He Who Must Not Be Named Returns

Pauline Marie C. Arada

Since the son and the namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., was declared as the 17th president of the Philippines on the 30th of June, the media was threatened because of what the new Marcos administration will be like. When the late ousted dictator imposed Martial Law on September 21, 1972, via Proclamation 1081, the first casualty was the country’s freedom of the press. The latter has always been known as an asset to an operative state of democracy. Hence, the late dictator knew the pivotal role of the media. He stripped them of all of his authority when he proclaimed martial law. He had complete control over who had access and what information they received—silenced dissent from the general populace and ensured he had every right to say his truths. The great magnate is back with his landslide victory in the 2022 elections.

The country’s status quo does not like the press—stung by controversial media in the past few months, no wonder former President Rodrigo Duterte called one of the country’s largest media, ABS-CBN, and the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer foul and horrid names. Conceivably, Duterte said journalists have no shame. He added that they are corrupt fabulists and hypocrites who pretend to be the moral torch of the country. The country’s mass media sectors have been susceptible to danger since then.

With Rappler as one of the few Philippine media outlets critical of former President Duterte’s administration, authorities have ordered again to shut down the said investigative site, co-founded by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Maria Reesa. However, Rappler counterarguments the reports claiming they would never shut down, challenging the court's order. Furthermore, in this state, journalists around the country will frequently experience this gnawing sense of disdain as they are cautious about the context of their writing. If and only if without prior censorship or reprisal, the freedom of the press is still alive and functional. However, this does not equate that press freedom is not under siege due to repressive policies by the new administration of the Philippines—the Marcos-Duterte administration.

The availment of other essential freedoms depends on the full provision of free speech and the release of the press. Therefore these rights take precedence in the hierarchy of constitutional rights. Section 4 of Article III of the Bill of Rights guarantees the protection of the liberty of expression and the press, which states: "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances." This guarantee extends to the prescription of all executive actions derogating these rights.

Every democratic government recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental value, and it has been accorded as a preferred right that takes precedence over substantive economic freedom and other liberties. "It is established that freedom of the press is crucial and so inextricably woven into the right to free speech and free expression, that any attempt to restrict it must be met with an examination so critical that only a danger that is clear and present would be allowed to curtail it,” in this jurisdiction, the Supreme Court emphasized the supremacy of free speech and a free press in a democratic government in Chavez v. Gonzalez. The need to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the media should never be disparaged nor understated because they are pervasive and considered powerful conduits for informing the government about the societal needs and grievances of the people. Through these guarantees, the people are kept abreast of government affairs. No independent press would thrive without these privileges—the government's abuses, and wrongdoings would remain guarded to the public, so how will these people know what ulterior motives are behind the limelight since there is no sense of transparency and full disclosure? Indeed, those who have awoken by the truth will never be blinded by mischievous lies.

During Duterte’s term, Jesus Malabanan, a reporter who covered Duterte’s war on drugs in 2018, was casually watching TV in his home in Calbayog when assailants on a motorcycle shot him in the head. Malabanan’s killing comes as journalists in the Philippines face further harassment for simply doing their jobs. Alfonso Cusi, the secretary of the Department of Energy, and Dennis Uy, a supporter of Duterte's campaign, filed libel and cyber libel lawsuits against twenty-one journalists and seven media outlets on November 29, 2021, for their alleged involvement in a corrupt deal. Cusi claimed that the reports hurt his reputation—media organizations and journalists criticized the case as violating journalistic freedom.

Several journalists in the Philippines have been imprisoned for libel and cyber libel in recent years. Journalists and social media users have been detained and imprisoned because of it, leaving a blot on the country’s record on press freedom. The media has been harassed and these are political tactics, however they refuse to succumb to them.

Amidst the backdrop of violence and intimidation of journalists in the Philippines, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia serve as a mute reminder of hope for journalists around the world.

The Philippine government should recognize that critical reporting is a necessary aspect of a rights-respecting democracy and should never be considered a threat. Freedom of the press should allow and encourage the articulation of the unorthodox view, though it is hostile to or derided by others; such thought induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. This is what the media and the journalists will continue to face from then on. The past never died. It became a perpetual disorder; the people living in it believed the new administration would be the salvation, which is why the country has been in deep crisis ever since

Published: November 13, 2022