The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) held its first Congress on July 30, 1988. NUJP’s first chairperson Antonio Nieva was tagged a communist back then. Nieva was arrested and detained in 1983 for leading the formation of media unions, the Brotherhood of Unions of Media in the Philippines or BUMP, that was later declared illegal and banned.

NUJP was later formed as a product of years of organizing during Martial Law, working for mutual aid of media workers and press freedom.

On July 30, 2021, NUJP members gathered online to remember the organization’s history and stress the importance of fighting for press freedom, for justice for slain journalists, and for welfare and rights of journalists and media workers.

“The state of media more than three decades later is no far removed from the days of Nieva and the first members of NUJP. The tendency to label journalists as terrorists, communists or enemies of the state is also back while the government has not held back on using legal and regulatory processes as well as economic pressure to further control the press,” said NUJP in its 33rd anniversary statement.

One of NUJP’s founders, Joel Paredes, recounted the burgeoning media union movement during martial law. Many newspapers were forming unions or workers or went on strike – Herald, Bulletin, Business Day (Business World today) and Journal among others. He remembered how then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile flew into a rage at the Press Club and called us communists because the unions were going on strike.

“After Martial Law, we filed a case with the Supreme Court that press freedom should include the right to unionize,” said Paredes.

He lamented that what happened before is happening again.

From 2020 up to present, NUJP, Altermidya and individual journalists have been repeatedly red-tagged by the government.

“Colleagues have been arrested and charged, newsrooms have had their operations threatened simply for doing their jobs. We have also documented incidents of surveillance on and intimidation of journalists during the pandemic lockdowns,” said NUJP.

The economic gains of journalists have also experienced a pushback from media owners.

“We fought for regularization of journalists and media workers. Now, they have devised a way to circumvent that by way of the talent system in media,” said Paredes.

The talent system in the media industry, found to be rampant in broadcasting, assigns journalists and media workers as talents or independent contractors and not as tenured or regular workers despite performing on essential and necessary work in the business for more than six months. As talents, they would be lucky to be given benefits as what the law requires to be given to regular workers.

An example in the practice of this system is when talents register their own name with the government’s tax agency to be able to issue the company receipts for the payment of their services and for them to file their own tax returns, to also establish that there is no employer-employee relationship between media company and talent.

In the NUJP survey of media workers earlier this year, 44% of the respondents report to receive a monthly salary of P15,000 and below. Fifteen percent are paid P5,000 and below each month. Seventy percent said they have to take on other jobs or small businesses to augment their income.

In some cases, usually in the provinces, journalists are paid per story published and the rate differs whether the story was published on the front page or the inside pages. Some rates can go as low as P100 for the front page and P75 on the inside pages.

In a separate survey by the Photojournalists Center of the Philippines, 27% of the respondents said they get P30,000 per year or only P2,500 monthly for their work. Of the 75% who said they were paid per photo used, 17% are paid less than P300 each and could go as low as P75.

But apart from the economic situation of workers, Paredes said “Press freedom is always at risk. Especially in the provinces, journalists are at risk every day.”

Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s term started in July 2016, at least 20 journalists have been killed, all of them were male and from the provinces. Nine of them were from Mindanao and seven of the nine were killed during Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao.

The Philippines is a mainstay in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index since its inception in 2008. The country enjoyed an improved ranking from fifth worst country to seventh worst due that the Maguindanao massacre in 2009 no longer falls into the the 10-year time frame for calculating the index. The Ampatuan massacre took a full decade of trial and convicted Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan who have appealed their convictions. Scores of suspects remain at large. 

In April, the Philippines dropped two more places in the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2021, placing 132 out of 180 countries. This is the fourth consecutive year the Philippines slipped in the rankings. RSF also listed the Philippines as one of 10 countries in the Asia Pacific that used the pandemic to implement laws against supposedly spread of ‘fake news’  but also to criminalize criticism of government.

Another one of NUJP’s founders, Sonia Capio, said being part of NUJP meant having competence and integrity, especially since corruption in the media still happens. But competence in the profession of journalism is not the only important and essential factor a journalist must have.

She said journalists must study society and proceed from an understanding of it, lest they be reporting news without the context of why they happened or not report on the things that needed to be changed.

“And during times of crises and attacks against our ranks, what I saw that allowed [those attacked or persecuted journalists] to hold it together is their ideology, their set of ideas and beliefs. We have to have that and define that. What is important is for the media to evolve as a freedom fighter,” said Capio.


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