PH lawmakers seek to ban reporters who 'besmirch' them

MANILA, Philippines – Reporters in the House of Representatives are protesting proposed new media accreditation rules that virtually demand only positive coverage of the legislative chambers, the lawmakers, and its officials.

It's the latest move against press freedom in the Philippines, where attacks come from the highest levels of government. House reporters have been told that the rules are not yet final. (READ: PH down 6 spots in 2018 World Press Freedom Index)

A 19-page draft document circulated this week by the Press and Public Affairs Bureau (PPAB) – the office in the House that accredits media – seeks to ban reporters who "besmirch the reputation of the House of Representatives, its officials or members."

This is one of several "violations and prohibitions" that could prompt the office to "deny an application or revoke an issued House Media ID."

Rappler contacted PPAB director Rica dela Cuesta. She has not replied.

In the draft document, the PPAB said the rules must be updated to "preserv[e] the dignity of the institution and not compromising or hampering the legislative work of the lawmakers."

The proposed list of violations for the revocation of one's press ID and consequently, the reporter's expulsion from the House beat, are the following:

299 colorful lawmakers

It is not clear how the PPAB could single out reports as besmirching the reputation of House members.

The House of Representatives is composed of 299 district and party-list representatives belonging to various political parties and coalitions, who by themselves have been known to issue statements that tarnish each other's reputations.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, for example, last year filed a graft complaint against fellow lawmaker Davao del Norte Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr amid reports that the latter was planning to unseat him.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also figured last year in a very public verbal spat against his former colleage at the Kabayan party list, Representative Ron Salo. They are allies again.

A near scuffle also happened inside Congress in 2016. Two congressmen were heard hurling expletives and even tried to push each other after a heated argument during a House hearing on constitutional amendments. An ethics complaint was filed.

Administration allies

The draft rules come in the heels of Malacañang's move to ban Rappler reporter Pia Ranada after Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go attacked her reportage of his testimony in a Senate probe on the controversial Navy frigate project. 

Malacañang has since banned all Rappler reporters and correspondents from covering any and all events where President Rodrigo Duterte is present.

The House is dominated political butterflies who jump from one political party to another, depending on who sits in Malacañang.

Duterte's PDP-Laban is now the ruling party in the House. 

Limit movements inside Batasan Complex

The draft rules also seek to control access of reporters inside the Batasan Complex. This appears to be the main purpose of the document.

There is a need to avoid throngs of people "blocking the hallways," according to the draft rules. 

The House is traditionally open to reporters whether or not they are accredited by the PPAB, except during the President's State of the Nation Address (SONA)  when access to the Batasan Complex is limited to invited guests. 

The House has 58 standing committees and 14 special committees. There could be more than 5 committee hearings going on at the same time, meaning one media agency could be sending more than 3 teams to Batasan Complex on a given day. 

The PPAB seeks to change this. It wants reporters who do not have accreditation to secure passes two days before the public hearing or the event they intend to cover. 

The draft rules will allow "walk in" reporters to get "day passes" but certain rules apply. 

In comparison, the Senate allows all reporters to cover committee hearings but it limits access to the Plenary Hall to accredited media and reporters who are given day passes.

The day passes may be secured on the same day of the visit, facilitated by an office located a few steps away from the Plenary Hall. – Rappler.com