Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is exaggerating by characterizing the media and press landscape in the Philippines under the Duterte administration as “worse than any war zone” that she has been in, Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo pointed out that only those involved in the illegal drug trade who resisted arrest could compare their environment to a war zone.
“She is always exaggerating. It’s only a war zone to those who are involved in drugs and who resist violently any warrant of arrest being served to them or when they are subject to a buy-bust operation and they violently resist as well as imperil the lives of the law enforcement officers,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
In an interview over 60 Minutes, a program aired at the news site of American mass media company CBS, Ressa said the Philippine media environment has been “living through three years of this kind of hell”.
For Panelo, media workers in the country remained “safe” and remained free to cover events in the country.
“The fact is that every journalist whether here or abroad is free to cover any event in this country and they come out alive and well and very good at reporting even if sometimes exaggerating,” Panelo said.
Under investigation not, under attack
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar, for his part, disputed Ressa’s claims that her arrests and charges are meant to “pound her into silence” for reporting about alleged extrajudicial killings tied to the drug war.
Andanar emphasized that cases filed against Ressa and Rappler were for the violation of the Anti-Dummy Law, tax evasion charges, and a cyber libel case filed by a private individual that has “nothing to do with the administration.”
“The environment for journalists perceived by Ms. Ressa isn’t reflective of the actual environment for journalists in the Philippines,” Andanar said.
“Ms. Ressa claims that she is ‘under attack’ by the government; when in fact, she is ‘under investigation’ due to her criminal liabilities, from which no one, not even members of the press are exempt from,” he added.
He said Ressa’s case is not an issue involving press freedom but an issue in violation of the Philippine laws acted upon by respective government agencies.
The PCOO chief said Ressa ignored the Duterte administration’s policies that promote the press’ freedom, rights, and security citing Administrative Order (AO) No. 1 which created the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) to address media killings and harassments.
Apart from AO No.1, Duterte also issued Executive Order (EO) No. 2, s. 2016, also known as the Freedom of Information (FOI) Program which requires complete public disclosure of public records, contracts, transactions, and any information, with exceptions for information relating and affecting the national security, requested by a member of the public from all government agencies under the Executive Department.
Andanar said the media environment in the Philippines is “vibrant and alive” since criticisms from all sectors of the media are welcomed and encouraged by the Duterte administration.
He also denied Ressa’s allegation that the Duterte administration employs social media “trolls” to spread misleading information that is “baseless and unproven.”
“Rappler and Ms. Ressa, herself, have been deemed to be sources of fake news just as some government oppositionists lie and claim that the government spreads propaganda. Needless to say, the spreading of fake news is rampant nowadays, in both traditional and social media, utilized by those who have vested interests in fooling the public,” he added.
He said Duterte administration is in pursuit of the truth, to weed out disinformation, to uphold the free press, and to protect the media.
EJKs not state-sanctioned
Andanar, meanwhile, described Rappler’s reports of drug war deaths as “purely estimates cited from sources that suit their agenda and not actual statistics from authorities.”
He said there is no concrete proof that the government sanctions extrajudicial killings.
Citing Panelo, Andanar also defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s supposed admission of his act of killing and that of Operation Tokhang’s, describing them as “hyperbolic expressions” which are not representative of the facts on the ground.
He said Rappler’s reportage “overlooks” the drug war’s favorable outcome such as the decline in the Philippines’ crime rate by 16.16 percent in 2018 from 2016, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) from July 2016 to August 2019 show that PHP35.66-billion worth of illegal drugs were seized, 208,279 individuals have been arrested in relation to illegal drugs, and 445,669 drug addicts have surrendered, he added.
Anadanar, however, acknowledged that there are circumstances the involvement of rogue cops has resulted in injustices.
He ensured that these cops will undertake reformation and that the government will continue to respond to any unfounded allegations through legal means. (PNA)
Al-Baghdadi’s death does not mean extinction of ISIS: Palace
Malacañang said the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “good news” for countries terrorized by the group but noted that the government should not let its guard down.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that despite the IS leader’s death, the terrorist group still has members around the globe that could wreak havoc at any moment.
“That’s good news for countries that have been terrorized by the ISIS. But then again the leader of one group does not mean the extinction of that band of terrorists and we know that for a fact,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing on Monday.
Panelo acknowledged the possibility that al-Baghdadi’s death could discourage the terrorist group members from committing more atrocities.
However, he assured the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would be on high alert to foil possible attempts by terrorist groups attempting to ride on al-Baghdadi’s death.
“It may also cause discouragement on the part of the terrorist groups. But as far as we’re concerned, whether the leader dies or not, we will secure that part of our country from them,” Panelo said.
Asked if al-Baghdadi’s death would have an impact on the recruitment of IS members in Mindanao, Panelo said: “Hindi ko mabasa yung magiging response ng mga nire-recruit nila (I cannot surmise what the response of those being recruited will be) if it will affect them or not.”
Mindanao has been under martial law since May 23, 2017, the same day Islamic State-linked Maute terror group laid siege to Marawi City in Lanao de Sur province.
