Philippine journalist forced to apologize for criticizing coronavirus “inaction”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that supporters of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pressured a student newspaper editor into issuing a public apology and, in effect, renouncing his right to free speech after he criticized the government’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic.
Their victim was Joshua Molo, the editor of UE Dawn, the student newspaper at Manila’s University of the East, who had posted criticism of the government’s “inaction” on Facebook.
Molo was summoned before the “barangay” (community council) in the San Fernando Sur district of his hometown, Cabiao, 95 km north of Manila, for a “mediation” meeting at midday on 5 April in response to a complaint by three of his former high school teachers, who are Duterte supporters.
Molo said the teachers threatened to sue him for libel, while barangay officials threatened to have him arrested if he did not issue an apology and pledge not to criticize the government again. Unable to afford the legal costs of defending himself in a lawsuit, he gave a public apology in a video posted on Facebook at around 1:30 pm.
“It is absolutely intolerable that a student journalist has been harassed by his elders in this way to the point of having to renounce his right to freedom of expression,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Forcing dissidents to make public apologies is the prerogative of totalitarian regimes. That this practice is taking place in the Philippines today speaks volumes about the current state of democracy in this country under President Duterte.”
Two other journalists, Mario Batuigas and Amor Virata, are facing the possibility of up to two months in prison as a result of charges brought by the police on 28 March under a new law penalizing “false information” about the coronavirus crisis although “false information” is not legally defined.
The Philippines is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.