Zubiri lashes out vs 'chilling effect,' urges media to help 'beautify' Philippines' image

Zubiri lashes out vs 'chilling effect,' urges media to help 'beautify' Philippines' image
In this March 2, 2020 photo, Sen. Miguel Zubiri listens to a resource person at a hearing by the Senate Committee on Cooperatives about concerns of the Cooperative Development Authority over the implementation of its charter.
Office of Sen. Zubiri

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri appealed to members of the media to help beautify the image of the Philippines after the United Nations Human Rights Committee called out the government over its "war on drugs" and the chilling effect of media killings on press freedom.

This came after the Committee expressed concern that the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was being used to “legitimize the targeting of government critics, human rights defenders and journalists, including through ‘red-tagging,’ and consequent chilling effects on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

"I appeal to the media, tulungan niyo naman kami na pagandahin ang imahe ng Pilipinas. Katulad noong Percy Lapid na iyan, Nahuli na nga iyong bumaril at mahuhuli na nga iyong mastermind. Tumulong naman kayo iannounce yan sa buong mundo. Buti sana kung hindi inaksyunan. If hindi inaksyunan eh di sana I’ll stand with you here. Pero inaksyunan nila. Kaya iyan ang apila ko. We are a free media," Zubiri said at a press briefing late Monday evening. 

(I appeal to the media, help us make the image of the Philippines more beautiful. Like with the Percy Lapid case, the shooter has been caught and the mastermind will soon be caught. Why don't you help us announce that to the world? If no action was taken I'll stand with you there, but they acted on it. That's why this is my appeal; we are a free media.)

Members of the media reported on the shooting of Lapid, whose real name is Percival Mabasa, in October. He was the second journalist killed under the administration of President Marcos Jr. after broadcaster Rey Blanco was stabbed to death in Negros Oriental last September.

Alarms were also raised that the latest killing of a journalist happened within Metro Manila, which signals the brazenness of the perpetrators of the crime.

After Lapid's shooting, the embassies of Canada and the Netherlands said: “Journalist killings create a chilling effect that curtails the ability of journalists to report news freely and safely.” The two countries are co-chairs of the Media Freedom Coalition.      

The National Bureau of Investigation announced on Monday that raps had already been filed against Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag. The NBI said Bantag, currently under suspension, colluded with gangs inside the New Bilibid Prison to carry out his kill order against radioman Percy Mabasa, a staunch critic of the Duterte and Marcos administrations. 

Media organizations covered and reported on the press conference of the Departments of Justice and of the Interior and Local Government announcing the filing of the complaints.

Chilling effect

But Zubiri on Monday was incensed as he insisted that other countries had it worse. He went as far as rejecting the notion that a chilling effect existed in the Philippines because journalists were not forcibly stopped from doing their job.

"From the United States to Europe, they have share of problems of immigration and illegal detention of immigrants. No one is pointing fingers at them for their human rights (violations). I don’t think that’s right. Then they [bring up] the media killings [here]," he said. 

"Nagagalit lang kapag sa tingin nila mali ang nailabas. Pero hindi naman forcibly pinipigilan kayo. When we were in the European Union, sabi namin ni Sen. Loren Legarda, kausap naming sila, sabi namin, it is not fair to paint the Philippines like that. The reason why you get news like that because our media are free."

(They only get angry when they think that what was released was wrong. But they are not forcibly stopping you. When we were in the European Union, Sen. Loren Legarda and I said, we talked to them, we said, it is not fair to paint the Philippines like that. The reason why you get news like that because our media are free.)

In the Committee to Protect Journalists' 2021 World Impunity Index, the Philippines placed seventh in the list of countries “where journalists are murdered and the perpetrators go free.”

But Zubiri went to the extremes and asked: "Do you want the chilling effect? You all go to China. Can I invite you to China and do your reporting there? You will be caught on site and brought on site. That’s a chilling effect."

The People's Republic of China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party.

"The reason why you get news like that because our media are free. In Malaysia, there’s an Anti-Terror Law wherein you are not allowed to say bad things against government programs, they can shut you down. Same goes to Vietnam."

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his appointed law enforcement authorities have said they intended to continue a recalibrated iteration of the Duterte administration's war on drugs. — Franco Luna


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