Word recently reached us from Bambina Olivares Wise about her mother's plight as an editor in the Philippines. We share her story, and some additional background here. Although the state of emergency has been lifted, it remains an uncogenial place for journalists critical of the regime.
My mother is not a novelist or a literary figure per se, but she is one of the most fearless journalists in the Philippines, with a reputation for integrity and feistiness. Our family owns The Daily Tribune, a daily broadsheet published in Manila that is widely regarded as critical of the present regime under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. I don't know how familiar you are with Philippine politics - a circus most of the time - but Friday's declaration of a state of emergency following an alleged coup plot to overthrow the (illegitimate) government was swiftly followed by a raid on The Daily Tribune. The government is unapologetic about the raid and ominously threatens further action. And all this on the 20th anniversary of the people power revolution that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose Martial Law rule was marked by the curtailment of press freedom.
Additionally, the New York-based Committee to Project Journalists has asked President Arroyo “to reverse the steps” her government has taken to control the media and to provide an environment where journalists can work freely, without fear. "Democracy in the Philippines has been threatened in the years since the 1986 revolution, but no administration has used the restrictive means your government has taken," the CPJ said.
Official statements from both organizations after the jump.
Here at home, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said, "The current attacks against the press are obviously needless, unless these fulfill a larger design to hold absolute unquestioned power." The CPJ letter and CMFR statement were issued in the wake of the raid on the Daily Tribune and arrest of Inquirer columnist Randy David.
The CPJ letter: Your Excellency: The Committee to Protect Journalists views with alarm the threat to press freedom in the Philippines during the state of emergency you declared on February 24. Your administration’s tactics — raiding a newspaper, stationing troops in front of television and radio stations, and threatening to issue government editorial guidelines — jeopardize the democratic advances of the last 20 years. Early Saturday, Philippine National Police officers raided the offices of the Daily Tribune, seized editorial materials, and threatened to take over the paper. In addition, troops were deployed around the Manila compounds of the Philippines’ two largest TV networks, ABS-CBN and GMA-7. These actions — combined with threats to take over media entities for "aiding" your administration’s enemies or violating unspecified editorial guidelines — send a profoundly disturbing message about the limits of press freedom. They also serve to prevent journalists from accurately reporting on the crisis in your country. Democracy in the Philippines has been threatened in the years since the 1986 revolution, but no administration has used the restrictive means your government has taken. It’s deeply disturbing to see political unrest threaten the precious and deeply held concepts of press freedom and democracy. Ensuring a free and unfettered press is essential to preserving the democratic principles that re-emerged in the Philippines 20 years ago. We ask you to reverse the steps you have taken to control the media, and give them reassurances that they will be allowed to continue their work without fear in the future. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. Sincerely, Ann Cooper Executive Director
CMFR’s statement: THE Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility strongly opposes President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s declaration of a State of National Emergency and urges her to withdraw it. The Center also condemns the suppression of democratic rights and liberties committed in its name. The government has announced that it will take over media outlets as necessary. This, together with the raid against The Daily Tribune and the arrest and questioning of columnist (Philippine Daily Inquirer) Randy David, together with 35 other civilians, signal the intent of government to limit the capacity of the press to further investigate and criticize government actions. The Center is likewise wary of the veiled threat of General Order no. 5 against the media. This was followed by the not-so veiled threat of Philippine National Police Director Gen. Arturo Lomibao. He said that PNP would take over any media organization that would not follow “standards set by the government.” These actions follow up the failure of this administration to take strong steps to stop violence against journalists and media practitioners who work in the community press. In 2005 alone, seven journalists had been killed and no one has been jailed for it. President Corazon Aquino, who withstood seven coup attempts during her term, never had to close down a single newspaper. The press was left to cover the crises without government guidelines. The current attacks against the press are obviously needless, unless these fulfill a larger design to hold absolute unquestioned power. Clearly, the actions of President Arroyo reflect her failure to understand and appreciate press freedom as a core value of Philippine society. We call on all Filipinos to defend press freedom as their right as it is the only way they can get the information they need as citizens of a democracy. This right is protected and preserved by no less than the Philippine Constitution. CMFR asks its allies around the world to express its solidarity with this cause and to protest most vigorously the current suppression of the free press in the Philippines.