The Philippines ranks fifth on the Global Impunity Index. Based on data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international watchdog guarding media freedom worldwide, our country has had the shameful distinction of being among the top five on this index for five years straight. There has been no improvement in the way state actors have treated journalists and other media practitioners; CPJ takes note, in fact, of a worsening trend.
These statistics should be a cause for alarm–for the Filipino people in general, but specifically for peasant advocates who count on media platforms to report on abuses suffered by the democratic majority of our population, the peasantry. Both corporate media and alternative or independent media function as channels for publicizing violent landgrabs, police harassment of peasant leaders, and military occupations of farming communities. They also serve as an urgent resource for finding out ways of resisting fascist and feudal attacks, from mass mobilizations and pocket protests to fact-finding missions and policy recommendations or positions. Aside from grassroots organizing, corporate and alternative media are crucial ways of propagating the need for and urgency of enacting genuine agrarian reform.
ABS-CBN only the latest target
The ongoing threat to shut down ABS-CBN—first, through serial verbal harassment by President Duterte himself; next by the dilly-dallying of lawmakers in taking up the media conglomerate’s franchise in congress; finally, by Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo-warranto bid to revoke its franchise—is only the latest among the state’s attacks on press freedom. A vibrant peasant movement requires press freedom for the propagation of our advocacy of land justice, and democracy needs a vibrant peasant movement if it is truly in the service of the majority.
By flexing fascist muscle on what may be the country’s biggest media conglomerate, the Duterte regime makes an example of ABS-CBN. If it can muzzle a powerful Lopez-owned entity that spans the full range of media–from so-called ‘free’ TV and radio to print and digital–how much more damaging can it be to smaller dissenting outfits with no profit motive like progressive media? The congress’ attack on ABS-CBN, backed by the SolGen’s legal maneuver, creates a chilling effect that pressures journalists of all stripes to toe the Duterte administration’s line.
Attack on Eastern Vista
On February 7, 2020, community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio was among five activists arrested in a malicious raid by at least 50 policemen in full tactical gear. They were accosted and made to kneel at the office of Eastern Vista, an independent media outfit of which Cumpio is executive director, before policemen planted the area with improvised explosives and sub-machineguns.
As early as mid-December, Cumpio had been tailed by motorcycle riders in Tacloban City. A week prior to the raid, an unidentified man had looked for Cumpio on Eastern Vista premises, carrying a photo of the journalist as well as a band of flowers. The visit was followed by incessant surveillance. Cumpio is also the radio anchor of Lingganay han Kamatuoran and a broadcaster for community radio Radyo Tacloban; now she numbers among the Tacloban 5 who are part of the Duterte regime’s growing number of political prisoners.
Sustained attack on journalists in the countryside
The raid in Tacloban is reminiscent of the equally malicious raid in the offices of progressive organizations last October in Bacolod. Among the 57 activists detained was community journalist Anne Krueger of alternative news platform Paghimutad who had publicized in detail the manner by which the raid and their roughshod arrest were conducted. Like the office of Eastern Vista, the offices raided in Bacolod were also planted by authorities with firearms and explosives to justify their harassment.
The raid was followed by the murder of broadcast journalist Dindo Generoso in Dumaguete City. Two of three assailants have been identified as policemen–a finding that supports the Philippines’ top-five ranking in the Global Impunity Index. Generoso was the 13th journalist killed under the Duterte regime.
Around this time last year, alternative media network Altermidya took measures to fight back against coordinated distributed-denial-of-service or DDoS attacks on the websites of progressive news platforms Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, and Kodao Productions. The attacks had begun amid serial redtagging online and on-ground by state personnel, and in the wake of more journalists arrested during the violent dispersal of a strike by NutriAsia unionists.
Condemn state terror and hypocrisy
Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo stands with Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan, and other peasant organizations in underscoring the vital role played by media organizations and practitioners–particularly journalists–in the struggle for genuine agrarian reform. It is a struggle for nothing less than social justice which, in a predominantly agrarian country like the Philippines, can only begin with land justice. It takes the mobilization of all available media platforms to inform the public of the urgency of #FreeLandDistribution and the development of the local agricultural industry.
Duterte and his supporters claim slamming ABS-CBN serves the interests of the people by holding it accountable for biased reportage, tax evasion, foreign ownership, and even contractualization. What this claim whitewashes is the fact that the state itself runs well-oiled machinery for the legal propagation of misinformation through official fake news factories like the Philippine News Agency and the Presidential Communications Operations Office as well as unofficial troll farms; the state itself abets and institutionalizes tax evasion through economic zones with tax privileges as well as tax reform packages that ease big corporations of tax burdens; the state itself undermines economic protectionism enshrined in the constitution by railroading charter change that allows foreign ownership of basic utilities, social services, media, and land; and the state itself promotes contractualization with President Duterte himself proclaiming that guaranteeing job security by ending precarious work conditions disrupts the “balance” between capitalists and labor.
We enjoin the broader public to stand with the peasant sector in condemning the Duterte regime’s two-faced attack on ABS-CBN. By attacking this media conglomerate, it attacks press freedom at large–and by attacking press freedom Duterte assaults democracy and institutes his fascist dictatorship. We cannot stand idly by as he mobilizes state resources to facilitate landgrabs, suppress dissent, and deodorize his attacks with fabricated press releases unrivalled by genuine reportage.
We have been lied to long enough, our farmers have been doublecrossed often enough, and we have had enough of state terror facilitating feudal and imperialist interests to the detriment of our peasantry.
#DefendPressFreedom from fascists!
#StopTheAttacks on journalists and other peasant advocates!
Struggle for genuine agrarian reform!