Philippines | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Philippines

Philippines

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

40

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

21

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

11

The Philippine press has historically ranked among the freest, most vibrant, and outspoken-if often sensationalized-in Southeast Asia. The constitution guarantees that "no law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech, of expression, or of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances." Legally, press freedom has few limitations (for instance, libel, national security, privacy, or obscenity laws). There are no restrictive licensing requirements for newspapers or journalists.

Although a censorship board broadly has the power to edit or ban content, government censorship does not generally enforce political orientation. In June, the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism published the wiretapped conversation that would confirm electoral fraud, launching the presidential impeachment campaign that dominated Philippine politics for the remainder of the year. Press coverage of the impeachment trial, the controversial Executive Order 464, and President Gloria Arroyo's "cha-cha" (charter change) campaign was wide-ranging and extensive. Online media were particularly active, allowing the public to comment directly on trial developments. Controversy surrounded the president's June 27 "I'm sorry" press conference, where only 10 "preselected" reporters were allowed to ask questions and representatives of international news organizations were barred from the event.

Journalist-targeted violence remains the greatest threat to press freedom in the country. According to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), 10 journalists were killed in 2005 in addition to numerous assassination attempts and death threats. The general escalation in violence aimed at journalists over the last several years has earned the Philippines the reputation of being one of the most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist. Several cases involved journalists well-known for exposing corruption scandals or as being regularly critical of the government, army, or police, with some watchdog groups alleging that the "unknown gunmen" were hired by government officials. The case of Marlene Esperat-shot by two gunmen in her home in March-was among the most prominent. Esperat was a columnist in Mindanao, known for her corruption reporting and especially harsh criticism of the Department of Agriculture. The judge dropped the murder charges in September because of conflicting evidence. In a separate incident in early May, Klein Cantoneros, whose radio program frequently featured the alleged corruption of Mindanao local officials and illegal gambling, was shot seven times. A midyear investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists attributed the recent spike in murders to a culture of corruption, guns, and lawlessness.

Despite the Arroyo administration's launch of a US$92,000 Press Freedom Fund to curb violence against the media, a general culture of impunity continues to predominate. Claiming that more journalists have been killed since 2001 under the Arroyo administration than during Ferdinand Marcos's martial law regime, the NUJP has criticized the government for not doing more to prevent the murders. However, in November former police officer Guillermo Wapile was convicted of the murder of Edgar Damalerio and sentenced to life imprisonment, marking the first conviction among 38 cases of murdered journalists since 1999. The verdict came after the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the case from the island of Mindanao to the central city of Cebu, citing the excessive influence of a local Mindanao official (who has been accused of masterminding the murder) on court proceedings. The Committee to Protect Journalists heralded the court's decision as a "blow to the culture of impunity in the Philippines." Yet less than two weeks later, three more journalists were murdered, including George Benjoan, a radio and newspaper journalist known for his aggressive reporting on official corruption in the same city where the Damalerio trial had just come to such a promising conclusion.

Most print and electronic media are privately owned, while many television and radio stations are government owned, although they too present a wide variety of views. Since 1986, however, there has been a general trend toward concentration of ownership, with two broadcast networks (ABS-CBN and GMA), owned by companies of wealthy families, dominant among audiences and advertising. Often criticized for lacking journalistic ethics, the press is likely to reflect the political or economic orientations of owners and patrons, and special interests reportedly use inducements to solicit coverage and stories favorable to their positions. Fewer than 10 percent of the population in the Philippines (close to 8 million people) made use of the internet in 2005, and the government did not restrict their access.