HISTORY can vouch how Filipinos fought long and hard for freedom. From colonial government’s suppression of freedom of expression, to Japanese’s gag of mainstream media, up to press censorship during the Martial Law era. The triumph of the people in the 1986 Edsa Revolution opened the doors once again for freedom of the press. Or so the Filipinos thought.
A few months ago, during a media engagement at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar reassured that press freedom in the country is “very much alive” since the start of the Duterte administration. He further added that the administration has created an “enabling media environment” and a “safe space for journalists.” However, the alleged effort of the executive branch to influence and block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s legislative franchise, which ultimately led to its shutting down, and the latest conviction of Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa for cyberlibel, not only proves the contrary, but also demonstrates the curtailment of and direct attack on press freedom.
The Filipinos can only expect that what follows next is the death of democracy as they know it. Gone were the days when press was the voice of the people and the voice of the voiceless. Gone were the days when the media acted as a bridge between the government and the people. Gone were the days when the media influenced opinions and decision-making. Gone were the days when journalists were brave enough to do investigations and find out the reality about corruption in the government, unfulfilled promises of politicians and misuse of power. Gone were the days when the media could applaud and criticize the government.
Now, the government put in a lot of effort to control the press, to threaten and even kill the members of the press for reporting or covering a story detrimental to it and to target press workers for hate campaigns, trolling and character assassination. In fact, the country continues to rank poorly in the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This means that the country is not safe for journalists and the freedom of the press is abridged. It is as if today was foreshadowed in 2016 when Duterte issued the cryptic but grim warning: “Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch. Freedom of expression cannot help you if you have done something wrong.”
So, today more than ever should the Filipinos call on each other to defend the freedom of the press and to protect journalists to ultimately defend democracy. Today more than ever should the Filipinos stop being blind, deaf and mute to all the human rights violations committed by the government. Today more than ever should the Filipinos hold the line against the administration’s attacks. After all, an attack to press freedom is an attack to all other human rights. From the words of Thomas Jefferson, “The press is the only tocsin of a nation, when it is completely silenced, all means of general effort are taken away.”