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Task force, Comelec to classify threats, attacks vs media as election offenses

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are set to sign a deal that will classify threats, harassment, physical attacks and other forms of violence against members of the media during the election period as "election offenses."

According to PTFoMS executive director Undersecretary Paul Gutierrez, the two agencies are expected to sign the memorandum of agreement (MOA) as early as next month as both sides recognize the urgency of the situation.

"Moving forward, we can view this MOA as an initiative that would send a strong message to the public and the international community that the Philippines is committed to protecting press freedom and upholding democratic values and creating an informed citizenry," Gutierrez said in a press release.

Gutierrez said that he and Comelec Chairman George Garcia agreed on the matter during their "brief but comprehensive" meeting at the Commission's office in Manila last May 23.

"I am glad that Chairman Garcia is fully supportive of the desire of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to create a safe environment for the country's press, especially with the 2025 midterm election just around the corner," Gutierrez said.

"Himself a former broadcast journalist, Chairman Garcia is keenly aware of the threats that our journalists face especially during the elections when tensions are high. I am pleased to note of the good chairman's offer to exercise the power of the Comelec to warn candidates, political parties and their supporters that any attempt to stifle the country's press from performing its mandate during the election period would be dealt with swiftly and decisively," he added.

The PTFoMS also asked Comelec to be part of the media safety summits, which the former has been organizing all over the country for the protection of the rights of the members of the press.

Meanwhile, the PTFoMS vowed to create a database of all election-related incidents involving media workers while both sides would also create a reporting mechanism that would be used by the COMELEC to address the incidents.

The Philippines remains a "dangerous place" for journalists, slipping further to 134th place out of 180 countries ranked in the latest World Press Freedom Index by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

This year's rank for the Philippines is two notches lower from its 132nd spot in 2023, when the country improved 14 places in the index. — VDV, GMA Integrated News