UNESCO trains the Philippine National Police on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists ahead of the Presidential Elections
From 4-6 April 2022, UNESCO conducted a three-day online training for the Philippine National Police (PNP) on upholding international standards on freedom of expression and safety of journalists, ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in May 2022. 25 high-ranking police personnel participated in the training from 7 regions across the country.
The training was led by international experts who highlighted the relevance of international legal standards on freedom of expression to the work of law enforcement agents. Upholding citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information not only guarantees free and fair elections, but also enhances public trust in the national police and serves to maintain public order.
The participants from the PNP shared their experiences and the challenges related to working with journalists, especially in periods of elections and demonstrations. Colonel Rolando Balasabas, Chief of the Regional Information and Communication Technology Management Division of the PNP, emphasized the importance of maintaining professionalism under high pressure situations. “The police should be the vanguard of democracy and should not tolerate any of its members to become a source of conflict. They should remain calm and discrete even during chaos and turmoil at political rallies”, he stated.
The workshop provided practical resources for the police on how to plan communication and media engagement within the various stages of the electoral cycle and ensure consistent relations with the media and the public, including through social media and digital tools. The participants also shared good practices that are locally anchored and sustainable in the long run for the promotion of freedom of expression. The main message of the training was that effective and transparent communication between the police and journalists ultimately keeps the population informed and protected—a common goal for both parties.
Lieutenant Colonel Surki Sereñas, PNP regional spokesperson, stressed the relevance of the UNESCO training as well as the importance of awareness-raising and educational efforts targeting security forces. He said, “As policemen, we should accept that there is a need to further protect journalists and freedom of expression”.
According to the UNESCO World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report, physical and online attacks against media practitioners persist and these crimes often remain unresolved. In this context, UNESCO is working with security forces and law enforcement actors to support their role in combatting impunity and strengthening the rule of law. Since 2013, UNESCO and its partners have trained over 8,500 security forces on freedom of expression and safety of journalists, in more than 17 countries around the world.
The virtual training in the Philippines was organized in partnership with the PNP and the Asia Pacific College, within the framework of the project on “Strengthening press freedom through fostering the role of security forces in promoting freedom of expression and the safety of journalists”, supported by the Netherlands through the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).
The key learnings from the online training will inform a series of forthcoming in-person training workshops conducted by UNESCO in partnership with the PNP, involving a dialogue between security forces and journalists, to foster professional relations between the two groups and to strengthen the promotion of freedom of expression and safety of journalists in the Philippines.