Graphics by Geraldine Pearl Santos

Text by Luisa Sandoval
Graphics by Geraldine Pearl Santos

It’s that time of the year again. 

November lies in the transition from the normal days to the holiday season. In a month where horrific decorations are hung on stores and paranormal movies are shown in cinemas, something else makes this month truly horrifying – the annual grudge of remembering the gruesome fate that befell the 32 journalists who were among the 58 people slain in the Ampatuan Massacre in 2009.

The tragic fate of these journalists remains as one of the worst cases of human rights violations among media practitioners. It is also a horrid reminder of the existing press repression journalists experience today.

A decade after the Ampatuan Massacre, progressive organizations and individuals continue to demand justice. Yearly, journalists organize events and protests to commemorate  the incident. 

A photojournalist for almost four decades, UP Diliman professor Jimmy Domingo shared his experiences from when he first started as a journalist. 

At the height of martial law during the 1980s, Domingo was a first-year college student studying Civil Engineering at the National University. The spirit of student activism was strong, and he boldly participated in activities to fight for students’ rights and for the restoration of the student council in his university.

Because of his active participation in these protests, he, along with his fellow student activists, were suspended from the university in 1982 – and that was when his love for photography slowly came into place. His fellow activists would lend him their cameras, and as he was learning his way into the art of photojournalism, he slowly mastered the craft and found passion in it. 

Ang importante na pinaguusapan lagi noon ay yung safety. Nire-recognize namin noon na nandiyan yung danger, na ang threat sa citizens ay nandiyan at ang threat sa journalists ay nandiyan [rin],” Domingo said. “So hindi lang precaution yung pagtanggap na may threat to kailangan may safety measures.” 

(Safety has always been an important matter for us back then. We have always recognized the presence of danger; that the threat to citizens is present and so is the threat to journalists. So, it was not only about acknowledging the presence of threat but was also about safety measures.) 

Domingo further stressed that the fight for press freedom has never grown weak through time in fact, it has only intensified especially in today’s context where technology has allowed for a variety of platforms for the media to utilize. He also said that while there is a continuing fight for press freedom, the repression towards journalists also remains rampant. 

“I would say na malala in terms yung dami kasi pag repressive ang isang regime, kailangan niyang patayin ang press freedom eh. […] Hindi [ito] nawala, bagkus lalong tumingkad yung repression ng press freedom at sa maraming paraan,” he stated.

(I would say that press oppression today has gotten worse in terms of quantity, because if a regime is repressive, it needs to suppress its press freedom. That is why for me, press oppression never was gone, in fact, it even grew stronger in various ways.) 

And while it is true there is a continuing battle for the freedom of the press in the country, campus journalists who write about issues inside and outside the campus for the studentry also share the same plight.

According to Adrianne Paul Aniban, editor-in-chief of Outcrop, the official student publication of UP Baguio, school publications experience press repression in the form of the insufficient funds.

Ang primaryang kinakaharap naming balakid sa kasalukuyan ay yung kawalan ng pondo para sa mga institusyon tulad ng Outcrop na nagsisilbi na ‘ding porma ng campus press repression dahil direktang naaapektuhan ng kawalan ng pondo yung paglalabas namin ng printed issues,” Aniban explained.

(The primary challenge that we are currently facing right now is having no funds for institutions such as Outcrop, which serves as press repression because it directly affects how we release our printed issues.)

For Aniban, the need for genuine journalism is what journalists strive for. However, he said it becomes challenging to attain when the media and publications are being oppressed. He further stressed that it is the mandate of journalists to expose the truth, and the presence of press repression hinders them from fully upholding their mandate. 

“The truth must be told, not censored nor manipulated according to anyone’s interests,” Aniban stressed.

Two individuals shared their insights toward press freedom in the country one is a journalist who witnessed and experienced the dangers during the Martial Law period, and the other is a student journalist who represents the youth today. But as Domingo said, the fight for press freedom has never stopped and never will stop, especially in today’s political situation.

Progressive alliances and institutions such as Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Vera Files and Rappler are being red-tagged as “Leftists” who aim to oust the current administration for writing about the truth. 

The number of journalists being blatantly killed also continue to rise. According to Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), a total number of 12 journalists have been slain from the beginning of Duterte’s presidency until November 2018. The number continues to add up. It is clear that the struggle for press freedom still exists. The walls built to defend the press in the country is wearing thin, growing weaker little by little. 

But the fight does not end there; the walls may be deteriorating, but in the long run, it still stands firm. 

For if journalists are held under threat and suppressed from delivering the truth, that is where the horror of it all lies.

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