5/03/2019
Always has been

A post on social media asks if press freedom is truly under threat in the Philippines. My mother gave an emphatic, all-caps response. "NO!"

I am disappointed.

I am disappointed, in part because my mother is the aspiring journalist in the family. She's the one who managed to write for the school paper, even. That's something I never got around to doing.

If I was being charitable, I'd say her viewpoint is fostered through decades of cynicism, and of just wanting to see change happen in her lifetime. I'm not being charitable, however, so I'm attributing this to her being a Duterte supporter, even if she claims, just as emphatically, that she's more nuanced than that. She follows those Facebook pages, shares those Facebook pages - don't you tell me you're nuanced.

Of course I disagree with her. Press freedom in this country is truly under threat. But don't make the mistake of attributing this to my opinions of the current president. Yes, I am critical of his policies. Yes, I am critical of how he says one thing and does another, (but then, don't all politicians do?) Yes, he is an asshole for taking that extra step of squashing media outfits he deems critical of him - take the constant harassment of Rappler, or that ridiculous matrix pegging more enterprising media outfits of attempting to oust him - but, if we're really to be honest, this all did not start under him. He took that extra step, but the conditions were there before he came along.

Duterte is just continuing what began here under his predecessor. Noynoy Aquino also attacked the media for reporting the facts, even if it paints him in a less-than-glowing light. Ah, I remember when he spoke at the 25th anniversary of TV Patrol, and used the occasion to attack TV Patrol. Or maybe it's because Noli de Castro, vice president under the time of what he calls the "forces of evil" that was his predecessor, had returned to anchor the newscast. But his six years were filled with attacks on journalists for ripping apart the myth around how he is an infallible president because he is the son of his mother. He just didn't take that extra step, because doing something normally attributed to dictators is very much off-brand.

He did sign the Cybercrime Prevention Law, which included a provision penalizing online libel, doubling down on an already antiquated law designed to suppress anti-colonizer dissent. It's a law Duterte is now using to attack his detractors, like the recent arrest of the guy who uploaded those "Tunay na Narcolist" videos. Talk about shooting the messenger.

Talking about Noynoy's forces of evil, it was under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when the Maguindanao massacre happened, when 34 journalists were killed alongside 22 others just for covering the candidacy of a gubernatorial candidate at odds with the dominant family of the area. (Have we forgotten?) Now, PGMA did not have something to do with it directly, but she did benefit from the power wielded by the Ampatuans in the province. It was seen as the most grotesque representation of the culture of impunity that crept in during her time, leading to the forced disappearance of supposed leftist figures and the ballooning of the number of media killings. Again, perhaps not her directly, but she fostered the culture that made it all seem all right.

Oh, and it was under PGMA when journalists were arrested for covering the coup attempt at the Manila Peninsula. (Have we forgotten that, too?) Sure, they were released soon after, but why were they arrested in the first place, alongside the actual coup plotters?

Sure, conditions these days are different. Social media has fostered, among others, a mistrust of official sources, and a mistrust of established media outfits, who are supposedly under the pocket of influential people. The continuing wave of populism crashing all over the world has given the masses a matrix slash convenient punching bag: they're all out there to get you, and you must fight back! With me on your side! The way we talk about things has become so toxic people would rather just tune out, if not actively attack those who dig up the dirt because they're supposedly just getting in the way of things. Stop criticizing and start doing something! Funnily, that meant we're - well, some of us are - more trusting of official sources, even if what they say is clearly spun to make them look good. And that's me being charitable. If I wasn't, I'd say "lying insults".

Press freedom in this country is truly under threat - and it has long been. It's a combination of those in power intent to save face (and keep secrets hidden) and those lorded over who are content with how things are, or just hate any form of dissent, whether it be towards a performer on TV or the president of the country. It's been going on for a long time - I haven't even gotten started on what Marcos did. And sure, not all journalists are perfect. But the ideal of the fourth (and fifth) estate is to push the conversation forward, not by shouting with a megaphone, but by digging things up, telling things as they see it, providing context for everything. That is clearly a threat to those who want to look good, no matter what the cost.

And your responses...

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