By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Leila de Lima on Monday pushed for the passage of a measure mandating media entities to provide insurance coverage and hazard pay to journalists and other media practitioners.
De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare, and Rural Development, filed Senate Bill No. 1860 which seeks additional insurance benefits for journalists, such as disability, health and hospitalization benefits, especially when they are assigned to cover conflict or disaster areas.
“In light of the dangerous circumstances confronted by journalists, it is imperative they be provided adequate mandatory hazard pay and commensurate insurance,” de Lima said.
“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,” the opposition senator stressed.
De Lima pointed out that 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 covering in the Southeast Asian region.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) said that 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.
Under the measure, de Lima seeks disability benefits of P350,000 for all mass media practitioners and employees who shall suffer total or partial disability sustained during performance of duty on top of the present insurance benefits provided to regular employees of media entities.
The senator also proposes death benefits amounting to P300, 000 for journalists and other media employees on field assignment who shall perish in the line of duty.
The bill mandates the media company to reimburse actual medical costs of up to P200,000 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’s bill proposes that the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) create and offer a special insurance program for freelance journalists.
De Lima proposes that journalists and other media persons deployed in “difficult, strife-torn and embattled areas”, be compensated with hazard pay equivalent to at least 25 percent of their gross monthly salary for the duration of such deployment.
The hazard pay for journalists, she said, 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,” the lawmaker said in explaining the need for a tax-free hazard pay.
A staunch advocate for press freedom, de Lima earlier voiced support to measures that seek to stop the proliferation of fake news under the Duterte administration.