THE PHILIPPINES dropped by two places to 138th in the World Press Freedom Index this year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which cited “extremely draconian laws or decrees” that allegedly criminalized state criticism.

This marked the fourth straight year that the country slipped in the ranking that covers 180 economies. The Philippines was 133rd in 2018 and 134th in 2019, scored 45.64 out of a worst possible score of 100.

The Philippines placed 21st among 32 economies in the Asia-Pacific region, ahead of Myanmar (140th overall), India (142nd), Cambodia (144th), Pakistan (145th), Bangladesh (152nd), Brunei (154th), Singapore (160th), Laos (172nd), Vietnam (175th), China (177th) and North Korea (179th).

The fall in the country’s press freedom ranking is alarming, said Dennis C. Coronacion, who heads the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Department of Political Science.

“The press and news media contribute greatly in shaping citizens’ informed political opinions and decisions,” he said in an e-mail. “If this trend continues, it will take its toll on Philippine democracy.”

Mr. Coronacion said attacks on press freedom is nothing new in the Philippines, but the scale of attacks under the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte is “unprecedented in our history, with the exception of the martial law period.”

Reporters Without Borders cited the use of the coronavirus pandemic among authoritarian regimes in the region to “perfect their methods of totalitarian control of information.”

“Dictatorial democracies” have also used the health crisis as a pretext to impose “repressive legislation.”

It cited the government’s “grotesque judicial harassment campaign” against online news website Rappler, Inc., Congress’ rejection of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise, red-tagging of and the persistent online harassment carried out by pro-government “troll armies.”

The country’s ranking would “surely continue to slide unless the government ceased from its impunity that aggravates free speech and media practice,” Marlon M. Villarin, a political science professor from UST, said in a text message. — I.B. Celis

Philippines slips further in World Press Freedom Index