FREEDOM House has identified the Philippines as among the countries that experienced the most significant declines in press freedom last year.

The decline was due to a continued high level of physical violence directed against Filipino journalists and increasing official intolerance toward investigative journalists, the U.S.-based organization said as it released on Friday the study, “Freedom of the Press 2006: A Global Survey of Media Independence,” in time for World Press Freedom Day on May 3. (click here for the full text of Freedom House’s press release)

Freedom House said press freedom suffered major setbacks mainly in Asia (East Timor, Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand), Africa (Uganda, Botswana, and Ethiopia), and the former Soviet Union (Russia and Uzbekistan).

“These findings are a source of real concern,” Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor said. “We find particularly disturbing the deterioration in press freedom in countries that had made overall democratic progress — including in press freedom — in the past. We need to remain vigilant in noting the erosion of press freedom in democratically elected countries,” she added.

Of the 194 countries and territories examined, 73 (38 percent) were rated “free,” while 54 (28 percent) were rated “partly free” and 67 (34 percent) were rated “not free.” The Philippines was rated “partly free.”

Freedom House’s report on the Philippines:

Philippines Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 8
Political Environment: 21
Economic Environment: 11
Total Score: 40

The Philippine press has historically ranked among the freest, most vibrant, and outspoken — if often sensationalized — in Southeast Asia. The Philippine constitution guarantees that “no law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech, of expression, or of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” Legally, press freedom has few limitations (e.g., libel, national security, privacy, and obscenity laws). There is no licensing of newspapers or journalists.

While a censorship board broadly has the power to edit or ban content, government censorship does not generally enforce political orientation. In June, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism published the wiretapped conversation that would confirm electoral fraud, launching the presidential impeachment campaign that would dominate Philippine politics for much of the year. Press coverage of the impeachment trial, the controversial EO464, and President Gloria Arroyo’s “cha-cha” (charter change) campaign was wide-ranging and extensive. Online media was particularly active, allowing the public to comment directly on trial developments. According to the Philippines Journalism Review, media coverage demonstrated less bias during Arroyo’s impeachment trial than during Estrada’s in 2000-2001. The Arroyo administration has generally shown considerable intolerance toward the media, especially foreign, for exposing corruption. Controversy surrounded the president’s June 27 “I’m sorry” press conference, where only ten “pre-selected” reporters were allowed to ask questions and representatives of international news organizations were barred from the event.

Journalist-targeted violence remains the greatest threat to press freedom in the country. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), ten journalists were killed in 2005, in addition to numerous assassination attempts and death threats. The general escalation in journalist-targeted violence over the last several years earned the Philippines a ranking second only to Iraq as the “most dangerous place for journalists to operate” by the International Federation of Journalists in January and as the single “most dangerous country for journalists” by the Committee to Protect Journalists in May. Several cases involved journalists well known for exposing corruption scandals or regularly critical of the government, army, or police, with some watchdog groups alleging that the “unknown gunmen” were hired by government officials. The case of Maria (sic) Garcia Esperat — shot by two gunmen in her home in March — is among the most prominent. Garcia Esperat was a columnist in Mindanao, known for her corruption reporting and especially harsh criticism of the Department of Agriculture. In early May, Klein Cantoneros, whose radio program frequently featured the alleged corruption of Mindanao local officials and illegal gambling, was shot seven times. A mid-year investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists attributed the recent spike in murders to a culture of corruption, guns, and lawlessness.

Despite the Arroyo administration’s launch of a $92,000 Press Freedom Fund to curb violence against the media, a general culture of impunity continues to predominate, and critics claim that journalists’ killers are not brought to trial intentionally. In cases where suspects have been identified and arrested, the person or persons who ordered the killing generally have not. Claiming that more journalists have been killed since 2001 under the Arroyo administration than during Marcos’s martial law regime, the NUJP has criticized the government for not doing more to prevent the murders, and the International Press Institute has identified government non-intervention as a critical part of the problem.

The end of the year brought two landmark developments, however. In November, former police officer Guillermo Wapile was convicted for the murder of Edgar Damalerio, marking the first conviction among 22 cases of journalist killings since the wave of violence began in 2000. In December, citing the excessive influence of a local Mindanao official (and accused mastermind of the murder) on court proceedings, the Philippine Supreme Court ordered the transfer of Esperat Garcia’s murder trial from the island of Mindanao to the central city of Cebu. The CPJ heralded the court’s decision as a “blow to the culture of impunity in the Philippines.” Yet, just days later, George Benjoan, a radio and newspaper journalist known for his aggressive reporting on official corruption, was shot and killed in Cebu.

Most print and electronic media is privately owned, while many television and radio stations are government owned, although they too present a wide variety of views. Since 1986, however, there has been a general trend toward concentration of ownership, with two broadcast networks (ABS-CBN and GMA), owned by companies of wealthy families, dominant among audiences and advertising. Often criticized for lacking journalistic ethics, the press is likely to reflect the political or economic orientations of owners and patrons, and special interests reportedly use inducements to solicit coverage and stories favorable to their positions. The government does not restrict Internet access.

