The call for respect for the right to freedom of opinion and expression reverberates as the world celebrates Press Freedom Day today.
This is an important day as this is a reminder of a crucial requisite for a free society: a free press.
Sadly, in this country, a lot about this call remains unheeded to this day. This is reflected with the way President Benigno Aquino III thinks condescendingly about members of the media. This is seen with the way crimes are still being committed against journalists by persons in power. This is shown with the way media establishment owners continue to disrespect the rights of media workers.
Indeed, the country remains to be one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.
Any violence against media is a major attack on press freedom and free speech. Silencing the media is depriving the public not only of information, but of a voice and weapon to defend itself.
The media in Davao has had a long share of this assault. Media killings have not stopped sending dread among the ranks. In fact, another killing occurred in the city recently where the victim, Aldion Layao, a former radio reporter and blocktimer and at the same time, a Barangay Chairman. This happened while past murders of mediamen remain unsolved, such as the killing of Jesiderio Camangyan, a blocktimer who was critical of the issue of environmental destruction in Davao Oriental, and Nestor Bedolido of Davao del Sur. The failure of authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice has contributed to the impunity with which media workers are being killed.
It does not help that the present mindset towards media who are critical to society’s ills remain antagonistic. We saw this happened in another recent case of a colleague in Davao media, Karlos Manlupig, who after writing for the Philippine Daily Inquirer about an incident regarding a church security guard who threw out a shirtless man, was tagged as a “terrorist.” A certain Monica Arevalo posted this message on the facebook, along with pictures of Manlupig in his student days as an activist. Arevalo also threatened to spread a “wanted” poster if Manlupig does not stop “destroying the reputation of the church.”
Such intolerance is made even more worse with how majority of media practitioners in Davao and elsewhere grapple with low wages, non-existent benefits and no unions. The media’s low economic status make them vulnerable to bribery, harassment and other forms of human rights violations.
If there are those who dared to organize themselves into unions to advance their rights, they are also met with repression by the owners of the media establishments. Rank and file workers of the RMN Davao Employees Union fought to secure a substantial Collective Bargaining Agreement with the company, a year after the latter unjustly terminated its station manager, Dodong Solis. After almost a decade of working sans union and a CBA, RDEU workers have learned to fight tooth and nail to resist the company’s repressive measures—from harassment of union officers to declaring a no-wage increase policy. Other media workers in Davao city and elsewhere in Southern Mindanao are inspired with their struggle to form their own unions and advance their interest.
The Filipino media workers’ fight for a free press continues. If there is one thing worth celebrating about today, it is their hard struggle, their continued vigilance and militant action toward this goal.
A media suppressed by the fear of attack or retaliation from anyone it criticizes is not a free media. A free press is a condition of a free society and creating a free society can be achieved if the press can truly be free.
Long live the struggle of the Filipino working press!