Filipino journalists on Monday protested recent efforts by the Philippine National Police to link them with communist insurgents in the country, saying the efforts sought to intimidate one of the region’s beacons of free speech.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the country’s largest media group, said since December police have been trying to associate its members with the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
In particular, shortly after Christmas police accused the NUJP of being one of the “legal fronts” of the CPP, which has been waging one of the longest insurgencies against the government.
“It is hilarious that they keep repeating these charges since the NUJP’s membership represents a broad spectrum of creeds and political beliefs bound by a common dedication to defending and expanding the bounds of freedom of the press and of expression,” the NUJP said in a statement.
It branded police efforts to smear the NUJP as an “idiotic attempt,” adding the efforts exposed its members “to potential danger from those who might readily believe this canard.”
President Rodrigo Duterte has had a rocky relationship with the media since taking office three years ago. He has not shied from publicly warning media outfits critical of his deadly drug war that he would move to shut them down.
Last year, Maria Ressa, leader of the online news site Rappler, was charged with five counts of tax fraud. The penalties could include a fine along with up to 10 years in prison.
Ressa denied the charges and has vowed to fight the case in court.
Duterte also threatened to block the license renewal of local television ABS-CBN, the largest broadcast network in the country.
The NUJP said Duterte was responsible for inciting violence against journalists, recalling that the president once said: “Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”
Last month, unidentified gunmen killed Gabriel Alburo, 50, a radio announcer in the central Philippines.
Alburo’s death brings to 13 the number of journalists killed since Duterte assumed office in 2016, and the 186th since democracy was restored in 1986 after a civilian-backed military revolt led to the downfall of authoritarian ruler Ferdinand Marcos.
Richel V. Umel in Iligan City, Philippines, contributed to this report.