Duterte creates presidential task force to probe media killings

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte signed an administrative order (AO) creating the "Presidential Task Force on Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of the Members of the Media."

The President signed the document on Tuesday, October 11, said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Thursday, October 13, during a Palace press briefing.

The task force is given the duty of "ensuring a safe environment for media workers," Andanar said, quoting the AO.

It will be chaired by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and co-chaired by Andanar.

The task force will be composed of the following government officials:

Members of the media are not part of the task force but will be tapped as resource persons. This pool of media resource persons will include mostly leaders of known organizations.

The task force can also tap the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman as observers and resource persons.

Unsolved media killings

The AO affirms the government's policy that all forms of "political violence and abuses of powers, whether by agents or elements of the State or of non-State forces, against the members or the so-called Fourth Estate, must stop."

Through the AO, the Duterte administration also commits to involve the "whole system of bureaucracy" in the "efficient, coherent, and comprehensive resolution of unsolved cases of violence in the form of killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons against the members of the press."

It recognized that the Philippines is still among the most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist.

In 2015, New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the Philippines 4th worst country in the world in terms of the number of unsolved media killings.

The Philippines was also ranked as the 3rd most dangerous country in the world for journalists in 2013, in a report published by the London-based International News Safety Institute.

The country's standing in such rankings is due largely to the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in which 32 media practitioners were killed. Years of legal proceeedings have led to no convictions. The suspected mastermind, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, died of natural causes in 2015.

The AO was a product of consultations between Duterte officials, particularly Andanar and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and media practitioners.

Duterte's attitude to the media emerged as one of the sticky points during the weeks leading to his inauguration as president.

In several press conferences, he had ranted about corruption in the media and declared dishonest journalists who died got what they deserved.

He eventually declared a boycott of private media that lasted two months.

Some of his supporters online have used his argument on corrupt media to cyberbully journalists.

Duterte has asked his supporters not to threaten journalists. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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