TWO variants of one strand of reasoning stood out amid reactions to the revocation of Rappler’s certificate of incorporation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). One, that it was merely regulatory action; the other, that it only affected the business side of Rappler; and both views argued that it did not constitute curtailment of press freedom.
A subset of views argued that Rappler had it coming. The range of what Rappler had done or not done to deserve ‘it’ ranged from being overly critical of this administration and not being appreciative enough of its efforts, to because people associated with the outfit had said or done something that did not sit well with this audience.
Reviewing the paragraph above, I realized two things. One, that the perceived deeds/non-deeds are not inherently valid causes to conclude that Rappler has been remiss in its duties as a member of the media community writ large. This is lost though, on those conditioned to believe media’s role is to praise government, which indicates a problematic understanding of institutions in a democratic context. Two, the references to Rappler in the previous paragraph could easily be replaced with another individual’s or organization’s name.
It is not unreasonable to fear that what befell Rappler can also happen to others similarly situated because Rappler’s case is far from being an isolated incident. Rappler may be only one of thousands of media outfits in the Philippines but its situation has a demonstrative effect: you could get ‘Rapplered.’
The observation that government is going after media personages and institutions viewed as unfriendly is not baseless; there have been precedents.
The Foundation for Media Alternatives pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte threatened the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise and later dangled a compromise in exchange for support for federalism. He also had harsh words for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Prior to his inauguration in 2016, he was quoted as saying “kill journalism, stop journalism in the country.” The franchise renewal of 54 stations under the Catholic Media Network associated with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has been pending with Congress since 2017, a delay ascribed to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s unfavorable views of CBCP for its criticisms of government’s approaches.
Another context is that journalists endure pronounced occupational hazards in our country. We get harassed by interest groups who take issue with their reportage. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility notes that 156 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1986, four under the current administration.
Harassment can take different forms: from the outrightly violent to the more indirect and subtle ways referred to as panggigipit—being pressured. The intention is to limit, dissuade, or prevent journalists from effectively doing their work and for the status quo to remain unchallenged.
I take issue with the argument that those who work with Rappler are not prevented from pursuing journalism without it. Such reasoning indicates a limited understanding of the community/organization-dependent aspect of journalistic work. We do not work by our lonesome. Denying access to financial, information, technological, and human resources that institutions afford blunts effectiveness of journalists. Cutting us off from our groups could reinforce feelings of powerlessness against structures and forces.
Those who insist that this was just a case of the law being enforced have to be reminded that the enforcement smacked of narrow interpretation and had severe effects that only made the situation worse. The SEC normally allows time and opportunity for problematic businesses and organizations to comply with the law. But government revocation of incorporation papers as immediate measure—the first to have occurred among media institutions post-Marcos—also signaled that the Philippine claim to being among the freest press in Asia is contestable.
Around the same time, a subcommittee of the House of Representatives sought to amend Article III Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, specifically proposing “responsible exercise” as qualifier for the rights to free expression, speech, and peaceful assembly. It was the only Bill of Rights provision they wanted changed.
In an irony-laced letter to Henry L. Pierce and others in 1859, Abraham Lincoln wrote “(t)his is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”
Never doubt that God is just.
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