U.N. expert tells Philippines to act on media killings, abolish NTF-ELCAC

Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, holds a news conference during an official visit to the Philippines, in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 2, 2024. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

A United Nations expert urged the Philippines on Friday to do more to curb the killings of journalists and supported abolishing an anti-communism task force whose actions suppress the freedom of expression of activists.

Irene Khan, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, spent almost two weeks in the Philippines to assess the state of free speech and media rights.

She described the murder of journalists as the “most egregious form of censorship”.

“The Philippines remains a dangerous country for journalists,” Khan said, adding “much more needs to be done to attack impunity”.

Citing data provided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), she said 81 cases of journalist killings have not been prosecuted or investigated. Since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took over as president in 2022, at least four journalists have been killed.

The Philippines is ranked 132nd out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.

Khan also recommended disbanding a government task force mandated to end half a century of communist insurgency, saying the possible restart of peace talks had made its existence “outdated”. A U.N. special rapporteur who visited Manila last year had a similar recommendation.

The task force has been accused of “red-tagging”, the practice of accusing government critics of being rebel sympathizers as a pre-text to silence, arrest or even kill them.

The practice, Khan said, suppresses legal activism and freedom of expression.

Jonathan Malaya, the national security council spokesperson, told a separate briefing that legal remedies are in place for victims and that the government does not condone the practice. The task force will “transition to a different body”, given the weakening communist insurgency, Malaya said.

— Reporting by Mikhail Flores, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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