With the election of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as the Philippines’ new president, fears of further restrictions on freedom of press have been raised. Tendencies in this regard continue to emerge shortly after the election.
On May 11, 2022, during the first press conference after the May 9 presidential election, “Bongbong” Marcos’ spokesperson, Vic Rodriguez, ignored the questions of a Rappler journalist by dismissing them with the comment, ‘Next question, please.’ Lian Buan asked about a pending contempt order in a US court against “Bongbong” Marcos, which provides for the payment of compensation to victims of human rights violations under dictator Marcos. Buan also asked if “Bongbong” Marcos would abolish the National Day of Protest on September 21, which marks the anniversary of the declaration of martial law by his dictator father. On the same day, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) responded to the incident with a statement, saying: ‘We will have to keep asking uncomfortable questions and to be able to do that we have to help each other.’ According to the NUJP, on the one hand, the experience of journalists who already defended themselves against censorship under the Marcos dictatorship is highly important in the fight for freedom of press. On the other hand, young and enthusiastic journalists as well as their support by newsroom managers and civil society are necessary.
After the Philippine Congress officially declared “Bongbong” Marcos as the new president on May 25, 2022, only three journalists – representing the news media SMNI, NET25 and GMA News – were invited to a subsequent press conference. In this way, “Bongbong” Marcos is already following up on how he has been dealing with the press during his election campaign, wherein independent media was continuously excluded.
According to Danilo Arao, a professor for journalism at the University of the Philippines, the country will likely have to prepare for a tightening of repression against the free press. Arao also suspects that disinformation will be further institutionalized. Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch is also pessimistic: ‘Marcos Jr. will have tools at his disposal to muzzle the media in a manner that the elder Marcos, no supporter of press freedom, could only dream of.’
Photo © Raffy Lerma