By The Nightcrawlers*

THOUSANDS have been killed in the government’s brutal crusade against drugs. They call it a war. It is, instead, a violent campaign against the poorest and most vulnerable.

Many stories have been published. Thousands of images have been captured. We are told we are yellow and biased, presstitutes and destabilizers, the paid operatives of drug lords and foreign imperialists.

Our work has been reduced into a supposed product of staging and manipulation.

The President himself has publicly called our reports fake news. News groups have been targeted. We have been insulted, harassed, and threatened with rape and death on and offline.

We will continue reporting. We will stay on in the field with the bodies and the witnesses.

For us, it’s not about political color. We believe in human rights, and the humanity of every citizen, regardless of class or background. We strive for balance and seek accountability.

We are biased for facts, and we hope to honor the tradition of a free and fearless press. — PCIJ, May 2018

This story and other “Voices from the Frontlines” dispatches form part of the state of press freedom report, “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check”, produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Philippine Press Institute, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

* “The Nightcrawlers” is an informal group of photojournalists working with various Philippine and foreign media agencies who prowl the streets of Metro Manila night after night to document drug war killings. The group members have produced the most riveting images of the war on drugs.


RODRIGO R. Duterte’s presidency has altered and controlled the public discourse so radically in its favor in ways rude and bold. One tragic result: it has restricted and narrowed the celebrated freedom of the Philippine press and the people’s cherished right to know.

In his first 22 months in power, Mr. Duterte has earned the dubious honor of logging 85 various cases of attacks and threats on these dual values that the Constitution upholds as inalienable rights of the citizens. The number far exceeds those recorded under four presidents before him.

Separately and together, these 85 cases have made the practice of journalism an even more dangerous endeavor under Duterte.

From June 30, 2016 to May 1, 2018, these cases include the killing of 9 journalists, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attack, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies.

These cases project the force of presidential power dominating the political sphere, with zealous support from Duterte allies and appointees, and their sponsored misinformation army online and off. They have hurled at members of the press insults and unfair labels, and allegations of corruption and misconduct without firm basis in fact or in law.

These cases linger amid effete efforts at solution by state agencies, and in the context of the hostile and vicious discourse against the administration’s critics and the critical media.

The President, Cabinet members, and the House of Representatives have imposed and proposed unprecedented restrictions on journalist access to official news events. Congress and executive agencies have denied or delayed the corporate registration or franchises required for operation of media companies.

Some journalists and media groups have also reported police surveillance of their movement and their places of work.

WPFD. 3-May-2018_Media-Murders
Attacks on press freedom diminish not just the news media. These weaken the capacity of the news media to sustain the people’s unfettered exchange of ideas about public issues. Presidential intolerance of criticism is now a well-established aspect of Duterte’s leadership. While he is not the only chief executive who has become sensitive to press criticism, Duterte has made sure that everyone understands that misfortunes could hound and befall his critics.

And yet Duterte had promised change; his government should thus tell the people when and where change has come to fruition, and whether it has triggered better or worse results. By keeping citizens and voters fully informed about what and how those they have raised to power are doing right or wrong, a free press sustains and strengthens democracy.

That is not quite the situation under Duterte as yet. Intimidated, restrained, and threatened with consequences, the news media have been significantly constrained to report well and fully on the war on drugs, the siege of Marawi, cases of alleged corruption in high office, questions about the wealth of the Duterte family, the public debate on Charter change and federalism, the shutdown of Boracay, and not the least significant, the incursions of China in the West Philippine Sea.

Rodrigo R. Duterte has brandished the power of fear. His threats and attacks bear the full weight of his office, the highest in the land. No need to test constitutional limits. All he seems to want to do is to make enough journalists understand that they should be very afraid.

But, like fear, courage could be contagious. And unlike fear that disempowers, courage built on the power of truth and the unity of all in media is a force that empowers.

To stand firm and to stand united for press freedom and democracy, to speak truth to power and to keep power in check — this much the press owes the people. And whoever is president, the paramount duty of a free press in a democracy is to defend and uphold the people’s right to know, with unqualified courage and unity.

Pooled editorial of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Philippine media agencies, in observance of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2018


By John Reiner Antiquerra

THE PRESIDENT has made it well known that he is no fan of the press, but what about the Filipino public?

Judging from the posts on PCIJ’s “Shout Out for Press Freedom” wall at the recent Alinday Advocacy Fair at the University of the Philippines, the campus crowd at least appreciates the importance of media freedom to sustaining democracy.

