Yes, our government has never tired of boasting that we are the freest, most vibrant press in Asia.
Vibrant we will not dispute. For Philippine journalism has continued to remain vibrant, indeed continues to flourish, despite persistent attempts to stifle press freedom.
The numbers speak for themselves. Less than two weeks ago, Carmelo Palacios of government-run Radyo ng Bayan was founded brutally murdered in Nueva Ecija, the 51st journalist slain under this administration and the 88th since 1986. A day after, the tally would have risen by another life had not the assailants botched their ambush of Inquirer correspondent Delfin Mallari Jr. and dzMM's Johnny Glorioso, both founding members of the NUJP in Quezon province.
We again emphasize that this is the highest toll under any administration, far surpassing that of the 14-year Marcos dictatorship, or the combined death toll of the three preceding administrations combined, making the Philippines the second most dangerous place for journalists after war-torn Iraq.
Countless other journalists continue to labor daily with threats to either their lives or freedoms hovering over their heads.
Public officials and figures continue to wield our obsolete libel law as a weapon to silence or, at the very least, make life miserable for journalists presumptuous enough to dare expose their wrongdoings.
As so many have pointed out, this administration cannot escape culpability for the continued assaults on press freedom and, indeed, civil rights as a whole because its inaction — some say deliberate — has nurtured the culture of impunity that allows these atrocities to go on unchecked, the perpetrators free to sow their deadly mayhem.
And no other administration since the dictatorship has attempted such a wholesale stifling of the Philippine media as this.
We only have to recall the infamous "Know Thy Enemy" military presentation that lists the NUJP and the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism, along with the revered Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other religious groups, of being "legal fronts" of the communist rebel movement.
Had it not been for the Philippine media's valiant defiance during last year's state of national emergency, we would undoubtedly have found ourselves again being fed lies and inanities by a controlled press.
And still, government has not stopped looking for ways to put a leash on the press. For all its supposed "safeguards," the Human Security Act is a draconian piece of legislation with horrible implications not just for press freedom but for all our basic liberties.
Already notorious for a lack of transparency, the administration continues to throw up barricades against access to information by issuing edicts that are tantamount to gag orders. Memorandum Circular 108 and Executive Order 608 immediately come to mind.
And the state's virtual censorship arm, the MTRCB, is attempting to extend its reach through a memorandum that seeks to control news and public affairs programs.
But aside from the external threats confronting Filipino journalists, there are problems that hound them in the workplace that, at a very basic level, constrain their freedom to practice our vocation fully and, worse, make them vulnerable to corruption. This is painfully true in the provinces where the bulk of our slain colleagues worked and where many more do so under conditions of extreme poverty and danger.
In many cases, media owners with their own vested interests to advance or protect themselves impose restrictions that not only stifle their employees but actually push them towards looser ethical standards.
But while the situation is bleak, Filipino journalists have by and large refused to be cowed and continue struggling to push back the walls closing in around them. Which is as it should be.
For the democratic space we have won back after long struggle is too precious to surrender. We cannot allow, through submission or default, ourselves, our people and nation, to be plunged back into the darkness of official tyranny.
We therefore call on our colleagues, on other media organizations, and the people we serve, to stand together once again to meet the mounting threats head-on and resolve to drive them back once and for all.
Today is World Press Freedom Day. Yes, we will commemorate this day by remembering those who have perished in its defense and mourning its absence.
But let us not stop there. Let us, too, commemorate this day by making a vow that we will persevere until we can truly mark this day by celebrating the full blooming of press freedom in our land.
Rowena Paraan, Secretary-General
Sonny Fernandez, Vice President
Nonoy Espina, Deputy Secretary-General