The emotional intensity surrounding this year’s general elections may be unsurpassed in Philippine history. We understand and, indeed, and applaud the passion people have shown as they choose who next to lead the country for the next six years.
Apart from the bothersome demagoguery—which has normally attended every Philippine election—we are worried about the frenzies of hatred among individuals who do not share the same political views, and against journalists whose reports and stories some quarters dislike because these casts a light on some aspects of the lives of their choices in the ballot.
In our monitoring of the plight of colleagues covering the campaign trail, we note a pattern of harassments perpetrated by supporters of Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) presidential bet Davao City Mayor Rodrrigo Duterte, to wit:
· Vera Files editor Ellen Tordesillas was bullied in social media for her effort to verify the existence of the assailed BPI bank account of Mayor Duterte;
· Alleging biased reporting, supporters harassed numerous times ABS-CBN reporter Raffy Santos while following Duterte in the campaign trail;
· Jacque Manabat was cursed by a supporter after a man identified her as an ABS-CBN reporter;
· A camera crew of ABS-CBN reporter Doris Bigornia was thrown punches during a coverage;
· On Friday morning, May 6, a wreath was laid outside the ABS-CBN station in Davao City bearing the words: “RIP ABS-CBN”;
· There have been calls in social media for an “occupy ABS-CBN” in Davao and Cagayan de Oro cities; and
· There have been numerous posts in social media inciting hate and anger, especially against ABS-CBN reporters.
While the attacks by Duterte sympathizers against the journalists appear unorganized, spontaneous and bereft of official sanction, we welcome the previous instances when Duterte’s spokesman, Peter Tiu Laviἧa, called for calm among their supporters. A renewed call may be needed at this point given the already heated atmosphere as we move closer to Election Day, not just from Duterte’s camp but from those of other candidates, as well, since we cannot discount the possibility of rival operators exploiting the situation for their own ends.
We hope that such call for calm, when issued, will help ease the social tension that our colleagues, especially those from ABS-CBN, will be facing and dealing with in the course of covering the conduct of the general elections, and save them from possible physical harm.
It is important that journalists are not hindered by threats in carrying out the work that they do because our people deserve quality information at this crucial period of our country’s history so that they are able to decide better in the ballot.
We note that the harassment against ABS-CBN reporters and crew became bolder after the broadcast company aired a paid advertisement carrying a negative campaign message against Mayor Duterte. His supporters must understand that the ad was aired based on a commercial consideration and has nothing to do with the journalistic mission of ABS-CBN.
The negative campaigning added fire to the already highly charged discussions in social media about an alleged plan to rig the results of the upcoming polls and possibly snatch from Duterte his supposedly impending victory. Perhaps, it may also help ease the tension if the other presidential contenders declare their commitment not to resort to poll manipulation in order to clinch victory.
We express concern over the safety and security of our colleagues in the provinces, especially those in areas dubbed as election hotspots, who will be covering the poll conduct. We understand that they are under extremely dangerous situations especially in their effort to uncover the poll manipulations which to this day has refused to leave our electoral system despite the adoption of automated vote counting.
We urge our colleagues to adhere to the tenets of safety and security in going about our work of chronicling the 2016 political exercise.
Should there be threats, harassment, intimidation, or any untoward incidents befalling you, please don’t hesitate to keep in touch with the NUJP Media Safety Office through hotline numbers 09175155991 and 092786