A Petition for Press Freedom

Community News News & Features Philippines Feb 1, 2006 at 3:40 pm

Proposed amendment to Bill of Rights: A menace to Philippine democracy

We, the undersigned journalists and media organizations, oppose the move to amend the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution and condemn government efforts to curtail the democratic space.

The Malacanang-appointed Constitutional Commission has proposed amending Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights, to wit: “No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

The addition of the phrase “responsible exercise” undermines these basic rights and raises the specter of whimsical and capricious interpretation by administrations that seek to curb legitimate dissent.

A free press is a cornerstone of a democracy. To qualify its exercise, to put parameters around it, makes it vulnerable to abuse and misuse.

The Arroyo administration has shown a penchant for blaming journalists for its political woes. Whether faced with corruption scandals or anti-insurgency efforts that go awry, it has tried to wriggle out of trouble by using the press as scapegoat. Its often hostile stance toward the Philippine media has exacerbated the dangers faced by journalists in this country.

With 10 journalists murdered in 2005, the Philippines is second only to Iraq as the world’s most dangerous country to practice the profession. To say this government does not inspire confidence in the realm of interpreting “responsible exercise” of press freedom would be an understatement.

Philippine media is not infallible. Journalists in the country have had to struggle with a dearth in opportunities for skills improvement, not to mention harsh and unjust work conditions. There have been many instances of irresponsible, unethical practice of the profession.

These, however, are not sufficient grounds to tamper with a basic democratic right. There are enough laws to ensure a system of redress for those who see themselves wronged by an irresponsible press. Journalists who use their profession to commit crimes are not exempt from the country’s laws.
We believe the media situation reflects the national state of affairs. Philippine media is bedeviled by corruption, by economic injustice, and now by the growing threat of authoritarianism.

The proposed amendment to the Bill of Rights spits on the spirit of that hallowed document. It is not merely the press that is threatened. All Filipinos risk curtailment of their most basic rights by administrations desperate to hold on to power. Certainly, the Arroyo government has shown a dangerous bent to push the limits of executive power in its bid to counter political disenchantment.
The exercise of rights has never endangered Philippine democracy. On the contrary, the Filipino people’s vigorous defense of the freedom of the press, of speech, of expression, and of the right to assembly has served the cause of democracy by holding leaders accountable for their actions. The real menace lies in the curbing of these rights. There lies the road to national perdition.

Please sign this petition by listing the name of your organization below and emailing this back to NUJP. This petition will be forwarded to Philippine lawmakers.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) website: www.nujp.org.