Press freedom advocates express concerns after Pres. Duterte links journalists to ousting plans

PHILIPPINES — A number of Filipino journalists and lawyers are behind a plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte — according to a matrix published by The Manila Times on Monday.

The report supposedly details a closely coordinated effort to destabilize the administration through a series of fake news against the president.

Among those implicated were seasoned journalist Ellen Tordesillas of VERA Files, several members of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, as well as the news site Rappler.

On Monday, Malacanang confirmed that the information of the supposed ouster plot came from no less than Duterte himself.

“I don’t know how he got one but it’s coming from the President,” confirmed Sec. Salvador Panelo.

Earlier, Duterte warned his enemies that he would make public details of intelligence reports against them, saying that they are being monitored by foreign governments friendly to him.

Rappler criticized the report as an example of what journalists should avoid.

Veteran journalists Inday Espina-Varona and Tordesillas, both named in the matrix, also discredited the report.

Now, a New York-based non-profit organization that promotes press freedom, has expressed concerns.

Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, says that unsubstantiated allegations of a plot against Duterte — relayed by the president himself — create an immediate danger for critical journalists.

“When something like this comes from the president… it’s, you know, very threatening to journalists, open an investigation into this.”

Butler adds that this is the first time their group has observed an attack on press freedom of this nature.

“I haven’t seen anything exactly parallel to this, but whenever a president is involved in calling out media groups, or other specifically essentially by name, and that’s what this announced to, you know, it creates a danger that most people who support the President might feel empowered to take action against these journalists.”

The CPJ advocates that a critical press is indeed essential for a healthy democracy.

“Media plays a very important job of a watchdog and government, and honestly, there’s no government in the world that is happy with the coverage and receives from a free press and just in the nature of things and you know in a healthy democracy, the… you know, lead political leaders understand that and they grouse about it… but they accepted as honestly as normal given take over the democratic system. I mean, frankly, if you don’t have a free press, it’s an invitation to corruption and an autocracy.”

The CPJ recently presented their 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award to Rappler chief Maria Ressa late last year, and the group has been and continues to be committed to monitor developments on press freedom in the Philippines.

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