This file photo shows Sen. Francis Pangilinan during a Kapihan sa Senado media forum.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, File
Pangilinan questions PCOO’s ‘press freedom caravan’ in Europe
( - February 18, 2019 - 4:41pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Pangilinan called on the Presidential Communications Operations Office to use its resources judiciously as he criticized the agency’s “press freedom caravan” in Europe, which aims to discuss the state of press freedom in the Philippines.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Saturday said officials from his agency would meet journalists in Belgium, Bosnia and Switzerland to tackle media-related issues including the arrest of journalist Maria Ressa.

PCOO Undersecretaries Joel Egco and Lorraine Badoy and Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan would explain the “nature” of Ressa’s case and “why the Duterte administration had nothing to do with it,” Andanar added.

But Pangilinan, the president of the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party, questioned the intent of the office’s information drive in Europe.

“Why is the government suddenly interested in clearing its name before the international community on the arrest of Maria Ressa when before it has ignored criticisms on extrajudicial killings as a result of the drug war?” Pangilinan said.

He added: “Aren’t the president’s defenders enough to parry the views on the apparently harassment incident?”

Ressa, the chief executive officer of news website Rappler, was arrested Wednesday over a cyber libel complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

Journalists’ organizations both in the Philippines and abroad said the arrest of Ressa undermines press freedom and freedom of expression, and that it is an “act of persecution” by the Duterte government.

‘Whiff of winter’

Pangilinan even went on to suggest that Andanar and the officials of PCOO “just want a whiff of winter, thus, the sudden urge to go into this information caravan.”

The opposition leader then called on the office to use its resources “judiciously.”

“How much more is the PCOO spending for this trip in taxpayers’ money? Isn’t it more worthwhile and beneficial to spend it in helping the Department of Health in its information drive to get as many children vaccinated to help curb the measles outbreak?” he said.

The Philippines is the worst in impunity in Southeast Asia, according to a report published by the International Federation of Journalists last December.

“There are no signs of any government willingness to stop the targeting of journalist and media organizations who believe this official apathy or even open hostility,” the IFJ’s report said.

It added: “[It] has fueled a culture of impunity which has emboldened those seeking to silence the press.” — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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