PCIJ was among those invited to set up booths at the event, which coincided with the state university’s fair that was held last Feb. 13 to 17. The Shout Out wall was one among several activities that the Center had lined up for its Press Freedom booth. Each night of the fair — except for the first when PCIJ allowed people to freely express themselves on topics they feel most connected to — fairgoers were asked to respond to questions related to media and press freedom.

But even during the first night, the posts on the wall already included expressions of support for press freedom. Said one: “Malaya at mapagpalayang pamamahayag para sa pagbabagong panlipunan (Free and liberating reporting for societal change)!” Another post said, “Yes to responsible journalism, no to fake news,” while yet another said, “Do not silence the media! No to fake news!”

For Day – or rather Night – Two, the Shout Out wall’s question was: “How do we fight ‘fake news’?” Many of those who responded cited the importance of being critical, as well of verifying the information they see or receive by checking with various sources. Several also mentioned not sharing unverified information.

“Fake news is the devil’s deception. Do research. Do analyze. Do think,” wrote one. “Be ‘factboy’ and ‘factgirl’. Be factual, search for other news sites before we believe anything we read on the net. Let’s (re)search first.”

Others suggested more proactive measures, such as reporting or blocking on social media, pages and accounts that spread “fake news.” Several of the posts mentioned in particular PCOO Asec. Mocha Uson, saying that people should not listen to her and to stop reading her blog.

Education is also something that most of the Shout Out wall posters saw as a way to fight “fake news.” One of them even suggested, “Promote the media information literacy to all students and to fellow countrymen so that many people will become critical reader(s)….”

By Night Three, fairgoers were being asked to tackle the question: “Why is press freedom important?”

Many of the responses underlined the importance of a free press in telling and learning about the truth. As one of the posts put it, “Dahil hindi tayo makakapagbigay ng tamang impormasyon kung hindi malaya ang pagpapahayag. Dahil karapatan natin malaman ang katotohanan! (Because we will be unable to give the right information without press freedom. Because we have the right to know the truth!)”

Another post said that a free press helps the public to remain aware of the issues that affect them, as well as to open up the mind of each citizen. (“Kailangang magpatuloy ang malayang pamamahayag upang manatiling mulat ang mga mamamayan sa mga isyu na sila rin ang maapektuhan. Upang mabuksan ang kaisipan ng bawat mamamayan.”)

A free press also helps provide the necessary checks and balances in governance, according to other posts, with one calling the media as “our extra eye on the government” and “one of the main sources of information.” The same post said as well, “Freedom is essential for showing the truth.”

Several of the posts on the Shout Out wall acknowledged free press as a right, with at least one saying that it should be given value: “Ang malayang pamamahayag ang pundasyon ng demokratikong pamahalaan at lipunan. Isa din itong basic civil right na dapat pahalagahan. Press freedom is a cornerstone of democracy!”

Night Four’s question — “What should media cover? — unsurprisingly drew a variety of responses. The top two suggestions, however, were extrajudicial killings and the Duterte administration’s so-called “war on drugs.”

One post explained why the media should cover extrajudicial killings this way: “Life is sacred. Instead of censoring this, we must raise awareness and put a stop to these killings.” It also encouraged more stories on Tokhang victims “because we have to remind the people they are human.”

The UP fairgoers though also thought issues on mental health, LGBT, and gender equality, and the Lumad are more than worthy of media coverage. According to one post, the media should cover mental-health issues because “it’s about time to focus on things that every Filipino go through every day.” Another pointed to the need to talk about the “persecution” and “struggles of the indigenous people.”

Other topics suggested for more media coverage included poverty, corruption, cyberbullying, human rights, labor rights, education, issues related to Benham Rise, TRAIN Law, transport system, health care, HIV awareness, teenage pregnancy, fake news, and environment issues.

As the event drew to a close, PCIJ decided to give fairgoers a break by offering a dugtungan or a fill-in-the-blank on the Shout Out wall on Night Five. The responses, however, remained serious and intense. Asked to fill in the blank after “Ang media, ang bayan (Media, the country/society)…,” many fairgoers said that media and society have to work together for there to be truth. A post said, “Ang media, ang bayan, magkatulong sa pagpapahayag ng katotohanan. Ang media, ang bayan, daan sa kamulatan. (Media and society work together to bring forth truth. Media and society are paths toward awareness.)”

