We are hopeful that the number of killings of journalists and human rights workers will go down because we are working together, and because the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists is no longer just a piece of paper.
This was emphasized in the opening statement of Roby Alampay, Regional Advisor for Asia of International Media Support (IMS), as members of the press and officers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) came together in a Learning Exchange on safety and human rights in Clark, Pampanga, on August 25.
The Learning Exchange was organized under the European Union-supported project, “Safeguarding Journalists and Human Rights in the Philippines” (2021-2022), implemented by IMS and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC).
Alampay highlighted the importance of various stakeholders joining forces to bring down the number of killings and attacks against journalists and human rights workers. He noted, however, that violence against the press, HRDs, and CSOs in general, have evolved especially in digital and online forms, threatening not just the physical, but also mental and social well-being of persons. In any case, he said, the Learning Exchange provided an opportunity to discuss lessons learned and how to address the safety gaps.
Stakeholders from the government, media, civil society, and the AFP were represented during the exchange. The media participants included journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler, CLTV Pampanga, GNN TV44 Pampanga, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the Pampanga Press Council, the second oldest press council in the country.
There was a wide range of representation from the AFP, with military officers of varying ranks representing the following units and offices: Center for Law of Armed Conflict (CLOAC), The Judge Advocate General (TJAG), Civil-Military Operations (OJ7), Civil Relations Service (CRSAFP), Tactical Operations Wing Northern Luzon (TOWNOL), Tactical Operation Group 3 (TOG3), Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM), 703rd Infantry “Agila” Brigade (703Bde), 91st Infantry “Sinagtala” Battalion (91IB), 84th Infantry (Victorious) Battalion (84IB), 70th Infantry Battalion (70IB), 7th Civil-Military Operations Battalion (7CMOBn), 3 Mech Battalion (3MechBn), 7 Division Public Affairs Office (7DPAO), Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF-NCR), and the Public Affairs Office (PAOAFP).
Atty. Jacqueline de Guia, Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), discussed the international standards, constitutional guarantees, and national policies for human rights, freedom of expression, and press freedom. She shared the CHR’s specific protection measures for media and human rights advocates, which include legal advice, assistance, and counseling; financial assistance; issuance of statements and public education and information through various platforms; the Tanggol Karapatan Online E-Lawyering reporting hotline for cases of alleged human rights violations; and multi-stakeholder partnerships for the protection of media, among others.
In a panel discussion, three resource persons tackled the role of civil society, media, and state security forces in safeguarding press freedom and human rights in a democracy: BGen. Joel Alejandro S. Nacnac PA, Director of the Center for Law of Armed Conflict of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP-CLOAC); Edgardo B. Cabalitan Jr., Deputy Secretary General for Campaigns of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA); and Felipe Salvosa II of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and PressOne.PH.
During the discussion, BGen. Nacnac discussed the constitutional basis for the AFP’s mandate in connection with the protection of press freedom and human rights, as well as the current thrusts of the AFP in connection with its human rights work, such as the creation of media corps at all levels of the command, engagement and training together with the media and civil society groups, lectures on the security of media practitioners, signing of memoranda of understanding with the CHR, and submission of reports to the CHR, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Department of Justice (DOJ), among other government and multinational agencies.
Cabalitan, on the other hand, underlined the importance of civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights and the need to enhance democratic spaces. In his presentation, he noted, “Because civil society is independent of the state doesn’t mean that it must always criticize and oppose the state. By making the state at all levels more accountable, responsive, inclusive, effective—and hence more legitimate—a vigorous civil society strengthens citizens’ respect for the state and promotes their positive engagement with it.”
Meanwhile, Salvosa discussed journalism’s role in a democracy and shared different stakeholders’ efforts to protect journalists, including press councils and media-citizens councils, publications such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Safety Guide, the creation of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), and the implementation of the Philippine Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.
In the open forum moderated by Red Batario, Executive Director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), Philippine Daily Inquirer journalist Tonette Orejas expressed appreciation for the panelists’ inputs; at the same time, she pointed out the importance of sharing a “protocol or manual of operations” that will help journalists continue their work unhindered. She further shared past conflicts between the media and the military and how these have affected their relations.
In response, BGen. Nacnac noted, “We look at you as partners. That’s why we are interested now to perhaps have an MOU with IMS and AIJC… for future engagements and trainings so that we will be able to have more appreciation on the part of the AFP and media practitioners as well.”
Rowena Paraan, Consultant of the UNESCO Office in Jakarta, discussed the work and safety challenges of women working in media and human rights, focusing on harassment due to their work, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination. She talked about specific cases of verbal and physical harassment against women journalists and the sources of such threats and attacks, as well as the types of discriminatory practices they encounter such as being assigned to “soft” stories and the lack of training for female reporters.
At the end of the exchange, Alampay called on the participants to sustain dialogues, partnerships, and other initiatives toward fulfilling the shared mission of safeguarding journalists and human rights workers.