[OPINION] Making press freedom an election issue

DEFEND PRESS FREEDOM. Several groups joined the mass action in Quezon City to defend press freedom. Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

DEFEND PRESS FREEDOM. Several groups joined the mass action in Quezon City to defend press freedom.

Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

This is a #PHVote newsletter sent to subscribers on May 2, 2019.

I’m writing to you on a day that lies between Labor Day, May 1, and World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

It’s an important day because it bridges two events closely related to one another. Labor Day is a public holiday for paying tribute to all working men and women. Journalists are among the working class, and journalism today, in the Philippines and elsewhere, is a profession under threat.

Let’s quickly run through the threats:

These threats send a clear message: journalists should toe the line or face consequences from no less than the country’s Chief Executive.

Rappler readers always ask me, how can they help Philippine media stay independent and critical?

One answer lies in the elections, now only 11 days away.

Your power is in your vote. You can choose candidates who value a free and independent press. 

Perhaps some insights from the campaign trail can help you make a decision. Reporters have many interesting stories to tell about how candidates interact with the press during the campaign period.

Ideally, candidates should be very open to media during this crucial 3-month period because it’s when they’re supposed to be explaining their platform and stances on various issues so the voting public can be fully informed by May 13.

Of course, candidates have every right to decide whether or not to be interviewed by media. But I think the openness of candidates to these interviews, especially chance or ambush interviews where anything goes, says a lot about their regard for media as essential to the electoral process and their commitment to transparency.

I asked my fellow Rappler campaign reporters about how the candidates they cover interact with media. 

Here’s a cheat sheet:


Hugpong ng Pagbabago

Otso Diretso

Labor Win 

Grace Poe

Senatorial candidates who once supported moves to decriminalize libel or lower penalties for libel also deserve mention.

Media organizations have long pushed for the decriminalization of libel because it’s often used by politicians to harass journalists. Decriminalization means libel can still be punished civilly (guilty journalist has to pay a fine), but is no longer criminal (journalist does not go to jail).

The United Nations Human Rights Committee had described the criminal sanction on libel in the Philippines as “excessive” and in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines had signed.

These are the senatorial bets who supported the decriminalization of libel during their previous terms as senator:

Many of them took this stance before the Duterte administration. With the President’s attitude toward critical reportage, it will be interesting to see if they change their position.

Let’s not forget there’s at least one former media practitioner now running for senator – Jiggy Manicad. During a public debate, he said he wants libel to stay a crime. Days later, though, he walked back on it, saying he would “reconsider” his stance.

Earlier this week, members of the media, including myself, cast our votes. The Commission on Elections allows early voting for media personnel because, on election day itself, we’ll be focused on news coverage.

My Instagram feed is full of photos of fellow journalists proudly holding up their inked thumbs.

It’s a reminder that journalists too are Filipino citizens who deserve to be protected by our laws and respected by people in power. 


To add something new to our #PHVote coverage, Rappler’s campaign reporters have been making weekly podcasts about the 2019 campaign trail. Here are the episodes so far: 



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.