“Ang media, tulay ng komunikasyon. Ang bayan na kapos sa impormasyon (Media would be the communication bridge. Society lacks information),” another post said. “Ang media, ang bayan ang magkasangga sa pagkakaisa’t pagtigil sa opresyon na dala ng gobyerno (Media and society are allies in fighting against the oppression caused by government).”

A third post said that media and society should be heard and protected: “Ang media, ang bayan ay ating pakinggan at protektahan.”

But while fairgoers recognized the role of the media as enablers of free flow of information and platforms to inform the public, there were those who thought the media were not really objective. A few of the posts: “Ang media, minsan is unfair!” “Katotohanan please!” “Ang media ay bias. Ang bayan ay ignorante.”

One post said that media and society should take the side of truth and be faithful to the public they serve: “Ang media, ang bayan, dapat pumanig sa katotohanan. Ang media, ang bayan, dapat ay tapat sa mamamayan!”

PCIJ had actually accepted the invitation to set up a booth at the advocacy fair, an initiative of the UP Student Council, as a way to reach out to the general public and engage them on issues related to press freedom, access to information, and democracy. With the theme “Highlighting the Resilience of the Filipino Spirit Toward Progressive Change,” the advocacy fair had aimed to promote campaigns for human rights, equality, peace, and democracy.

Visitors to the PCIJ booth were given free copies of “Know Your Rights!” primer on basic human rights produced by PCIJ with the Free Legal Assistance Group or FLAG.
They were also treated to free face paint, glitter tattoo, and photo booth sessions.

Photojournalists Raffy Lerma and Vincent Go were invited to present their coverage of the government’s anti-drug war, while other journalists were present for meet-and-greet sessions. — PCIJ, February 2018

By Karol Ilagan

HE LASHES OUT at reporters and calls the false and misleading information that he dishes out as jokes or “traps.” Yet while his diatribes can be described as unbecoming of his office, President Rodrigo R. Duterte remains widely popular, enjoying consistently high trust ratings in surveys.

But public-relations practitioner Ron Jabal says that to understand why Duterte is winning the so-called information war requires going beyond the soundbites and personalities and looking into the motives and interests of both the source and interpreter of the message.

Speaking at a panel in the Democracy and Disinformation conference last week, Jabal said that journalists need to look at Duterte’s public appearances as a ritual or a performance. Duterte is not just a disseminator of information, he said, but a source of drama. This, according to Jabal, is how the President’s supporters interpret his message – that he is performing, not just providing information.

Organized by news organizations and universities, the two-day event held at the Ateneo de Manila University in Makati gathered over 40 media experts to discuss why “fake news” and other forms of disinformation threaten freedoms, and how people can fight back.

Jabal said that while shedding light on the truth through reporting and fact-checking is of course essential, the campaign that needed to be done is not only about communication but also behavioral in nature.

“Fake news, misinformation, disinformation, or even ‘malinformation’ could be a strategy,” he said. “So we need to look at it from that way.”

When viewed from a PR lens, Jabal said, what is happening indicates that disinformation might be part of a strategy because of a structure that seems to be followed. He said that this is why the media and other institutions need to look at the issue with the elements of a campaign in mind to understand why there has been so much support for Duterte.

Check out Jonathan Corpus Ong and Jason Vincent O. Cabañes’ study titled “Architects of Networked Disinformation: Behind the Scenes of Troll Accounts and Fake News Production in the Philippines,” which found that disinformation production is a professionalized enterprise in the country.

“We need to look at the source or the agent – who are speaking, who are producing this content,” Jabal said. “We need to be able look at it from the point of view of the message itself – how is the message being crafted?”

These need to be addressed because the messages and the images being developed use shared belief as a base. This goes back to Jabal’s point that understanding Duterte’s supporters – who they are and how they are interpreting his messages — is an important part of the equation as well.

Jabal noted that Duterte’s supporters, when they post or share information online, could be performing as well just like the president. This rests on his observation that every time people publish something on Facebook, they almost instantaneously check whether their friends are liking or sharing it. The tendency is to share because the idea is people believe in that information.

“We’re performing also for our followers, for those people who like us,” he said.

This could be a reason why the supposed strategy is winning because the information given is packaged and repackaged in a manner that appeals to the base of the base, Jabal said.

Hong Kong Baptist University journalism professor Cherian George, another speaker at the conference, meanwhile put forth another perspective. To be sure, the media being able reach out to the audience using the right communication tools and social media skills is important. But George said that this is not enough because the truth, in the current context, is a much harder sell than the lie.

