Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has proposed a measure requiring media entities to provide insurance coverage and hazard pay to journalists and other media persons, especially when they are assigned to cover conflict or disaster areas.
De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1860 which mandates additional insurance benefits for journalists, such as disability, health and hospitalization benefits.
“The press is considered as the Fourth Estate, a significant pillar of our democracy. However, journalism and reporting the news remains to be a dangerous profession,” she said.
The Philippines has been considered as one of the “Most Dangerous Countries for Journalists.” It has also been regarded as the most dangerous country for journalists in the Southeast Asia.
According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), at least nine journalists were killed during the Duterte administration, on top of other media-related cases, such as libel, death threats, slay attempts, intimidation and harassment, among others.
“In light of the dangerous circumstances confronted by journalists, it is imperative they be provided adequate mandatory hazard pay and commensurate insurance,” De Lima added.
Under her proposed measure, in addition to the present insurance benefits provided to regular employees of media entities, there shall be an additional insurance coverage for journalists and other media persons on field assignments, to wit:
- Disability benefits of PhP350, 000 for all mass media practitioners and employees who shall suffer total or partial disability sustained during performance of duty;
- Death benefits amounting to PhP300, 000 for all mass media practitioners and employees on field assignment who shall perish in the line of duty, and;
- Reimbursement of actual medical costs up to PhP200, 000 for all mass media practitioners and employees on field assignments who shall be hospitalized or shall require medical attendance for injuries sustained while in the performance of duty.
De Lima also proposed that the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) create and offer a special insurance program for freelance journalists, or those who pursues journalism for any publication without being regularly employed by legitimate media entities.
The Senator from Bicol proposed that journalists and other media persons deployed in “difficult, strife-torn and embattled areas”, among others should be compensated with hazard pay equivalent to at least 25 percent of their gross monthly salary for the duration of such deployment.
According to the measure, the proposed hazard pay for journalists shall not be subjected to tax.
“Journalists face the problem of contractual labor, with no job security and no law-mandated benefits… they often do double jobs and work double time for their media company. These poses harm to their physical well-being,” De Lima noted.
De Lima, a staunch advocate for press freedom, has also supported measures against the proliferation of fake news even as she issued statements against the incessant attacks of Mr. Duterte towards the press.