File photo by Agence France-Presse
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang's task force on media security has asked various journalist and media groups about funding for Maguindanao massacre victims' families that have been coursed through them.
Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) Executive Director Joel Sy Egco confirmed to Rappler that his office sent letters to Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), National Press Club (NPC), Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), Publishers Association of the Philippines Inc (PAPI), and Philippine Press Institute (PPI).
In the letters, PTFoMS informs the groups of a resolution from the Soccsksargen Press Club "demanding from all media organizations that have availed of monetary grants from local and international donors for and in behalf of the Maguindanao Massacre victims detailed accounting and financial reports for public scrutiny."
The resolution, dated February 23, asks that relevant media groups post the financial reports on their websites or social media accounts.
The press club also wants copies of these reports to be sent to the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and offices of the Senate President and House Speaker.
'Fishing for anything'
Luis Teodoro, member of the Board of Trustees of CMFR, said that this is part of the Duterte government's "fishing for anything with which to demonize independent and non-profit and media organizations."
A copy of the letter to CMFR was sent to Rappler. It is dated April 19 but was received on Wednesday, April 24.
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Egco was given a copy of the Soccsksargen Press Club resolution by Joseph Jubelag, one of the club's directors, during an event with Maguindanao massacre victims' families on April 13 in Sultan Kudarat.
Jubelag, who says he was friends with some of those killed in the massacre, said families of victims based in General Santos City and Sultan Kudarat had complained about the halt in assistance from donor groups.
"Nasabi na wala na silang natatanggap na assistance. Dati maroon pa, mga first 2 years after the massacre. After that, dahan-dahan na nawawala yung assistance," Jubelag told Rappler.
(They said they no longer receive assistance. Before there was, during the first two years after the massacre. After that, slowly the assistance they received dwindled.)
The press club, said Jubelag, want the funds accounted for in the name of "transparency."
No complaints received
But NUJP chairman Nonoy Espina said they never heard any one of their beneficiary families complain to them about where the funds went.
He pointed to a statement released by Justice Now, a group of relatives of Maguindanao massacre victims last Tuesday, April 23, saying they are not making any demands on NUJP.
"Justice Now also clarifies that we have not and are not demanding, as some quarters claim, demanding that the NUJP open its records and show us where the funds and other assistance meant for us went," they said.
The statement also says that the families have been benefiting from assistance coursed through NUJP, in the form of scholarships. At least 60 youths received scholarships, said Espina.
"The NUJP has also been very open with us, updating and consulting us regularly," said the group.
Espina admitted that the scholarships stopped because funding secured by the International Federation of Journalists ran out last year. But he said they informed the families of this and nobody had complained about it to them.
Espina said NUJP is only accountable to the families and the donors, not to groups like the Soccsksargen Press Club.
CMFR, a media watchdog group that has also facilitated funding for victims' families, provided Rappler a breakdown of the aid.
NUJP and CMFR are groups that have criticized or issued alerts about attacks on press freedom in the Philippines, including legal cases or attacks against specific journalists or media entities.
Teodoro of CMFR said the group has been completely transparent about funds it received to help Ampatuan massacre victims.
'Just a conduit'
Egco, meanwhile, emphasized that the Malacañang task force is just a "conduit" for the grievances of the Soccsksargen Press Club and the Ampatuan massacre victims' families.
"It can't be spun any other way...They just want transparency," he said.
If the media groups choose not to publish their financial reports or accounting, Egco said his task force will just "report to them (Soccsksargen Press Club) whatever response we get."
The press club may have coursed the resolution through PTFoMS because some of the groups that facilitated the funding are "observers and resource persons" for the task force.
Jubelag said their resolution did not name any specific media groups. The press club wants even government agencies to account for assistance intended for the families.
However, nowhere in the resolution or in Egco's letter is there a demand for government agencies, or groups other than media organizations, to make reports on donors' assistance they received for the families. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.