Like Panelo, AFP spokesperson, Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the IS leader’s death will not necessarily mean the demise of the terrorist organizations.
“His death will definitely impact on local terrorist groups but not to the point of its demise,” Arevalo said.
On Sunday (US time), US President Donald Trump announced that al-Baghdadi had been killed in a US military operation in northwest Syria.
Trump said US Special Operations Forces conducted a raid Saturday night targeting al-Baghdadi, during which he killed himself by igniting a suicide vest. (PNA)
Raising arbitral ruling on West Philippine Sea ‘a futile exercise’
Malacañang rejected a former Cabinet official’s suggestion to raise the arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea at the 74th United Nations (UN) General Assembly, describing it as a “futile exercise.”
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo dismissed former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario’s suggestion, saying the UN body has no power to enforce the Philippines’ legal victory over China.
“For one, it’s a futile exercise. Why? Because the UN has no enforcement force,” Panelo said in a media interview.
Del Rosario cited the case of Nicaragua against the United States where the UN had supported the legal victory of the former by adopting a resolution calling for full compliance with the judgment of the International Court of Justice.
“Nicaragua’s resort to the UN had the effect of securing international publicity and of gaining favorable global opinion. The United States continued to defy the UN resolutions, until later on, it ultimately provided a substantial aid package to Nicaragua,” del Rosario said.
Panelo, however, said that despite this resolution, there was no further development on Nicaragua’s case.
“He is citing the case of Nicaragua. Did anything happen there? None. It remained the same,” Panelo said.
The Palace official reiterated that President Rodrigo R. Duterte still finds his method of holding bilateral talks with China as the most effective.
“There is impasse but the talks are still ongoing. At the same time, he negotiates with respect to other areas of concern mutually beneficial to both (countries),” Panelo said.
On Monday, del Rosario urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to “formulate a strategy on how the global village of nations can be convinced to take a stand on the rule of law in support of the Philippines.”
For del Rosario, the UN General Assembly is “an excellent venue because all countries will listen and the Philippines can present a case for the UN to reassert that right is might and the rule of law must be upheld.”
The Philippines is scheduled to speak before the UN on September 28. (PNA)
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Wednesday said he would not resign amid allegations that he had a hand in the possible release of convicted rapist-murderer, former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez.
Panelo was the lawyer of Sanchez when the mayor was charged with the murder of two University of the Philippines (UP) students in 1993.
Panelo made this remark after retired judge Harriet Demetriou, the judge who convicted Sanchez, called for Panelo’s resignation, refusing to believe that the spokesman had nothing to do with Sanchez’s possible freedom based on Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) or Republic Act No. 10592. President Rodrigo Duterte said earlier he would not allow the release of Sanchez.
Sanchez was sentenced to seven counts of reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years imprisonment) for the rape and murder of UP-Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her companion, Allan Gomez in 1993.
R.A. 10592 provides new guidelines on how to compute good conduct time, including a 20-day deduction for each month of good behavior during the first two years of imprisonment.
Panelo dismissed Demetriou’s call for him to resign as “silly, if not absurd”, noting that her opinion against him was made “on the basis of pure speculation”.
“I serve at the pleasure of the President, and as his alter ego, I will not be distraught nor derailed by any unfounded remark raised against me. I will instead continue to faithfully perform my duties in accordance with the law, the functions attached to my office as well as the directives given me by the President,” Panelo said in a statement.
“I hope that, being a practitioner of the law, Judge Demetriou will soon realize that expressing judgmental or condemnatory remarks based on a simple hunch has no place in a profession which values the rule of law.” he added.
Panelo, who is also Duterte’s Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, also insisted anew that he had no hand in the possible liberty any of the qualified inmates who may be freed under the GCTA.
“My office has nothing to do with the possible release of qualified inmates. That is the turf and the responsibility of the Department of Justice and the concerned offices under it. I do not intrude nor poke my finger into any matter that is not within the mandate of my office,” Panelo said in a statement.
He explained that when President Rodrigo Duterte asked for his opinion on whether Sanchez was covered by the benefit granted to inmates under the GCTA, he said the former mayor was ineligible.
“I categorically stated that by express provision of the law, Mr. Sanchez and those similarly situated, meaning inmates charged and convicted of heinous crimes, as well as those recidivists, habitual delinquents, and escapees, are excluded from the coverage of the law,” Panelo said.
“Dura lex sed lex. There is no way by which those expressly disqualified by law could be considered for release by reason of good behavior,” he added.
As for inmates who are qualified under the GCTA, Panelo said there is no need for any intervention from anybody in the government because they will be automatically processed in accordance with the law.
Panelo, meanwhile, defended his initial response to reporters saying that the government cannot oppose the law if it allows inmates to be released earlier from their prison cells based on good behavior while in service.
“Such pronouncement still stands as we will implement the law and we will implement it properly, that is to the exclusion of recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes,” Panelo said.
Panelo said he withdrew as the lawyer of Sanchez in 1995.(with PNA report)
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