FOR a country that calls itself a democracy, it is certainly troubling that government is now waging a thorough crack down against media on all fronts.
The country’s major newspaper of national circulation has seen itself placed under extreme pressure by the Duterte administration because of supposed unpaid taxes. The former owners were identified with the previous administration and in order to cut further economic losses, they had to let go of their prized political jewel by selling off the paper to old players in the media circles perceived to be supporters of the administration. Since then, there has been a palpable shift in the once critical tone of the paper towards a more amiable regard for the current administration.
Traditional media such as radio and not just print is also under attack. The application for the renewal of the franchise of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines or CBCP to operate radio and TV stations before Congress has been gathering dust at the Lower House since early last year. Remember that Catholic priests have been the most vocal critics of the government’s disastrous war on drugs. There are also scores of radio stations in Davao threatened with closure by the National Telecommunications Commission or NTC over a host of technicalities according to recent news reports.
Book ending this comprehensive clamp down on traditional media is the Securities and Exchange Commission order effectively revoking new media giant Rappler’s operations on allegations that it has violated constitutional provisions on the prohibition of majority foreign ownership and control over media companies.
Hiding behind legalese double-speak, given what has been a comprehensive attack on media entities that are critical of the administration since Duterte assumed office, is the clear and obvious disdain or paranoia carried by this administration against dissent of any kind. The SEC decision is obviously a form of political pressure that violates the very constitution and its clear provisions in protection of a free press that it also cites in its decision against Rappler.
It seems that there is little room in the small town imaginary of the sitting president and his court of jesters in Malacanang and Congress for an appreciation of what a vibrant and living political democracy entails – the kind that allowed for dissenting voices and debate which actually paved the way for their cabal to assume power.
In a way, the old oligarchic elite was a lot more magnanimous in this regard. The privilege of having control over the country’s political and economic resources for a long period of time have allowed them this kind of mental luxury to be somewhat tolerant of dissent.
Not for the new nouveau political monarchs from the South, however. There is a deep paranoia about being dislodged from power or displeasing the assembled political disposition of forces that there was constant need to cozy up to the generals and the military. All who dare challenge authority shall meet the iron hand and then mocked by an approving public empowered by his meteoric rise to power. All pesky irritants should be dealt with accordingly in the same manner that made the fabled death squads in the South so effective. There in his little kingdom in the South he was adored for keeping the streets clean with the elimination of petty addicts and criminal.
Now, he has brought the same kind of small town political leadership, where power and dominance must constantly be displayed, to the national scale resulting in disastrous results. We need only see the drug war, the Marawi siege, and the failed peace talks to see the consequences of this paranoid personalistic leadership.
The recent attack against media should be seen from these lenses. For all his vaunted and celebrated high approval ratings, this presidency’s attitude towards dissent exposes the flimsy grounds upon which it rests. It actually provides a peek not just on a troubling personal mentality of Duterte himself but also how government regards itself.
It exposes the weak bases of legitimacy the whole Duterte government stands on - such that it must always recourse to clamping down against dissent via a declared or undeclared dictatorial rule. The attack against critical voices reveals the insecurity of Duterte and his administration. He and his cabal know that the old oligarchic elite is just about ready to consolidate their own forces and are always ready to take over power.
Or it may be the case that the Filipino people will finally heed a most important history - that political messiahs like Duterte are not the answer to our complex and historical problems as a nation and that they might just sweep all of them elites away to the dustbin history.