WITH every close of Cebu Press Freedom Week (CPFW), there is one certain conclusion: there’s more work to be done.
A moveable observance, the CPFW was initiated by Cebu journalists more than two decades ago. The 25th CPFW that was held on Sept. 16-23 this year continues to gather a cross-section of Cebu society: journalists, the academe, government, business, the religious,and citizens.
It is a public sphere that gets stakeholders listening to, discussing with, and learning from other sectors. The discourses initiated during the week on which Sept. 21 falls are rarely settled definitively, frequently requiring sustained exchanges in the following months.
Whether the discussions are conducted in newsrooms, classrooms, conferences, or even inside jeepneys, at dining tables or beside the photocopying machine, the participation of stakeholders in probing issues, re-examining predispositions, and trying out solutions is the healthiest sign of democracy in communication.
It is affirmation that, despite the breakdown, glitches, and anomalies plaguing current channels, the system still works and may still be within redemption and even advancement.
The experiences of Cebu stakeholders in not just learning from but also living the insights from the country’s first experience of being subjected to martial rule gives pause in these times.
Sept. 21 was declared this year as a National Day of Protest by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Even if he had not passed Proclamation 319, people across the nation would still be out in the streets and the blogosphere, protesting. The commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the martial law imposed by the late President Ferdinand Marcos was too important an occasion not to express the anger, disappointment, disagreement, resistance and challenge people, groups, and institutions felt either for or against President Duterte’s administration, its war on drugs, the rising cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs), corruption, and other issues.
The President seems to have correctly interpreted the people’s pulse about Sept. 21.
“This administration recognizes the fear and indignation of the people against a repetition and perpetuation of such human rights violations and all other failings of the government.”
However, if the Marcos years—and the following years under different administrations—taught us anything, it is that we should never sleep during our watch over democracy. We should not wait for concessions from the powers-that-be.
We should never relax our vigilance in protecting and defending our rights.
We must not relinquish our rights to any individual, institution, or creed.
Most of all, we should not cease to examine ourselves and weed out the very preconceptions and habits that delude us into thinking we are entitled to the very shortcuts and excesses we denounce in others.
All these challenges require more than a day or a week to attempt, let alone accomplish.
The responsibilities of making democracy work rest on no other except ourselves. On Sept. 10, 1988, heads of various media organizations in Cebu leading the Council of Cebu Media Leaders made the commitment to upgrade the practice of journalism and encourage a culture of self-regulation.
Today, we should make this pact to protect democracy because, through the advances of new media, we are all communicators, as capable of reporting the truth as we are of distorting it.
As easy as it is to listen to those we agree with, we need to remain open-minded and reach out to those we disagree with.
The difficulties of communication—technology may give access to information but not build consensus—are in our hands, ears, eyes, minds, and hearts.
We cannot wait for the next Sept. 21.