THE Presidential Task Force on Media Security has reported a marked improvement in media worker security under the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, owing largely to the proactive measures that are now in place to ensure a safer environment for members of the working press.
Although one case—that of Catanduanes News Now publisher Larry Que—has been verified to be a media worker killing during the first nine months of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a number of cases handled by the PTFoMS during the same period involve threats, harassment and physical assault against journalists. This is the first time that the government has documented and taken action on these potentially deadly incidents reported by the victms themselves.
PTFoMS Executive Director, Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco has reported to the body during its regular meeting last Wednesday (March 15) that besides the murder of Que, the Presidential Task Force reported the following cases: eight (8) shooting Incidents, six (6) threats and one (1) each for physical attack and complaint. A followup was also conducted on the case of Jun Pala following the public admission by retired policeman Arturo Lascanas of his participation in the killing.
The Task Force is chaired by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and co-chaired by Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar. Those who attended the meeting include representatives from various government agencies and media groups National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, National Press Club, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Philippine Press Institute, Publishers Association of the Philippines and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
“Unlike in the past when government only comes in after the fact or when a media worker had been killed, we are now mandated under Administrative Order No. 1 to act promptly on the first signs of trouble, as soon as a complaint reached us,” said, Egco, who was a journalist for more than two decades and a former president of the National Press Club before joining the Duterte administration.
He noted that in the first nine months of the previous administration, there were seven cases of media killings. Egco attributed the drop in the number of media killings to the Task Force’s vigilance and immediate response to reports of threats and harassment perpetrated against media workers.
Death threats are immediately investigated and if needed, police protection is given to journalists who report threats to their life.
The lone, verified media killing recorded under the Duterte administraton’s AO No. 1 was deemed as such after investigation revealed that Que was killed in connection with articles exposing the links between illegal drugs manufacturers and local government officials.
PTFoMS officials went to Catanduanes and met with the family of the slain mediaman as part of their investigation. Egco recently directed the Philippine National Police to provide security to the Que family who continue to fear for their safety.
Another case currently being investigated by the PTFoMS is the killing of Remate columnist Joaquin “Jun” Briones, a close friend of Egco. Unlike in the case of Que, results of the initial investigation do not indicate that the killing was connected with his work as a columnist and therefore, the case has yet to be included in the count of media killings under AO No. 1.
Members of the Briones family, including his brother and a daughter, suspected that the killing of Jun could be “politically motivated,” citing the victim’s active participation in local politics. Prior to his death, Briones even applied for inclusion in the PTFoMS.
These findings will form part of the PTFoMS’ report to President Duterte in the second week of April, when it is required by AO No. 1 to submit its accomplishments to the Office of the President.
It may be noted, however, that the PTFoMS is still experiencing “birth pains” since its budget and personnel are still being processed.
Egco, who was a journalist observer in the Aquino Administration’s Task Force on AO No. 35, said the PTFoMS aims to prevent media killings through its various proactive measures lined up in the organization’s Operational Guidelines.
The agency has a total of 174 old cases in its inventory representing journalist killings beginning in 1986 until May 2016.