SONA 2023

No mention of press freedom, media issues in Marcos’ 2023 SONA

Gaby Baizas

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No mention of press freedom, media issues in Marcos’ 2023 SONA

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr delivers his second State of the Nation Address at Congress on July 24, 2023.

Screengrab from RTVM

This marks the second State of the Nation Address where Marcos skipped media issues, despite continued attacks on journalists and rampant disinformation

MANILA, Philippines – Just like in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. chose not to discuss issues surrounding press freedom, the media landscape, and online propaganda and disinformation in his second SONA on Monday, July 24.

Currently, the Philippines ranks 132nd out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index – the country’s best ranking in six years. Despite this, attacks, threats, killings, and other media-related issues still persist under the Marcos administration.

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In a statement released hours before the President’s second SONA, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said they recorded a total of 84 attacks and threats against media workers from June 30, 2022 to July 22, 2023.

A total of three journalists have been killed under Marcos – Rey Blanco in September 2022, Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa in October 2022, and Cresenciano Aldovino Bunduquin in May 2023.

Recently, three journalists of San Juanico TV were covering a land dispute story in Pastrana, Leyte, when they were harassed by police on July 14. Policemen had also fired shots in the vicinity, but the Presidential Task Force on Media Security denied that the gunshots came from the police.

Tacloban-based journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who was arrested in February 2020 for supposed illegal possession of firearms, remains in jail. In December 2022, Baguio-based journalist and Rappler correspondent Frank Cimatu was convicted of cyber libel over a Facebook post from 2017.

The National Telecommunications Commission’s blocking order against alternative news sites Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly along with 25 other websites still stands a year after former national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. claimed these were linked to terrorist organizations. (Legitimate, progressive, or foreign-based: The websites Esperon sought to block in PH

The biggest issue surrounding media ownership focused on the joint venture between ABS-CBN and Prime Media Holdings, the latter owned by House Speaker Martin Romualdez. The Speaker is also the President’s first cousin. (READ: The politics of radio: New station DWPM Radyo 630 is born)

Has Marcos said anything about the media in the past?

Despite not discussing media issues in his first two SONAs, Marcos previously issued statements about the press and denounced fake news and disinformation in other events.

In October 2022, Marcos assured journalists that his administration will “serve and protect the rights of the media.” At the 50th anniversary of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) earlier this April, Marcos emphasized the importance of the press and broadcast media in “informing the citizenry…shaping public opinion, and even triggering social mobilization and change.” In June of this year, he announced plans to launch a digital, youth-oriented “media and information literacy campaign.”

This, despite the fact that Marcos and his family have largely benefited from widespread disinformation and online propaganda networks. Myths intended to burnish the Marcos family’s reputation circulated online as early as 2011, and Marcos himself previously asked political data firm Cambridge Analytica to “rebrand” his family’s social media image back in 2019. Different studies also found that Marcos was the top beneficiary of election-related disinformation in the lead-up to the 2022 polls. 

Marcos enjoyed significant coverage from hyper-partisan vloggers and media outlets. He and his 2022 running mate, incumbent Vice President Sara Duterte, were endorsed by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy – the owner of hyper-partisan network SMNI, notorious for red-tagging and attacking critics of the administration. During the campaign period for the 2022 elections, Marcos had skipped presidential debates and interviews with critical media, but participated in similar events organized by SMNI.

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In the lead-up to his inauguration, pro-Marcos vloggers joined forces and formed the United Vloggers and Influencers of the Philippines (UVIP) in an attempt to lobby for access to Malacañang. However, months into Marcos’ presidency, UVIP had disbanded due to infighting. –

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Gaby Baizas

Gaby Baizas is a digital forensics researcher at Rappler. She first joined Rappler straight out of college as a digital communications specialist. She hopes people learn to read past headlines the same way she hopes punk never dies.