The alterations on the mural were not only an aesthetic outrage, they constituted censorship, an act that should have been anathema to any media organization worth its salt, and made worse by the fact that the message that was censored was one against censorship itself.
The explanations of the Club's officers have only served to bolster suspicions that the defacing of the press freedom mural was meant to please the guest of honor at its unveiling, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
We can see how unveiling the mural would have been a rebuke to a president under whose watch the most number of journalists have been murdered – 53 at last count.
However, to the National Press Club and other colleagues in media, these we have to ask:
When you say the NPC must be "apolitical", isn't this denying the historical fact that the freedom to write the truth was won through political struggles that included media and journalists?
That during times of intense political crisis, journalists have taken up the cudgel and fought for the freedom to report the truth?
When you erased the statement of the International Federation of Journalists on the dangers the anti-terrorism law posed to press freedom, the alibata K – a fighting symbol – from the arm of a revolutionary leader, or the NUJP from the banners of protesting media organizations; or when you changed the headline on the abduction of Joe Burgos' son and the faces of Randy David and Juan Mercado, was the outcome a more accurate picture of press freedom in the country?
Sadly, this we have to say:
Ordering the alterations is akin to rewriting a critical yet accurate report to avoid incurring the ire of the powers-that-be or appease a patron. And we, in the media community, know by what word such an act is known by. It is definitely not truth or ethics.
Joe Torres Jr., chairperson
Rowena Paraan, secretary-general
The IFJ release on the Human Security Act that was taken out of the mural:
Media Release: Philippines
July 25, 2007
New anti-terror law threatens press freedom: Philippines
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned about the effect a new anti-terrorism law will have on press freedom in the Philippines.
According to local news reports the new law, known as the Human Security Act, was brought into effect on July 15 and includes provisions for the phone tapping and detention of suspects for three days without charge.
Despite government assurances that the law will not be used against political opponents or dissenting voices, IFJ affiliate the Nation Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) says it remains unclear whether journalists will be considered accessories to terrorism if they report the statements of terror suspects.
IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the new law could easily be used as an excuse to harass journalists.
"If the government cannot assure the international community that the safety of journalists and their right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Philippine constitution, are protected under this new law, it should be repealed," Park said.
According to reports, three politicians filed a bill in the House of Representatives last week seeking to repeal the law, which activists believe to be unconstitutional.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a vocal supporter of the US-led war on terrorism, insists the law is necessary to combat Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have allegedly blown up passenger buses, telecommunications towers and power lines in the Philippines.
"Terrorism is undoubtedly a threat in the modern world, but it is important to ensure the fight against terror does not provide an excuse for the suppression of free speech," Park said.
"The people of the Philippines have the right to a free, unbiased press and it is the responsibility of their government to ensure this press is protected."