Down With Adan’s Proposal

Armed Forces of the Philippines Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan yesterday declared he wants a law that would punish media organizations that would interview “known terrorists”.

“They kill and bomb then [the media] give them the opportunity to talk. It’s stupidity on the part of some media to allow these terrorists or people identified with terrorist groups to air their complaints,” he was quoted as saying.

We don’t know if we could also say that it’s stupid not to know that such a law would violate Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution, which says:

No law shall be passed abridging the 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.

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Media groups today slammed down Adan’s proposal. Quezon City Independent Media Group (QC Indymedia) published the statement “No to State Terror Against Media and the People” while the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines circulated “NUJP to AFP: Never again!”, which we are publishing in full below:

NUJP to AFP: Never again!

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemns in strongest terms the proposal by Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff, Lt. General Edilberto Adan, to penalize journalists and media organizations that interview suspected terrorists.

Adan engages in typical double-speak when he says the military distinguishes between legitimate dissenters and terrorists. His proposal is pure and simple censorship and an imposition of prior restraint on the press. Adan’s statements only serve to intensify media opposition to an anti-Terrorism bill that threatens drastic curtailment of civil liberties in the country.

The NUJP will not accept this curtailment of press freedom. The NUJP calls on all media groups to challenge Adan’s preposterous proposal.

The Constitution lists freedom of the press and freedom of expression among the basic rights. It is not for the AFP or any other overnment agency to curtail a right granted by the Constitution on the basis of its often times flawed logic.

Adan’s proposal opens up an entire society to the dangerous situation of having a few people dictate what the public should ead or listen to. That does not serve national interest at all. An ignorant society is often at the mercy of abusive officials; curtailment of the freedoms of expression and the press strips a people of their right to old states and governments accountable for their actions and lack thereof.

The NUJP must also point out that the spotty record of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) on human rights. We o not have to dig through history. The AFP and the PNP, for example, have engaged in a spree of raids recently, arresting dozens of men and women for being suspected terrorists. Both agencies have a penchant for presenting suspects to media, on the one hand, and for detaining some beyond the legally mandated period, on the other.

Yet we have seen the courts order the release of so many suspected terrorists for lack of evidence. In at least one case, of a woman allegedly raped by her military interrogators, the release order came too late to spare her from torture.

Journalists have also first-hand experience of state officials playing loose with the word “terrorist,” conferring this – and all its
dangerous consequences – on legal personalities.

Giving access to Abu Sulaiman’s claim of responsibility for the Valentine’s Day blasts was not a crime. Exploding bombs is a crime. Airing a claim of responsibility, on the other hand, served the public’s interest to know of details behind the event.

The NUJP believes that the various media codes of ethics, properly disseminated to reporters and editors, anchors and commentators, suffice to ensure both the safety of troops on the field and respect for basic constitutional rights.

But granting the AFP powers to determine what media can cover shall soon lead to journalists being banned from conflict areas, depriving Filipinos of in-depth and multi-sided coverage of tensions in a multi-ethnic society.

Adan prescribes penalties for the airing of “anti-people, anti-state sentiments,” and inciting to rebellion. He must be reminded that the press does not belong to the government and its allies. Certainly, media cannot give the government blanket authority to define what is anti-people or anti-state, considering that it has often come under fire for being just that, anti-people.

Curtailment of press freedom is a guarantee for heightened socio-political tensions; driving this freedom underground only encourages people into taking drastic action to seek redress for their grievances. Adan only needs to review his martial law experience to realize this.

Adan claims the country has a weak legal system that hampers the fight against terror. While certain provisions in existing laws may be strengthened, attacking press freedom — or any basic freedom — is not the answer. If history has taught us anything, it is that assaults on basic freedoms, often perpetrated by the very agencies tasked to protect citizens, were largely responsible for fuelling the cycles of rebellion in this country.

Media cannot stand silent as government chokes off our national democratic space. To Adan and his ilk, the NUJP says, “never again!”

INDAY ESPINA-VARONA
Chair
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

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