[OPINION] Even after the Ampatuan verdict, Filipino journalists are still in peril

On December 19, 2019, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 released the verdict on the gruesome Ampatuan Massacre, which killed 58 people, including 32 journalists. Members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, including former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and former autonomous region governor Zaldy Ampatuan, were sentenced to reclusion perpetua.

This proved to be a victory for press freedom and democracy in general. It showed that rule of law still prevails in the Philippines. Despite reports of threats and bribery, Judge Solis-Reyes stood firm and continued to deliver justice to the victims.

Even government officials lauded this move. According to a news report by Headline Pilipinas, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said that the monumental victory could remove the Philippines from the list of the worst countries for journalists.

But I keep on thinking, how is this to happen if the President himself, and the Filipino people in general, are harboring hatred for media practitioners?

How is this to happen if the President continues to embarrass journalists during press conferences

How is this to happen if the President continues to shoot tirades against media outlets who are critical of his policies?

How is this to happen if the President, out of a personal vendetta, threatens to shut down a leading media network?

How is this to happen if the President continues to file trumped-up charges against journalists who did nothing but expose the follies of people running the government?

How is this to happen if Filipinos continue to lambast journalists, calling them biased, money-loving, and rumormongers?

How is this to happen if Filipinos continue to patronize bloggers with a reputation for disinformation, rather than legitimate news outlets, just because all they want to hear and read are positive news about the President, whom they idolize so much?

How is this to happen if trolls abound, and these trolls love to share memes and fake news to destroy the so-called enemies of the President?

How is this to happen if there are still people who try to revise history and discredit people behind the very democracy which they enjoy?

How is this to happen if there are still people who would label you as “dilawan” and “anti-Filipino” if all you did was share a comment critical of the government?

How is this to happen if there are still people who hate reading pieces like the one you're reading now?

Indeed, there are still many “how’s.” The list of questions seems unending.

These questions need to be answered, and they need to stir the minds and hearts of every Filipino who still believes in democracy. (READ: [ANALYSIS] What the Ampatuan massacre verdict could not – and did not – address)  

The fight for true press freedom is far from over. As long as there are still Filipinos who choose to be misinformed and disinformed, the Philippines will still be a dangerous place for journalists. Now, it’s up to us if we will continue the fight and make the country safer for journalists. – Rappler.com

Billy Jason Vuelta is a graduate of the Cagayan State University-Andrews Campus, Bachelor of Secondary Education, Major in Physical Science. He was a member of the Editorial Board of The CSU Communicator, the official student publication on campus.