Lawmaker wants protection program for journalists
MANILA, Philippines – A lawmaker hopes to rid the Philippines of its reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.
Kabayan Representative Harry Roque filed House Bill No 913 or the “Journalist Protection, Security and Benefit Act.”
The bill seeks to protect members of the media who have“reasonable grounds” to believe that their lives are in danger.
Under the proposed measure, the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be primarily tasked to craft a protection program for journalists patterned after its existing Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program for whistleblowers.
Roque said the DOJ should design the program together with media groups like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the National Press Club, and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
“Kapag napatunayan nilang may banta sa kanilang buhay, obligasyon ng estado na bigyan sila ng seguridad....At ito ay siyempre ay tugon doon sa katotohanan na isa pa rin tayo sa most murderous countries for all journalists,” Roque said on Thursday, July 7. (READ: Change PH image as 'killing fields of journalists' – senators)
(If they are able to prove there is a threat to their lives, it is the state's obligation to give them protection....And this is in response to the fact that we're still one of the most murderous countries for all journalists.)
To be admitted into the program, journalists must issue a sworn statement describing the details of their death threat. They are expected to testify and to provide all information necessary for the authorities to investigate the claim.
Under HB 913, journalists accepted into the program would receive the following protection:
- A secure housing facility until the threat, intimidation, or harassment disappears or has been reduced to a “manageable or tolerable” level. This may be extended to the journalist’s relatives within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity.
- A source of livelihood and financial assistance
- Traveling and food allowance for court appearances, conferences, and interviews with investigators
- Free medical care
- Security detail from the Philippine National Police or other law enforcement agencies
- Employer's guarantee that the journalist will not be terminated from work while admitted into the program. In cases of permanent relocation, the employer may terminate the journalist after clearance from the DOJ and the labor department.
Should the journalist be killed despite participation in the program, the family would receive P500,000 worth of burial benefits. MInors or children dependent on the journalist would receive free education until college as well.
According to the NUJP, 174 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since the end of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos 3 decades ago.
The number includes the 32 journalists killed in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, considered as the Philippines' worst case of election-related violence and the single deadliest attack on journalists.
Full text of HB Number 913 below: