UN official: Violence against media ‘disturbing’ under Marcos

Camille Elemia and Jojo Riñoza
UN official: Violence against media ‘disturbing’ under Marcos Irene Khan, United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, speaks to reporters following her 10-day fact-finding trip, Mandaluyong city, Metro Manila, Feb. 2, 2024.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

A United Nations official on Friday called on the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to take a stronger stand on violence against rights workers and journalists, noting four media workers have been killed since he took office in 2022. 

During a news conference in Metro Manila, Irene Khan, the U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, also called for the government to abolish its task force to end communist conflict.

“The killing of journalists is the most egregious form of censorship and the Philippines remains a dangerous country for journalists,” Khan told reporters, citing 81 cases of journalist killings that remain unresolved to date. 

“Violence against journalists and human rights defenders, as we all know, was particularly high during the [Rodrigo] Duterte administration. However, the past 18 months show that the trend remains disturbing with four journalists killed since a new administration took office,” Khan said, referring to Marcos’ immediate predecessor. 

Khan was referring to Rey Blanco, a radio broadcaster stabbed to death in Negros Oriental in the central Philippines; Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa, a radio broadcaster fatally shot on his way home in Metro Manila; Cresenciano Bunduquin, who was shot in the province of Oriental Mindoro; and radio anchor Juan Jumalon, who was shot during a live broadcast on Facebook. 

“I have been told by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that they have prosecuted three cases and are investigating the fourth. And the DOJ has also taken some other measures to strengthen investigation and prosecution,” Khan said. 

Khan has been in the Philippines since Jan. 24 and has met with a jailed reporter and rights activists, among others. 

The U.N. official cited the need to strengthen Administrative Order 35 signed in 2012. It led to the formation of an inter-agency organization focused on “extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons.” 

“[This is] because impunity of killings still remains … a major problem. We must not forget accountability and justice for victims of the past,” Khan said. 

Red-tagging, media freedom 

While Khan said the Marcos administration “appears to be more amiable” toward journalists, it must do more to improve media freedom in the country because of the damage caused by the administration of Duterte. 

The ex-president was openly hostile to the media, especially those who criticized his bloody war on drugs. He once said that journalists were not “exempted from assassination” if they were corrupt or took bribes.

Under his government, the country’s largest television station, ABS-CBN, was forced to shut down and Maria Ressa, chief executive of Rappler, a critical online news portal that closely followed his drug war, was harassed in court. 

“The damage caused by the previous administration has reduced media pluralism and public trust in independent journalism because of the viral disinformation and troll campaigns,” Khan said. 

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Irene Khan, United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, speaks with reporters in Metro Manila, Feb. 2, 2024. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

Khan said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) anti-insurgency group was outdated and therefore should be abolished.

“NTF-ELCAC was established six years ago in a different context. It is outdated. It does not take into account the ongoing prospects of peace negotiations, I therefore recommend the task force should be abolished,” Khan said. 

The government has refused to disband the group, which activists have denounced for red-tagging of perceived enemies. Red-tagging refers to baselessly accusing someone of being a communist sympathizer.

Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Año issued a statement challenging Khan’s recommendation.

“The fact remains that the Communists are not yet finished. There are still 11 weakened guerilla fronts across the country with some 1,500 armed regulars seeking to overthrow our democracy and the duly constituted government and wreaking havoc and terrorism in the countryside,” he said in the statement.

“If the issue is red-tagging, the NTF-ELCAC does not encourage nor support red-tagging. We wish to underscore once again the Marcos Administration has not issued any law, rule or policy instrument that implements red-tagging or even uses the word.”

Jailed journalist

Khan also highlighted the case of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, a young journalist from Tacloban in central Philippines who was jailed in 2020 after a military raid on alleged safe houses for communist terrorist groups. Cumpio supporters denied the allegations. 

The U.N. official said she visited Cumpio and two detained colleagues – Marielle Domequil and Alexander Abinguna. 

“Justice delayed is justice denied. Terrorism charges have been brought against them. … I hope the government authorities will look into this case, review the case and dismiss the charges, or bring them to trial rapidly,” Khan said.

“To leave young people like them in prison sends a terrible message to the youth of this country.”


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