The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he has approved a law designating Aug. 30 as National Press Freedom Day, a move seen as ironic as his crackdowns on the free press have drawn much criticism.
The day, which will not be a holiday, was created in honor of Marcelo del Pilar, a patriot writer during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines who was born on Aug. 30, 1850, and is regarded as the father of the country's journalism.
According to the law, state and private media organizations shall lead "consciousness-raising" activities on that day to promote the rights of journalists and their protection.
Some critics remarked on Facebook it is "ironic" that the president declared press freedom day as Congress last year shut down leading broadcaster ABS-CBN Corp. Duterte had publicly expressed his unhappiness with the network's coverage of his governance.
The president also targeted Rappler, a digital media company known for its critical coverage of his government, and its CEO Maria Ressa, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
Reporters without Borders, an international media watchdog group, has called Duterte a press freedom "predator" for using brutal methods against the local media while tolerating no criticism.
It said they include spurious charges of defamation or tax evasion, rescinding broadcast licenses, getting supporters to buy up media outlets and bring their journalists into line, and using an army of trolls to subject journalists to online harassment.
The Philippines ranked 138th among 180 countries in the world in terms of freedom of the press, according to a 2021 survey by the watchdog.
Jonathan de Santos, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said while he welcomes press freedom day, "I hope (it) will actually mean a freer press and lead to a media environment where journalists will not face the risks of legal cases, harassment, intimidation and physical attacks."
Duterte is set to step down on June 30. The Constitution limits a president to a single six-year term.