, media freedom has deteriorated and the…leadership of Rodrigo Duterte has seen increased attacks on journalists and independent media,” the groups added.
The Philippines has slipped down the World Press Freedom Index in the last five years. In the 2022 ranking released by Reporters Without Borders, the country placed 147th from 138th in 2021 out of 180 countries.
The signatories underscored that free and fair elections in a democracy “should not ignore media freedom.”
They pointed out that “independent and fair elections are not only about freedom of choice and knowledge of how to vote…. [It’s] also about a participatory process in which voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the electoral process itself,” the group stated.
“Therefore, the public needs credible information before making their choice. In addition, the media acts to oversee the course of elections and maintain a transparent process. Thus, democratic elections should not ignore media freedom,” the statement said. – Rappler.com
Sherwin de Vera is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.