Boracay residents gather unsightly algae that cover and turn to green the island’s famous white-sand shores. Untreated wastewater is causing the algal blooms, according to a study of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 6 way back in 2016. The recurring appearance of green algae raises concern on the safety of tourists and Boracay’s ecological health. PN PHOTO

BY GLENDA TAYONA and PRINCE GOLEZ

ILOILO City – Is the press hazardous to Boracay? Transparency, not media restrictions, is crucial in the rehabilitation of the island, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a lateral guild committed to protect the interests of Filipino working journalists.

The fifth item in the eight-point proposed rules relative to Boracay’s six-month temporary closure that President Rodrigo Duterte ordered beginning April 26 calls for restricting the movement of journalists covering the island’s rehabilitation.

“Has Boracay Island suddenly become a war zone that would warrant these extreme measures? Is the government hiding something?” asked NUJP whose acting chairperson, Atty. Jocelyn Clemente, urged the government not impose restrictions on journalists who will be covering the island’s closure.

The fifth item in the proposed rules states that journalists need permission to cover rehabilitation activities. “Media will be allowed entry subject to prior approval from the Department of Tourism (DOT), with a definite duration and limited movement.”

Journalists will only be allowed to stay in Boracay from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Coverage will also be limited to “designated areas” while access to other areas would require prior permission and escorts.

NUJP believes the rule is not only unconstitutional but illogical.

“One would think the government would want full media coverage of its efforts to rehabilitate what President (Rodrigo) Duterte says is the ‘cesspool’ the once-proud tourist destination has become. Unless, of course, there are things it does not want the public, through the media, to know,” NUJP stressed.

On Saturday, DOT announced that only media personnel who submit the application form through its website www.tourism.gov.ph are eligible to receive press accreditation.

Foreign media need to be accredited by the International Press Center to obtain accreditation.

Applicants must comply with the following procedures and requirements:

* submit a letter of assignment, using the media organization’s official stationery with letterhead and duly signed by the Editor-in-chief or Department Head, specifying the name and title of the journalist

* fill out the digital form with pertinent details and upload images of company identification, letter of request, and 1×1 photo via the DOT website

* Once the application has been processed and approved, an email confirmation will be sent with detailed information on how to claim the media pass.

* The applicant should contact (02) 459-5200 local 306 if the notice has not been received within five days.

Only 12 personnel per television network will be accredited, according to DOT.

On one hand, five personnel from radio, print, newswire and online platforms will be given accreditation.

NUJP pointed to Article 3, Section 4 of the Philippine Constitution’s Bill of Rights: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

It urged media organizations to insist on the right to carry out their task of covering an event that people have the right to be informed about.

The group cited the 2008 decision of the Supreme Court that the National Telecommunications Commission’s warning against broadcasting the “Hello Garci” tapes constituted prior restraint.

The “Hello Garci” tapes were audio recordings of a phone call conversation between then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, allegedly talking about the rigging of the 2004 national election results.

The Supreme Court stated that the “test for limitations on freedom of expression continues to be the clear and present danger rule, that words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the lawmaker has a right to prevent.”

“What clear and present danger could there possibly be in Boracay’s closure that would warrant prior approval from the DOT (which, to our mind, is not even qualified to determine the existence of such a danger) and then shackle journalists to a ‘definite duration and limited movement?” NUJP asked.

The group said a cursory glance at the draft rules on Boracay’s closure showed other apparently unconstitutional restrictions on the rights of citizens, whether residents of Boracay or not./PN

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