Statement of the Foundation for Media Alternatives on the Arrest of Media Persons in relation to the Manila Peninsula incident of 29 November 2007

Friday 30 November 2007

Yesterday, in yet another brushfire igniting in the Philippine political landscape under the Arroyo Administration, a naval lieutenant and elected senator of the Republic, a decorated Army general, and about thirty (30) of their military comrades, reiterated their withdrawal of support for the President and called for the creation of a new government.

They walked out of a hearing of their pending case of rebellion, and holed up in a 5-star hotel to deliver their statement. Whether as an exercise of political self-sacrifice to rally the disenchanted, or as a signal for an attempted power grab by military adventurists-they again brought to the surface the simmering political crisis which has not seen any closure since 2004.

We do not wish to comment on the the so-called “rebellious” act of these men, for these involve complex political questions which are still being debated in many fora.

But we feel compelled to raise our voice on the disturbing State response to the incident, in a way which affects all Filipinos and threatens our cherished freedoms.

After re-arresting the rebels, the police and military-clearly sanctioned by the highest political leadership-placed under detention last night scores of media persons and journalists who were covering the event since it first broke. Initial reports indicate more than thirty (30) members of the working press were handcuffed, detained and bused to a police camp for “processing” together with the military rebels.

Justifications for these unprecedented acts were ostensibly to verify their identities and check if any of the rebels were posing as media people, even as all media persons possessed clear identification, and many of them were well-known national broadcasters or beat reporters.

In a country which in the past twenty years has seen two popular uprisings, numerous coup attempts, and scores of violent political encounters, this is the first and only time where the Philippine working press has been treated as suspects and lumped together with suspected wrongdoers for merely doing their job as media persons.

We see this as a brazen attack of the State on the autonomy and freedom of the press. We believe that this act of arbitrarily detaining and investigating media without just cause creates a chilling effect on media practitioners and even ordinary citizens, and establishes a dangerous precedent on how to handle those who deliver vital information to all in times of political conflict.

We cannot allow this to happen. A line has indeed been crossed in the name of national security. And it is a line which has protected media since 1987 as an essential pillar of a free and democratic society. Such an act by the State brings us disturbingly close to the abyss of martial rule, which we all fought to turn back twenty one years ago.

Let us not forget that this is a State which has been taken to task on many issues which impinge on communication rights-problematic portions the Human Security Act, Executive Order 464, and most infamously, the extra-judicial killings of hundreds of journalists and activists.

We call on all media organizations to challenge this disturbing development in all legal fora possible, and for all democratic forces to rally the people in raising our voices against this threat to our rights and freedoms. There can be no free society without a free media.

In this struggle to assert our communication rights, we draw strength on the example of Andres Bonifacio, whose birth anniversary we commemorate today, as a beacon of courage and steadfastness against tyranny and oppression.

30 November 2007

Al Alegre/Executive Director, FMA
info AT fma DOT ph

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) statement
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) statement
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) statement

Author: --- (Al Alegre)
Contact: alalegre AT fma DOT ph
Source: Foundation for Media Alternatives
Date: 12/04/2007
Location: MANILA, Philippines


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