“We reject the emerging narrative.”
A former media practitioner himself, Undersecretary Joel Egco should know better.
Egco, who heads the Presidential Task Force for Media Security, had the temerity to say that Manila Standard correspondent Jesus Malabanan—shot in the head while watching TV in his home—was most likely not killed in the line of duty because he only wrote “feel-good” stories.
“Don’t believe in the propaganda that journalists are being directly targeted here for being journalists. There’s an ocean of reasons,” Egco said—blithely ignoring the fact that at least 22 journalists have died since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed power in 2016.
That’s a fact, not propaganda.
Under this administration, journalists are being attacked – killed, threatened, insulted, persecuted – for daring to do their jobs in an environment that claims to value press freedom but tries to justify all the ways to stifle it.
To reach his assessment of Malabanan’s work, Egco did not reach out to any member of the Manila Standard’s news desk in any official manner. Nor did he or any member of his task force seek out our editors for comment on Malabanan’s work. Had he done his job, he would have known that Malabanan wrote about this administration’s bloody war on drugs, among other topics that can only “feel good” to killers.
Veteran journalist Manny Mogato, who with his Reuters team won a Pulitzer in 2018, said Malabanan helped them in their coverage of the drug war. Reuters in fact helped Malabanan hide in Samar after he received threats; Malabanan also sought the help of the task force in the same year, over security concerns.
Why, then, would somebody who wrote feel-good stories resort to these measures?
Egco seems to have based his assessment on a casual conversation on Facebook Messenger with a lone Manila Standard employee from another section, whom he immediately put on the defensive by asking whether Malabanan had any enemies.
Nobody is boasting that media practitioners are getting killed here. We are ashamed of this. We are making our outrage known, and hoping we would have leaders who would care enough to act decisively on this.
Finally, if there is anybody who is spouting propaganda, perhaps it is Egco and his task force. Last year, the Philippines “improved” its ranking in the Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)– from fifth to seventh most dangerous country for journalists, primarily because the court had ruled on the Ampatuan Massacre in December 2019.
In a press release carried by the Philippine News Agency in September last year, Egco said this was “proof that the country’s justice system in safeguarding press freedom is truly working under the Duterte administration.”
“With UNESCO acknowledging the finality of the Ampatuan Massacre, we can proudly proclaim to the world that any violence against our media workers will never go unpunished, that the so-called ‘culture of impunity’ against journalists in the country has finally come to an end,” Egco said.
The CPJ called out Philippine authorities for being quick to echo and tout this designation.
This year, the Philippines retained its 7th place in the impunity index – by any means never a reason to indulge in self-congratulation.
The essence of the task force is precisely to protect journalists, not prematurely exult in any marginal improvement in an index, or dismiss the killing of a journalist.
We reject the Palace narrative that all is well and that journalists are finally safe, because this is an insult to our colleagues who have been killed, and to all journalists who are still fighting daily, big and small battles, just to do their job.