EACH year, the date Sept. 21 rallies those who are convinced that the imposition of martial law in the country by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 must be refreshed to underline the importance of vigilance and participation in protecting freedom and democracy.
Long before President Rodrigo Duterte signed in 2017 Proclamation 319, declaring Sept. 21 as the “National Day of Protest,” citizens have staged street rallies and protests to tatoo in public consciousness the call for #NeverForget.
This year, the commemoration of Sept. 21 underwent significant changes as communities struggle with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and the recession.
Sectoral groups and citizens assembled to lay a wreath at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani memorial and staged a rally at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman to protest the “undeclared martial law” and a repeat of the oppressions that darkened the two decades of the Marcos dictatorship under martial law: corruption, abuse of power, weaponization of the law for silencing media critics, extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations.
Other groups chose to go virtual for the Sept. 21 remembrance and reckoning. Marking its 28th celebration of Cebu Press Freedom Week from Sept. 20 to 26, the Cebu print media, media associations, and stakeholders, such as the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) and the UP Cebu, conducted their advocacy through live talks, interactive exhibits and webinars.
Economic pressures exacerbated by the pandemic bear down on the media. This was emphasized by Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, during the CCPC-hosted Sept. 21 online assessment of the community media during and after the pandemic, as well as the Sept. 21 pooled editorial written by SunStar Cebu editor-in-chief Nini B. Cabaero and published by the Cebu newspapers.
Yet, in challenges lie opportunities. As the pooled editorial points out: “A wider reach online means different kinds of content that media can offer. A highly critical social media audience encourages participation and discussion, albeit not always with positive results.”
Building on digital transformations, the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival held its eight edition online on Sept. 19-27. Citizens participated in several film viewings, film discussions, exhibits, performances, fora and other events streamed through social media.
Artists create meaning with fictions lifted from social realities and surface narratives that are buried or effaced from dominant discourses in politics and even journalism. When the gun-for-hire played by Publio J. Briones III in the film “Pa-burger sa Camotes” spares the life of the blind daughter of a murdered drug personality, the viewer may begin to question the judgments uncritically embraced from the War on Drugs’ reduction of human complexity to street litter.
“Huwebes, Huwebes,” a triptych produced by filmmakers Don Gerardo Frasco, Kristoffer Villarino and Januar E. Yap and nominated in five categories for the 43rd Gawad Urian, was one of the films streamed and discussed online during the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival.
Beyond Sept. 21 and the pandemic, civil society must sustain the use of digital space for social transformation, drawing in the participation of not just netizens but other sectors marginalized in the digital media.
As Yap, writer/director of “Maharlika,” the third film in the “Huwebes, Huwebes” triptych, says in an Oct. 20, 2019 post on the “Huwebes, Huwebes” Facebook page: “I wanted to highlight the humanity of the characters because, yes, that’s the whole point... The records say 6,000 or 12,000 dead (in the War on Drugs), yes, but what the records don’t tell you is that they were sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles.”
#NeverForget demands we make these essential connections.