Few senators speak on SWS finding that many believe publishing critical reports is dangerous

Few senators speak on SWS finding that many believe publishing critical reports is dangerous
In this April 22, 2019 photo, presidential spokesperon Salvador Panelo holds a so-called matrix of an alleged ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte.
The STAR / Alexis Romero

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos should assert their rights, including their freedom of expression, Sen. Grace Poe said in reaction to a survey released Saturday that found that more than half of Filipinios think it is dangerous to criticize the government.

A survey by the Social Weather Stations suggests most adult Filipinos agree that it is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the Duterte administration, a finding that Sen. Grace Poe also said was not surprising.

"Today, we have the power to vote for whoever we think is fit for office. We also have the power to impeach any official we think is abusing that power. These choices would not have been available to us without a democratic space," she said. 

"If we do not protect our right to speak freely, then these choices, as well as all our other rights and freedoms, may be lost," she also said.

In response to the survey results, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said it is indicative of a creeping culture of fear among Filipinos.

"It does not come as a surprise considering the culture of sowing fear and threatening perceived enemies, the stifling of dissent and the silencing of critics has been the hallmark of this admin since 2016," he said.

"Four years of vicious attacks by both the leaders and supporters of the administration against criticisms both online and offline will create that level of fear," Pangilinan, who has been the target of both, said.

RELATED: No proof of ouster plot a week after 'expose,' VERA Files points out | Ouster matrix story 'poorly sourced,' resigned Times editor says

Palace: 'Duterte continues to respect free speech and press freedom'

Senate President Vicente Sotto III rebuffed the survey, saying it was a "wrong perception" and adding that "articles, comments, and criticisms abound, yet nothing shows that government makes it dangerous."

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also brushed off the survey results, saying the hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise application likely influenced the results since these were in the headlines when the survey was conducted.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who said last year that the network's franchise would not be renewed, criticized ABS-CBN in his State of the Nation Address last month, saying he is their "casualty." Aside from alleged violations of its franchise, lawmakers also raised ABS-CBN's allegedly biased coverage.

Another issue raised against the network was its failure, due to lack of airtime slots, to show a Duterte campaign ad.  

Roque stressed on Saturday that the president has not filed libel cases against journalists or against members of the opposition. Media outlets perceived to be critical of the Duterte administration have been the subject of Duterte's speeches, however. 

RELATED: Palace: Duterte supports press freedom, never sued journalists

“Information and news dominating the traditional and social media are therefore about the congressional hearings on the broadcast franchise application of the network. This might have impressed upon the minds of the respondents who participated in the survey,” Roque said.

“Be that as it may, the Duterte administration continues to respect the freedom of the speech and the freedom of the press in the country. Media remains alert and vibrant in their reportage of the government and the actions of officials,”  the Palace spokesman added.

Media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility has been tracking threats against press freedom and warned in 2018 that "the chilling effect has been obvious."

"Never has an administration been given such broad latitude by the press, with reports that merely record the statements of government officials, without correction as needed, without question or analysis," CMFR, which also regularly reviews Philippine news reports, said.

"This president has succeeded into bullying a press that had in the past proven its courage and capacity to speak truth to power, exposing with world-class investigative reports corruption and other wrongdoing in high places. The president has succeeded to instill fear in the press community," it added. — Franco Luna with a report from Ratziel San Juan 

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