Filipino women journalists: attacked but unbowed* Situation of women in media in the philippines

Journalists cannot sit idly by while the highest official of the land leads the attacks on press freedom and wields the machinery of government to peddle lies and deception.

by Ronalyn V. Olea

In April this year, a young woman journalist based in Mindanao was barred from covering a protest of internal refugees in Marawi City. Upon seeing her press ID, a military officer ordered the confiscation of documents and equipment of Davao Today reporter Kath Cortez.

"Uy, taga-Davao. Kumpiskahin ang ID! Kumpiskahin ang camera! Palabasin ‘yan ng Marawi! [Hey, she's from Davao! Confiscate her ID! Confiscate her camera! Get her out of Marawi!)" the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines quoted the officer.

A few months before this incident, Cortez received a death threat through a text message.

"Isang bala para nimu! Meri xmas!" [A bullet for you! Merry Christmas!] was one of the messages sent from 09467002090 on December 18.

Other messages from the same number told her to 'take it easy' from criticizing the government and tagged her as a communist supporter.

Tudla Productions’ Erika Rae Cruz and her team were under military surveillance while filming a documentary about the Lumad communities in Mindanao.

The film is part of IAWRT's documentary project 'Displacement and Resilience.'

The entire island of Mindanao has been placed under Martial Law by President Rodrigo Duterte since May 2017 after fighting between government troops and a small armed group linked to ISIS erupted in Marawi City.

In fact, since Duterte came to power in June 2016, media watchdogs have documented 85 cases of attacks and threats against journalists ranging from killings, death threats, surveillance, website attacks, verbal abuse and strafing, among others. Twelve journalists have been gunned down under the Duterte administration. No one has been punished for the killings.

On his first week in office, Duterte justified the killing of journalists.

"Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a bitch," Duterte said.

"Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong," he added.

Since 1986 or the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, at least 185 journalists, of whom 12 were women, had been killed.

Twelve of them were killed in the first two years of Duterte’s rule.

Duterte himself called out media outfits such as Rappler, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN for their supposed “slanted reporting.”

The websites of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Kodao Productions and Vera Files were taken down by unknown attackers after posting statements and reports critical of the president.

Kodao's website was hacked--with the hacker deleting months of content on the website.

Even social media network site Facebook has not been considered a neutral ground for free press and expression.

In June last year, seasoned journalists were locked out of their accounts after thousands of users reported them for violating Facebook community standards after posting statements critical of Duterte’s decision allowing the hero’s burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

Inday Espina-Varona was among those victimized by alleged 'call center troll operations' that send hundreds of public abusive comments or bulk reporting against the account holder. This now usually happens to individuals or groups in the country who post something against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. or about remembering the horrors of Martial Law or speaking out against Duterte.

The supposed 'community standards' of Facebook has been used by trolls against journalists, while Facebook has done very little to curb the proliferation of trolls, abusive comments, fake accounts and fake news.

More women journalists under attack

The online attacks were said to be the handiwork of Duterte supporters--also known as the DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters)--who are usually called upon to respond to critics and criticisms of Duterte in the video blogs of former Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, as well and other bloggers and vloggers who supported Duterte from the campaign up to present.

For reporting the truth behind a gruesome killing in Mindanao, veteran journalist Julie Alipala was branded a terrorist in a Facebook page believed to be managed by Duterte’s supporters.

Alipala wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer titled “7 young Tausug men killed by military not Abu Sayyaf bandits – relative.” Two days later, a Facebook page “Huwag Tularan” screen grabbed the headline of Alipala’s story and included her photo with the words, “Magkano kaya ang binayad kay Julie Alipala? Pati teroristang Abu Sayyaf pinagtatanggol niya! Certified bayarang kulumnista.” (How much was Julie Alipala paid? She is defending the terrorist Abu Sayyaf! Certified paid columnist)

Abu Sayyaf is a bandit group in the southern Philippines notorious for kidnapping for ransom. Being labeled as an Abu Sayyaf supporter not only maligns Alipala’s reputation but also undermines her safety and security.

The online harassment against Alipala is just the latest in a string of attacks against Filipino women journalists. Under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, women journalists and the Philippine media in general face more threats to press freedom.

Jamela Alindogan-Caudron found herself at the receiving end of hate speech for reporting Duterte’s anti-drug campaign and clashes between the military and the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Freelance journalist Gretchen Malalad was accused of sharing information with TIME magazine reporter Rishi Iyengar, who wrote the critical article “The Killing Season: Inside Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs” for the news magazine.

Like Alipala, they were called names such as “traitor,” “bayaran” (paid journalist) and “presstitute.” Some even said that the two journalists should be raped or killed.

Pia Ranada of Rappler and Jam Sisante of GMA 7 also became targets of online harassment by pro-Duterte bloggers.

Such distressing remarks being hurled against women journalists are no different from Duterte’s misogynistic statements against women. He has repeatedly uttered “jokes” about rape and went as far as calling on his soldiers to shoot women guerrillas in their genitals.

Apart from the threats and online harassment, women journalists in the Philippines recently also suffered a worse affront to their duties: being arrested on the job.

On July 31, five journalists, including two women, were arrested while covering the violent dispersal of workers’ strike in Bulacan.

While filming the incident, Altermidya staff Avon Ang and Hiyas Saturay and three others were arrested by police.

Another woman journalist, IAWRT scholar Rosemarie Alcaraz, was also hurt as she ran away from a policeman attempting to grab her camera.

Ang and Saturay were detained, along with three other journalists and striking workers and supporters, for two days.

Fellow journalists from IAWRT Philippines who went to check on them and report the incident were denied access and threatened by the police. The five were eventually released after a local court dismissed the charges against them, but authorities never returned their cellphones, camera, laptops and other equipment.

Amid the continuous attacks on the Philippine media, the Philippines slid six spots down in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The year before, the Reporters Sans Frontiers declared the Philippines as the Asia’s deadliest country for media.

The situation prompted the media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) to urge David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to investigate the attacks.


Amid the online and offline attacks, Filipino women journalists and the Philippine press in general strive to perform the duty of reporting the truth.

Journalists cannot sit idly by while the highest official of the land leads the attacks on press freedom and wields the machinery of government to peddle lies and deception. With a president admitting to the whole world that he is to blame for the extrajudicial killings of thousands of drug suspects, journalists are duty bound to fight alongside the Filipino people in upholding democracy and in demanding an end to the bloodthirsty madness. After all, responsible journalism entails the defense of truth, democracy and accountability.

The history of the Philippine press is a history of asserting press freedom, especially during times of tyrannical rule. We shall carry on.

*The author is the treasurer of IAWRT Philippines chapter and former director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Created By
Ronalyn Olea


Layout and edits by Lady Ann Salem

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