Philippine journalists sound alarm over military suspicion, surveillance

7 April 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Alert-Threat-Philippines: Philippine journalists are sounding the alarm over military actions purportedly designed to demonize the press and rationalize a campaign to “monitor” their activities.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) is up in arms over a Powerpoint presentation that is said to have been prepared by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and which purportedly lists the NUJP and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) among two dozen groups of supposed communist sympathizers and “enemies of the state.”

According to a statement issued on 4 April, NUJP said it got hold of a compact disc containing the Powerpoint presentation—titled, “Knowing the Enemy”—and the association is now demanding that the national government explain and disown its content. The Philippine Daily Inquirer said Brig. Gen. Jose Angel Honrado has confirmed the existence of the document even as his superior, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Efren Abu, has denied any knowledge of it. Honrado also insisted that the document was not meant to categorize groups as “enemies” or “communists”. Instead, he said, it was merely intended to identify groups being targeted for influence by communist rebels.

The NUJP said that apart from itself and the PCIJ, other groups such as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, and activist groups are portrayed as “enemies” in the Powerpoint presentation.

Addressing questions over the Powerpoint presentation without categorically confirming the its existence, the Philippine government admitted that the NUJP and the PCIJ—a founding member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance—are indeed covered by military surveillance operations, a national daily, “Philippine Daily Inquirer”, reported on 7 April.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita—a former military general—however was quoted as saying: “Being monitored is not too appropriate a term. This [surveillance] is just made in the course of duty and part of the uniformed services. There are a few [journalists and groups] whose activities have been known in the course of gathering information, but I wouldn’t say there is real monitoring.”

As for the journalist groups mentioned in the document, Ermita said his understanding was simply that presentation only referred to “members” of the NUJP and PCIJ as being “involved in activities that might be considered inimical to national security.”

“We are not saying the entire membership of the NUJP or PCIJ is involved [in subversive activities],” the executive secretary told members of the Philippine press.

Ermita said that contrary to the NUJP’s statements, the Powerpoint presentation was not arguing against press freedom. He said it merely served to “remind” that some journalists are in contact with leftists.

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