Holding the line against Duterte’s attacks

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When sworn in as president in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte issued this cryptic but grim warning: “Just because you're a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination if you're a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong." Four Philippine journalists were killed in 2020, probably by thugs working for local politicians, who can have reporters silenced with complete impunity. After a ten-year wait, several leading members of the Ampatuan political clan were finally convicted in December 2019 of carrying out the biggest-ever massacre of journalists – on the island of Mindanao in 2009. But other persons implicated in this massacre are still free. The government, for its part, has developed several ways to pressure journalists who dare to be overly critical of the summary methods adopted by “Punisher” Duterte and his “war on drugs”. After targeting the Daily Philippines Inquirer, the hot-headed president and his staff embarked on a grotesque judicial harassment campaign against the news website Rappler and its editor, Maria Ressa, who has been the target of at least ten arrest warrants on a range of charges, all equally far-fetched. The Philippine congress, most of which supports the president, refused in the summer of 2020 to renew the franchise of the country’s biggest TV network, ABS-CBN, depriving millions of Filipinos of absolutely essential public interest reporting during the pandemic. The persecution of the media has been accompanied by online harassment campaigns orchestrated by pro-Duterte troll armies, which also launched cyber-attacks on alternative news websites and the site of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, in order to block them. “Red-tagging” also returned in force in 2020. A hangover from the Cold War and, before that, from when the country was a US colony, this is a typically Philippine practice under which dissident individuals or groups, including journalists and media outlets, are identified to the police and paramilitaries as legitimate targets for arbitrary arrest or, worse still, summary execution. In response to all these attacks, the Philippine independent media have rallied around the call to “Hold the line”.

in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index



136 in 2020

Global score


43.54 in 2020


  • 1
    journalists killed in 2021
  • 0
    citizens journalists killed in 2021
  • 0
    media assistants killed in 2021
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