Today, the “Gräv” seminar will start. The theme for this year's seminar is "resistance". The Swedish union of Journalists supports the Gräv seminar financially to enable journalist Maria Ressa to participate – digitally now and in person next year. Maria Ressa is in many ways “resistance” personified. She runs the Rappler news site in the Philippines and the authorities do everything possible to silence her through arrests and legal processes.
The Swedish Union of Journalists and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines collaborate internationally within IFJ, the International Federation of Journalists. The realities that the Swedish and Philippine trade unions work in look very different. In Sweden, the union primarily work with labour issues, but is also involved in the issue of security for journalists. In the Philippines, the focus is on protecting the security of its members, even though the union also works with labour issues.
In the Philippines, the threats to journalists are direct and serious. Since president Rodrigo Duterte came to power in mid-2016, 17 journalists have been killed in the Philippines, the latest only last week, on September 14, when motorcycle-riding murderers shot dead Jobert Bercasio in the province of Sorsogon. His colleagues believe he was silenced because of his commentaries against illegal logging and mining.
On November 23, 2009, the country was shaken in 2009 by the Ampatuan massacre. It is considered the deadliest attack on journalists ever, with 32 of our colleagues among the 58 persons who lost their lives. With Bercasio's death, a total of 189 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986. Of all these murders, only a handful have resulted in conviction. And in cases where someone is actually convicted, it is the person who committed the murder, not the person who ordered it, who was convicted. This has created a culture of impunity – which has paved the way for others who want to silence journalists.
The biggest problem for the Philippine federation as an organization is that its officers and members are accused of belonging to rebel groups or terrorist organizations. Although there is no basis for the allegations, each accusation sows a seed of disbelief. The charges are therefore serious and pose a great threat to those who dare criticize the government. It also happens that so-called slapp "strategic lawsuit against public participation" is used against journalists in order to silence them.
For the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the word "resistance" means to continue doing what is being done despite security risks and the government's attempt to silence journalists and the media. In Sweden, too, we see how threats to journalists lead to self-censorship, although the threats to journalists are not as serious as in the Philippines.
Although our situations differ greatly from one another, there is much that unites the Swedish and the Philippine unions. The basis for our work is the belief that we will be stronger together. It is together that we have the strength to resist the threats, reduce self-censorship and work for free journalism. It is as the Philippine union use to say: "We are not free because we are allowed to be but because we insist on being free.”
Nonoy Espina, president, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Ulrika Hyllert, president, Swedish Union of Journalists