Sunday, June 16, 2019

Libre: Press freedom and martial law

FOR only the second time, TIME, one of the most prestigious publications in the world, named a Filipino as Person of the Year. Rappler’s Maria Ressa joins Corazon Aquino in the select group of personalities that have caught the attention of media in a specific year and helped shape the world in their own ways.

Ressa shares the recognition with murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, staff of The Capitol Gazette who were victims of a mass shooting, and imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe – together referred to as “The Guardians.” The magazine finds a common denominator in these journalists: they were targeted for their work.

Ressa, who once served as CNN bureau chief, created the online news site “Rappler” in 2012 and has been the target of the Duterte government because of the site’s alleged negative reporting on the President and his war against drugs campaign, among others. The Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the certificate of incorporation of Rappler in January and late this year, Ressa as CEO of Rappler, was charged with several counts for tax evasion. The President expressed his displeasure to the site saying “he was pissed off” by Rappler.

Malacañang, of course, will not send out a congratulatory message to Ressa, as this recognition for the Filipino journalist is more of slap in the face of the President. During the dark ages of Martial Law, there were many media outlets closed by Marcos as well as journalists detained. Jose Burgos and Malaya were among the targets of the wrath of the dictator and his cronies.

While the Philippine Daily Express and Manila Bulletin functioned more as propaganda machines for Marcos, Malaya told the truth, and in a way, contributed to the enlightenment of the Filipinos that led to the 1986 People Power Revolution.

The Philippines may not be in a worst state in press freedom like during the Marcos dictatorship but there is need to be alert of the signs. Could the state-backed attacks on Rappler and Ressa be sending a message to other media outlets to tone down their criticisms against the Duterte government or suffer the same fate?

Also, there is the danger of putting the entire Philippines under Martial Law, as legislators have so easily been persuaded to agree for another extension of military rule in Mindanao. I can already see the campaign towards Martial Law nationwide, as Mindanao will be made as a model on what good it can do.


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