“The truth is if you’re looking at the economic problems of any country, there are simply no easy answers,” he said. “How do you go out and tell the people, ‘Well, the truth is, looking at the state of the world, of our country, it is in fact not possible for any politician to guarantee you a job or a high salary’.”

The fact that sacrifices need to be made in order to ensure some basic decent living is a hard sell. Making empty promises, like how politicians do, meanwhile, is much easier to do.

For instance, with human rights, the easy sell is to tell people that they are first and foremost Filipino, Muslim, or Hindu, and that other people do not count, George said. In short, asking people to look at themselves in terms of their most obvious and salient identity is easy. It is harder to ask people to consider the obligation they owe to strangers simply because they are members of the human race.

The problem requires deep civic education, which is more than a job for the media. The solution cannot be captured in a clever tweet or soundbite.

George pointed out that this is why demagogues like Donald Trump go for the easy sell — not because they are ideologically attached to white nationalism for example, but because these are effective, easy political stances.

“If it was easy to promote democracy and human rights, Donald Trump would be doing, championing that,” he said. “He is not, because it is a hard sell.”

The often easy answer, George noted, is to blame it on the people “because it lets us off the hook.” The more challenging question is how the system let down people so badly that they are willing to overturn norms and rebel against expertise. This is a much harder question because media, academe, and other institutions across society end up pointing fingers at each other.

“We have failed the people over a long time such that they are willing to opt for easy but wrong answers.” George said.

Jabal, though, said that reporters can do more in presenting facts and data by using real-life experiences and doing more investigative reporting in the mainstream. Beyond content itself, the PR practitioner also emphasized the need to study how information is distributed. He finds a problem with Facebook giving users just one side of the story, as an effect of echo chambers and filter bubbles.

Social networking service Facebook uses an algorithm that provides content to users that it deems the user wants. This is based on user activity, when he or she engages with like-minded friends or screens out content that does not conform with his or her existing preferences. The result is a virtual bubble that reinforces the user’s biases, insulating him or her from opposing viewpoints.

George, however, sees a problem in looking at filter bubbles from the lens of social media seen as a new form of media. He said that the media must also look at it as a new form of conversation or social interaction. In truth, he said, people tend to interact socially with people they like, and with whom they share the same values.

“We don’t then think about what society should do to penetrate our conversations or gate-crash our party,” he said. “In a crowded, in a very intrusive environment, we have the power retreat into our spaces where we get to chat with people we care about, people we share our values, our religion.”

George said that while this reality offline is not alarming or wrong, it turns out to be a dilemma online. Rather than seeing it as a problem on Facebook, however, George said that journalists must ask whether they are doing enough to create media experiences where people get to confront other points of view. — PCIJ, February 2018


GOT A DATE on Valentine’s Day? Or even, got time for friends in the next five nights?

Allow us say thank you and let’s celebrate the week together in fun but thoughtful conversation and interaction on press freedom, freedom of information, and democracy!

Starting tomorrow, Feb. 13, and until Saturday, Feb. 17, PCIJ will mount a Press Freedom Booth at the University of the Philippines Fair in Diliman, Quezon City.

PCIJ has organized this advocacy booth on the theme “Freedom for Media, Freedom for All” at the UP Fair for citizens and journalists from print, broadcast, and online media, and independent media organizations.

The UP Fair sponsored by the UP University Student Council will also showcase advocacy booths on Peace in Mindanao, Human Rights, Equality for All, and Democracy. The Fair will be mounted at the Sunken Garden in UP Diliman, Quezon City, 6 pm to 12 midnight, Feb. 13 to 17, 2018.

Across the five-day period, the Press Freedom Booth will feature these activities:

“Journalists and Citizens: Meet and Greet” and have conversations on press freedom, freedom of information, and democracy. They can also snap selfies and Facebook/Instagram stories that can be posted live from the fair grounds.

“Shout Out for Press Freedom” where UP Fair guests can write on a “shout-out wall” their thoughts about and support for press freedom. Prizes await the best shout-outs.

Every day, from 8 to 10 p.m., special events will be conducted at the Press Freedom booth:

Day 1: Face Paint for Press Freedom (Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018). UP Fair guests can get a face paint or a glitter tattoo for free. The designs will be inspired by themes related to press freedom, FOI, and democracy.

