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Emergency should not curtail independence of media

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The National Union of Journaiists of the Philippines is concerned over the bill Malacañang has asked Congress to pass in special session today, Monday, March 23, declaring a national emergency on account of the COVID-19 crisis and allowing President Rodrigo Duterte to wield extraordinary powers.While we recognize the gravity of the health crisis our country and people are confronted with, we are just as worried that the emergency may be used as justification to suppress basic civil and political rights, including the freedom of the press and of expression.

We cite, in particular, Section 4 (4), “Authorized Powers,” which provides:

“When the public interest so requires, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the CoVID- 19 emergency as determined by the President, including but not limited to, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public; and Provided, however, that to the extent feasible, management shall be retained by the owners of the public service or enterprise, under the direction and supervision of the President or his duly designated representative who shall render a full accounting to the President of the operations of the utility or business taken over; Provided further, That whenever the President shall determine that the further use or operation by the Government of an such public service or enterprise is no longer necessary under existing conditions, the same shall be restored to the person entitled to the possession thereof; Provided, finally, That reasonable compensation for any additional damages or costs incurred by the owner or the possessor of the subject property solely on account of the take-over may be given to the person entitled to the possession of such private properties or businesses after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest tnne practicable;”

The open-ended phrase “including but not limited to” exposes all possible enterprises imbued with public interest, including the media, to potential takeover, while broadcasters, which are regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission, could be construed to be “telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public,” a function all media outfits perform.

We call on the community of independent Filipino journalists to be vigilant and close ranks against any attempts to prevent us from carrying out our duties. We also call on media houses to assert independence from government interference.

In this time of crisis, we owe it to our people to assure the continued and timely delivery of accurate information.

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