(In December, Freedom House already noted a decline in the state of freedom in the Philippines, resulting in a downgrade from “Free” to “Partly Free” status for the country.)

9 Responses to Freedom House reports press freedom decline in RP


Juan Makabayan

April 29th, 2006 at 10:20 pm

“Since 1986, however, there has been a general trend toward concentration of ownership, with two broadcast networks (ABS-CBN and GMA), owned by companies of wealthy families, dominant among audiences and advertising. Often criticized for lacking journalistic ethics, the press is likely to reflect the political or economic orientations of owners and patrons, and special interests reportedly use inducements to solicit coverage and stories favorable to their positions.”



Juan Makabayan

April 29th, 2006 at 10:34 pm

Vice President Noli de Castro, former Senator and petetioner for the VP post Loren Legarda, and other ABS CBN personalities who won in a local or national elections crossed over from being news reporters to newsmakers.

Could they have served the country better if they had stayed as media people?



April 29th, 2006 at 11:45 pm

As in many parts of the democratic space, competition is not only the best way to combat oligopolies and unfree markets, it is also the best way to ensure that the public gets the best service at the optimal price. It therefore makes no sense to restrict the ownership of mass media in the Philippines to “Filipinos”. Not only is it unenforceable, given the willingness of many Filipinos to serve as dummies, but it is also senseless in the age of global information networks.But the dummy system is not enough attraction for serious foreign media entities to sink real bucks here. Not only that, when investors in free countries, such as Filipino Americans, own stock in publicly held media companies, those media companies won’t be so easy to take down or harass as the Palace has shown a predileciton for. I doubt very much, for example, that the Daily Tribune would’ve been raided and treated as such if they were owned by the New York Times. Or if CNN owned ABSCBN, that the government would do something as foolish as ordering an investigation of 60 minutes for sedition. That really only happens in places like China.

But we must take the Freedom House observation with great concern. Their global perspective places us in context: among the most repressive, and heedless, rogue states of the world. One day we are going to wake up and it won’t be the Philippines any more, such as it is, but Uganda or Burma.


Cecile Impens

April 30th, 2006 at 2:22 am

Philippines freedom of press and expression has always been considered shaky. Good number of journalists and radio reporters been killed lately, simply because they revealed the truth. Scandalous and tragic, as I believe that Philippines is still or very much a democratic country. Apparently, this is no longer entirely the case.



April 30th, 2006 at 5:07 am

We often tell people to be objective. When Filipinos try to impart their perception to fellow Filipinos, we often get this response. When foreign entities make this kind of observations, we must stop and think twice before denouncing them. They are merely observers who gather information therefore cannot be biased.

We are now in a state of semi-democracy if you ask me. The only thing that prevents this administration from declaring an all-out war against the press is their uncertainty of how the populace would react. So all they can do now is to scare the living hell out of these journalists.

I agree with you Rizalist. But who knows, should the administration start a crackdown, I guess they will be in for a big surprise. This might be the catalyst that would bring the entire palace down.



April 30th, 2006 at 6:17 am

I am sure others who attended last week’s Freedom in Asian Cyberspace Conference will agree that compared to nearly every other Asian country, the situation in the Philippines was actually better–over all–for press freedom, until the Gloriagate scandal, the need to distort the true meaning of the anti-wiretapping law; the need to muzzle media, especially those capable of publishing mp3s; the impeachment, the rallies, the need to prevent a dangerous imitation of Edsa Dos; chacha, etc. This impression may seem strange considering I do accept the statistic about numbers killed, falling just behind Iraq. But there are other statistics that really have to be taken into account, for example, how many journalists have disappeared and are in jail; how many newspapers, radio TV shut down or allowed? Is there free access to foreign and domestic news?

The significance of the Freedom House Report is the NOTICE that a big change has indeed occurred for freedom of the press in the Philippines. It informs other pro-democracy forces all over the world of this change because Freedom House is a globally recognized watchdog of such developments, respected by the US Govt, as evidenced by Pres. Bush recent speech before Freedom House’s principals and supporters last month, in which he praised this essential INFORMATION reporting and documenting role of Freedom House. The White House clearly pays attention to FH because in last month’s State Dept Country reports on freedom and democracy, I could clearly see traces of last December’s Freedom House downgrade of the Philippines to PARTIALLY FREE in its 2005 Annual report.

But because we ARE somewhat better off still in some respects than most Asian countries, we must guard that freedom not only for ourselves, but for them, in China, Burma, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia, VietNam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, who also need our help as Fellow Travelers on the same Long Road to Freedom.



May 1st, 2006 at 4:51 am

I agree, but like I pointed out, to openly crackdown on the press will only hurt the administration more in terms of credibility in the perception of the international community. With our sagging economy in desperate need of foreign support, this is the last thing GMA would do. Our Asian neighbors have all proven that they can survive without the aid of other nations.


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