139 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 300,000 sq. km.
Population: 92 681 453
Languages: Tagalog and English
Head of state: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, since January 2001
Philippines media are free but subjected to levels of violence that nothing and nobody seems able or willing to stop. Murders and assaults against journalists and in particular against local radio presenters are frequent. Mindanao island is currently one of the world’s most dangerous regions for journalists.
Violence against journalists is fed by corruption and links between politicians and criminal networks and constitutes a permanent danger to journalists who are too critical. Although the government reacted a few years ago by setting up a Task Force within the police responsible for investigating murders of journalists, the impunity enjoyed by those who order and carry out the killings fuels the violent climate. Police have so far proved incapable of arresting those who instigated the murders of journalists Marlene Esperat and Edgar Damalerio de Mindanao, for example.
Eight journalists were killed in the country during 2008, seven of them working for local radio stations. In 2009, Ernesto Rollin, a presenter on local DxSY-AM radio was shot dead at point blank range by two men on a motorbike wearing ski masks while on his way to Ozamiz City, Mindanao island to present his daily morning programme. Three other journalists escaped murder attempts, including Nilo Labares, presenter of a programme on a station of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) in March 2009, after he exposed corruption and illegal activities such as gambling and secret gaming rooms.
The army is regularly accused of human rights violations in the regions where they are fighting Islamist or communist guerrillas. They have also been accused of threatening journalists suspected of having sympathy with the rebels. And in the south of Mindanao island, death squads controlled by politicians sow terror among human rights activists and the independent press. Manila has remained mysteriously silent about these abuses, apparently anxious to avoid upsetting powerful political supporters.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has said that press freedom is one of her priorities. But some family members, including her husband, Miguel Arroyo, have threatened media freedom by bringing a large number of cases against journalists. These reporters are not always above criticism, given the hard-hitting tone that can be found in the Philippines press. But the government has done nothing to decriminalise press offences.
For their part, parliamentarians confronted by criticism of the press have drawn up a draft law, the Right of Reply Bill (RORB). This law provides for “any person accused of a crime or criticised for failings in conduct” to immediately demand a right of reply in the media concerned. Media who fail to publish the replies face heavy fines, prison sentences and censorship. Philippines journalists’ organisations have called the RORB an “act of terrorism against the media”.