Philippine Media, Rights Groups Challenge General’s Accusations against Reporter

Nonoy Espina
Bacolod, Philippines
2021-02-04
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Philippine Media, Rights Groups Challenge General’s Accusations against Reporter A woman holds a sign denouncing the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law during a rally in Manila, Feb. 2, 2021.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

Philippine media and human rights groups, along with the nation’s leading newspaper, closed ranks Thursday behind one of its reporters whom a military general accused of being a propagandist for terrorists.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., an Army division commander and spokesman for a task force whose mission is to end the communist insurgency, called out Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Tetch Torres-Tupas over a story published on Tuesday.

She had reported about a petition by two members of an Aeta tribe against an anti-terrorism law, which the government passed last year.

In a statement, The Inquirer said it “takes vigorous exception to the apparent red-tagging of our reporter and expresses alarm over Parlade’s attempt to sow fear, stifle dissent and curtail her right to make truthful and objective reports,” adding that it supported Torres-Tupas “unequivocally.”

Red-tagging is a military practice of falsely accusing someone of being a communist guerilla or a sympathizer.

Torres-Tupas wrote about the tribe members asking for the Supreme Court’s permission to join 37 petitions that seek to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 unconstitutional. Rights groups have said the law is meant to stifle dissent against the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Harassment of the reporters has become common in the Philippines. Duterte has been at odds with journalists for reporting on his administration’s drug war, which has left thousands of dead since he took office in 2016.

In addition, his legislative allies last year shut down the free channel of national broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp., while the head of online news site Rappler, Maria Ressa, was convicted of cyber libel, but remains free pending an appeal.

On Thursday, local media reported on a Facebook post by Parlade that questioned the reporter’s story.

“Congratulations for a sloppy work Tetch Torres-Tupaz of Inquirer.net,” Parlade said in a post that misspelled the reporter’s name.

“You did not even bother to check the side of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and govt if what you are reporting is true or FAKE. Propagandista. No such thing happened. That unit is not even there but in Davao,” he said.

When asked if a suit could be filed against Torres-Tupas, Parlade replied: “Aiding the terrorists by spreading lies? Yes, it’s possible.”

Parlade also claimed that Torres-Tupas had used material from Human Rights Watch and a local media outfit, Kodao Productions – both of which he called “propaganda machines” of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines – as references for her story.

Parlade has used social media to accuse government critics of being “legal fronts” for communists. In October, reports surfaced that Parlade had criticized actress Liza Soberano and former Miss Universe Catriona Gray for allegedly having ties with leftist organizations, which could be fronts for communist rebels.

On Thursday, military officials did not respond to requests for comment after Parlade singled out Torres-Tupas, while other media carried the same story and cited the same source. Torres-Tupas’ fellow journalists covering justice issues also reported on the petition, filed Tuesday – the same day the high court began hearing oral arguments on the contested law.

Journalist groups react

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) pointed out that Parlade had “shown precisely the behavior that petitioners against the draconian law have been raising alarms about.”

The attack on Torres-Tupas was a threat directed not only at those questioning the anti-terror law, but also at those reporting on it, the union said.

“Government inaction on the threat against Torres-Tupas and on similar statements and threats against activists and journalists means government consent and even endorsement of those actions and belies the claim that the law does not target criticism and dissent,” the NUJP said.

The government has argued that the anti-terrorism law is needed to curb militant groups, especially in the wake of the 2017 siege of the southern city of Marawi.

But local and international groups have expressed concern that the law bolsters the power of security officers to arrest people and file charges. One provision allows detention for about a month without a warrant.

Human rights organization Karapatan called Parlade’s attack on Torres-Tupas a “serious and perilous threat not only against her, but also against each and every journalist covering human rights issues and concerns.”

Killer sentenced

Meanwhile, a court in the northern Philippines earlier this week sentenced a gunman to life in prison for the killing of a journalist more than a decade ago.

A regional trial in San Fernando, a town in La Union province convicted Leonardo Banaag Jr., one of the suspects in the murder of broadcaster Jovelito Agustin, according to the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, a government agency monitoring media-related killings.

Agustin, who worked for a local radio station, was shot while heading home in 2010.

The NUJP said 19 journalists and media workers have been killed since Duterte took power in 2016, and 191 since democracy was restored when dictator Ferdinand Marcos was toppled in 1986.

Jojo Rinoza in Manila contributed to this report.

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