[ NEWS FEATURE: VIEWPOINT’s episode: PRESS FREEDOM: THE PHILIPPINES LOCKDOWN AND SHUTDOWN]
On May 3, the world celebrated Press Freedom.
According to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, the Philippines fell to 138th spot from 136th out of 180 countries, a four-year consecutive drop.
In spite of the safeguards in the constitution that guarantee media autonomy and protection, the press has not always been impervious to state pressure, and now to red-tagging and media killings.
Center for Media and Responsibility reports that 19 journalists were killed from June 30, 2016 to April 30, 2021. Four of them were killed during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Recently, the house of a campus journalist in Bicol was raided by police, a day before press freedom day. And two days after the celebration, Cornelio Pepino, a radio reporter in Dumaguete was killed.
The pandemic and lockdown
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected a lot of industries including the media, and for Jonathan De Santos, NUJP chairman and [news] editor of [ ], the lockdown restricted journalists to do more on-field coverages.
He also said that many regional journalists are forced to rely on announcements and releases from officials and there are not enough details to contextualize the stories from the limited information that they get.
"A lot of stories from the community sana...hindi na umaabot sa atin." De Santos said.
A year after ABS-CBN was forced to go off-air, Jeff Canoy remembers the shutdown as a collective trauma.
"The floodgates are open and all the trauma from last year comes crashing."
He shared to Viewpoint his vivid memories as the network faced challenges on its operation, affecting the morale of the employees of the company.
"...but it's a sort of mixed feeling up to this point. Obviously, part of us is still raring to do some solid journalism and we feel that...what happened last year is just another challenge in how we gather news, and try to deliver news to the people and we're up to that challenge." Canoy said.
Canoy added that there are times when the trauma of what happened last year (referring to the shutdown in 2020) would surface and trigger a lot of emotions.
"Even the most mundane random things sort of trigger you".
He also remembered specifically the moment when he went to the office and swiped his access card and realized that it is not working anymore.
On August 31, 2020, ABS-CBN had retrenched employees after the Lower House of Congress denied the franchise renewal of the network.
A precedent to killing press freedom
When asked to elaborate on the press freedom issue of ABS-CBN shutdown, Jeff Canoy said that when the line of information was suddenly cut, and in many places ABS-CBN is the only source to get information, that's where the issue of the freedom of information and of the press came into light.
He recalled that Typhoons Roly and Ulysses in 2020 highlighted the effects of the shutdown in providing information to people-- whose only available television and radio network is ABS-CBN.
Canoy also mentioned that critical information did not reach many communities, the same way that community stories did not get national attention or spotlight.
"...right after the shutdown I was assigned to cover Typhoon Ambo in Aurora. Sa Aurora pa lang maraming places na ABS-CBN lang yung accessible sa free tv."
On August 28, 2020, 12 regional stations of ABS-CBN across the country had to air their final newscast.
Media incident under President Duterte
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines chairman Jonathan De Santos stressed that lawfare is the new tactic to silence the media, and it is not easy to say that it's safer now for the members of the press.
De Santos also explained that how President Duterte treats the press is a sign of his contribution to media threats and intimidation.
"It's not his fault but he has contributed to it.", De Santos said.
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility reported that there are at least 223 attacks and threats to journalists nationwide, and under the current administration of President Duerte 19 were killed.
Watch the full episode here: