Helpdesks, hotline numbers, social media accessibility—these are among the media and public safety mechanisms being enhanced by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) amid the pandemic.
These were emphasized by CHR Executive Director Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia in her keynote speech at the online launch of the European Union-funded project, “Safeguarding Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines” (2021-2022), implemented by International Media Support (IMS) and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC).
Organized as part of the 2021 World Press Freedom Day celebrations, the project launch event on May 28 centered on CHR’s plans to boost its mechanisms for media safety, in particular, as part of the Commission’s contribution to the implementation of the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists (PPASJ).
The PPASJ is a landmark document anchored in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which now guides all stakeholders in defending the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. It was developed in a multi-stakeholder participatory process under a previous EU-supported project by IMS and AIJC, “Safeguarding Press Freedom in the Philippines” (2018-2020).
“I hope that with this new contribution, we can give additional push towards the full realization of the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists,” said Rafael de Bustamante, Deputy Head of the Political, Press and Information Section of the European Union Delegation to the Philippines. “The plan can only work and yield desired results if everybody is on board… We are happy that civil society, academic institutions and government bodies are here.”
De Guia noted that in 2018, CHR issued a resolution formalizing the creation of a Task Force on Media-Related Extrajudicial Killings to monitor and investigate attacks on the press. The Task Force taps CHR’s regional offices in Bicol, Cebu, and Cotabato as “focal points for investigation and consolidation of cases and information concerning media safety and welfare in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.”
Media workers and citizens across the country may also reach CHR through its helpdesks. “We have helpdesks here at the central office as well as in the regional offices,” de Guia said. “I have faith in those helpdesks because they are directly under me, and that’s the reason why, on a daily basis, we are able to churn out cases for investigation to the different units of the CHR including regional offices.”
Moreover, CHR collaborates with different organizations in providing capacity building for journalists and media workers, including training on mental health for those covering the pandemic. It also offers the “Tanggol Karapatan Online E-Lawyering” service to the public.
De Guia underlined that taking a “multi-sector, multifaceted approach” can “bring protection of journalists and media workers to a larger awareness and action.” She added, “As we call for truth and accountability for cases of human rights violations, and as we incessantly pierce through the shroud of impunity that prevents justice, we continue to solicit your support in calling for better respect and protection of human rights of all, as well as in CHR’s pursuit of doing its own impartial, independent work for the human rights cause.”
Reactors from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) expressed solidarity with the CHR and their support for the enhanced safety mechanisms.
“There are signs today that the Plan of Action may indeed be a living document—one that bears fruit, one that grows and thrives in cooperative and collaborative ventures,” said CMFR Executive Director Melinda Quintos de Jesus. “Who knows where that can lead us? And so we welcome, with hope, this initiative to build this special mechanism that can surely enhance and expand current efforts of media advocates, for the advocates work with very little power.”
“Having an independent constitutional commission in the lead of this mechanism will hopefully help ensure that incident reports and complaints will not be lost in the labyrinth of the bureaucracy,” said NUJP Chairperson Jonathan de Santos. “We hope as well that this mechanism provides us a way forward in coordinating with and relating to police and military personnel who are duty bearers as well as partners in ensuring the safety of journalists and in guaranteeing our civil liberties and rights.”
PNP Human Rights Affairs Office Chief PBGen. Vincent S. Calanoga recognized the media’s role and acknowledged the role of the police in media safety. He urged all stakeholders to work together to address attacks against the press.
“Media is an indispensable partner in policing. They help us reach larger members of the community and help us gather information necessary in the performance of our police work,” said PBGen. Calanoga. “The PNP remains firm in its commitment to ensure freedom of the press, to ensure human rights for our media personalities.”
According to PAHRA Secretary General Ellecer Carlos, the mechanisms being discussed are “very important,” but at the same time, he noted, “We need to free up the badly needed civic space so that once again, healthy human rights, political and democratic discourse can take place. Thoughts and words, spoken or written, as well as direct peaceful action and participation are more powerful than even the most entrenched culture of violence.”
The attendees of the project launch included journalists and other content producers, human rights defenders (HRDs), and project stakeholders from the media, the academe, CSOs, government, and representatives of the European Union Delegation to the Philippines.
The EU-supported project aims to establish an enabling environment that is necessary for journalists, HRDs, and other content producers to hold decision-makers to account, as well as provide the public with the information needed for making informed decisions and participating in democratic processes.