Photo from PCOO Global Media Affairs
Not every audience that Communications Secretary Martin Andanar had during the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO)'s European tour was passive, or at least not the way the government painted them to be.
One such audience was press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF), whose representatives met with Andanar and officials from the Philippine embassy in France on February 18.
During the meeting, the government submitted a report to RSFT detailing the accomplishments of the Duterte administration through the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, including the convictions related to the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.
Andanar called the meeting “fruitful,” adding that his office hopes that it “will iron out concerns about the stance of the government when it comes to media freedom,” according to his statement as quoted by state-run Philippine News Agency.
What was missing from the countless of press releases and news reports on the meeting was the side of the RSF representatives.
In an email to Rappler, RSF'S Asia Pacific desk head Daniel Bastard recalled that he told Andanar and his delegation that “we can only agree on the fact that we don't agree” after they stood their ground on the widely-documented concerns about how the Duterte administration treats media in the Philippines.
Despite these facts, Bastard said that Andanar insisted that the Duterte administration “respects the separation of powers and cannot interfere.”
“Secretary Andanar said the rule of law is much better implemented in the Philippines since President Duterte took power, a claim that RSF strongly contested,” Bastard told Rappler in an email.
“We also pointed out that verbal violence against journalists creates a hostile environment for the media, and that it can easily lead to physical violence against journalists, which is a major concern in President Duterte's Philippines,” he added.
In 2019, the Philippines ranked 134th out of 180 countries in the RSF's World Press Freedom Index amid Duterte's continuous attack against the media.
The President himself has not hidden his disdain for journalists who report on his government policies, including the violent anti-illegal drugs campaign. (READ: Philippine media under attack: Press freedom after 2 years of Duterte)
The meeting with RSF is just one of the many stops in the PCOO's European tour, whichs aim to "amplify the gains of the Duterte administration and to combat false narratives on its policies."
"Our primary strategy in these international engagements is to simply champion the truth, just as what we do in our hometown," Andanar said in a tweet, after meeting with other European groups.
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.