By Darryl John Esguerra

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PNA file photo by Darryl John Esguerra)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Monday appealed to the media to continue exposing what he branded as “illegal and aggressive” actions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) that are detrimental to the country’s sovereign rights.

In a media forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) for its 50th anniversary, Marcos emphasized the crucial role of the press in uncovering the truth in the disputed waterways as he noted that the Philippines “has been on the receiving end of illegal, aggressive, and irresponsible actions” in the West Philippine Sea in recent years.

“It is crucial that the media, including the members of FOCAP, to continue to expose these actions that not only threaten the peace and stability in the region but also undermine the rules-based order that has undertaken global development and prosperity over the previous century,” Marcos said in his opening speech.

“We must do everything to defend our shores, exercise our sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and uphold the national interest,” he added.

According to the President, the rule of law and the global consensus are now the Philippines’ “greatest tool” in securing its maritime territory.

The National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) recently warned the public against the misinformation being spread allegedly by pro-Chinese trolls on social media to downplay Chinese aggression.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), said the NTF-WPS is taking on a transparency strategy to combat the fake news being propagated online to sow confusion among Filipinos on the West Philippine Sea issue.

‘PH better served by critical press’

In the same speech, the President also encouraged journalists and media practitioners to perform their jobs without restriction as he emphasized the relevance of a critical press in the country.

“Unlike many of my predecessors, I do not seek collaboration, for that implies a surrender of your independence. I am of the opinion that national interest is better served by a press that is critical rather than a press that is cooperative,” Marcos said.

The President said that nothing should stop members of the media from imparting the truth to the public.

“It (the press) must have the untrammeled freedom to do its work, not just to arm the citizenry with the truth, but also to deepen discernment in this age of mass disinformation. In fact, this has been the hallmark of FOCAP’s relationship with the presidency and the government for this half century,” he said.

Marcos is the first president to attend the annual FOCAP forum in nine years. He was initially scheduled to attend the forum on March 21 but was forced to cancel after developing flu-like symptoms.

The Chief Executive’s father, former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., started the tradition and was the first Philippine leader to grace it 50 years ago.

Defending press freedom

The President, likewise, pounced on the opportunity to renew his vow to continue defending press freedom in the Philippines and to continue protecting and ensuring the welfare of media practitioners in the country.

“As President, I will seek this forum, not only to explain our policies, but to renew my vow to what I deeply believe in: That the President’s role is to defend press freedom, and not lead in destroying it or demeaning its practitioners,” he said.

President Marcos said his duty was not to ask special favors, but only fairness which everyone deserves from the Fourth Estate.

The President also lauded the FOCAP for living up to the public trust without compromising their principles in a manner that is “fair but nuanced, balanced but critical.” (PNA)