Day 2: Cultural Night (Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018). Musicians, spoken-word artists, stand-up comics, journalists, and other artists have been invited to perform on Day 2, which also marks Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.

Day 3: Photo Booth (Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018). Visitors of the booth can take photos with journalists and their friends while holding calls and statements relevant to press freedom, FOI, and democracy for free.

Day 4: Fact or Fake? Team Contest (Friday, Feb. 16, 2018). Two groups with five members each will compete per round. They will be asked to classify statements as factual or plain misinformation. There will be three levels per set — from easy to moderately difficult to truly difficult questions. The winning team’s members will get prizes.

Day 5: Tusok-tusok for Press Freedom (Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018). To end the weeklong event, booth visitors will be offered free fish balls, kwek-kwek, and other street food for a fellowship night with press freedom advocates and journalists.

Journalists, media agencies, and media organizations have been invited to participate and assist at the Press Freedom Booth. Photos taken at the photo booth and featured shout-outs will be posted on social media.

The hashtags for the PCIJ press freedom advocacy booth and activities will be:


The PCIJ Innovation in Storytelling Project

 KIAN Delos Santos's dream was to become a policeman. (Illustration by Aldy C. Aguirre)

KIAN Delos Santos’s dream was to become a policeman. (Illustration by Aldy C. Aguirre)

THE FIRST PROJECT funded by The PCIJ Project for Innovation in Storytelling is a children’s book that is not just for children. Inspired by the story of 17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos, who was killed last month by members of the Philippine National Police, this book is being released today onFacebook and a series ofInstagram posts.

The PCIJ Story Project was launched on August 15 this year to support collaborations between artists and journalists and encourage experiments in novel forms of telling stories in the news.

Si Kian, a story told in English and Tagalog, for both young and adult readers, was written by prize-winning children’s book author Weng Cahiles and illustrated by Aldy C. Aguirre, an artist known for the whimsical watercolors that accompany a number of well-loved children’s books.

Cahiles and Aguirre worked with Kimberly Dela Cruz, a journalist who did most of the research and reporting on which the book was based. Dela Cruz interviewed about 30 people and obtained documents from the police and the Public Attorney’s Office. She reported in Caloocan City soon after Kian was killed and also covered his wake and funeral.

Children’s books rarely deal with current events or with topics as dark as the killing of minors in the war on drugs. This project presented an opportunity to tell (or retell) Kian’s story in a new way, to audiences that may have been overwhelmed by—or inured to—the news. It is also an effort to reach out to younger readers.

This story and the accompanying artwork attempt to bring Kian to life as a 17-year-old, with hopes and dreams like so many others.

Check out Facebook to see the text and illustrations.

The PCIJ Story Project’s Instagram account will also start posting the illustrations starting today.

Those interested in print copies of the book should email

PCIJ Poster - Square (1)


THE PHILIPPINE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM (PCIJ) announced today the launch of The PCIJ Story Project, a new initiative that will provide grants of P15,000 up to P75,000 to journalists and artists who work together to produce innovative stories in the public interest.

The PCIJ Story Project will support projects that document and expose abuse and wrongdoing in the following subject areas: human rights, the misuse of public funds, threats to free expression and press freedom, poverty and inequality, and religious, ethnic and sexual minorities.

The project will encourage journalists and artists to team up to tell stories in nontraditional formats. It will support stories intended for legacy news media as well as social media platforms, digital-only websites, and non-digital platforms that have traditionally not been used for journalistic production, such as film, the visual arts, theater, and music. Multiplatform storytelling is encouraged, but proposals for stories told in traditional print or broadcast formats will also be accepted. The project will provide funding to seed projects – for example to do a story treatment, rough cut, or a trailer for a documentary project in order to seek further funding.

PCIJ will continue to do data and investigative reporting in multimedia formats. The PCIJ Story Project is a special initiative intended to encourage new forms of storytelling.

The PCIJ Story Project will accept proposals for journalist-artist collaborative projects, including for short nonfiction films, photo essays, graphic novels, even spoken word as long as they are based on facts and are backed up by documentary or testimonial evidence. There is no requirement to publish or air on traditional media. Stories intended for YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or other social media platforms will be supported as long as they are accompanied by an ambitious and viable marketing, dissemination, and audience engagement strategy. In addition, they must be stories of significant public interest. They must also be based on documented facts and evidence.

Interested parties are required to submit a story proposal.

The deadline for the submission of proposals for the first round of funding is September 15, 2017.

For more information on The PCIJ Story Project please visit or email us at