The media is the “watchdog” of the government, meaning it is its mandate to report everything that the administration has done for the people to evaluate, may it be good or bad.
But when what the media says contradicts popular opinion—like when the media reports corruption in and incompetence of the government but many people passionately support the government, conflict arises and the media is treated as an enemy.
Media misconstrued as an antigovernment entity is nothing new, which is why its oppression throughout the years is one topic that is least talked about.
However, the free speech oppression plaguing today dictates the need to put into light the stories of harassment that the media has undergone throughout the years— stories that we often take for granted but actually speak volumes of truth regarding the current state of our democracy.
Hark now and hear the history and recent story of the howls of democracy’s
When Dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972, one of the first orders he released was Letter of Instruction No. 1, which ordered the takeover of all media. Those who were deemed to have published or written materials subversive to the government were arrested and denied due process.
Marcos ordered the closure of media establishments like Manila Times, Daily Mirror, Manila Chronicle, Manila Daily Bulletin, Philippine Daily Express, Philippines Herald, Philippine Free Press, The Graphic, and The Nation as well as wire agencies. Teodoro Locsin, Sr., publisher of the Philippines Free Press, was arrested and imprisoned on the first week of Martial Law, along with Manila Times publisher, Chino Roces, and several well-known journalists.
Amidst the news outlets being sequestered, some were still allowed to continue running print issues and airing shows on the airwaves. These included the Philippine Daily Express, the Kanlaon Broadcasting System, and several television channels. However, these remaining media outlets all belonged to Marcos cronies.
Primitivo Mijares, who served as Chairman of the Media Advisory Council, was Marcos’s top media man and propagandist. As chair of the council, Mijares had the power to dictate and censor content in all forms of media. In a change of heart, he confessed in a 24- page memo to the US House International Organizations subcommittee how he had aided Marcos in silencing media stories that exposed government abuses, while fabricating others that would trumpet the administration’s supposed successes.
On February 24, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo placed the country under a state of emergency in response to an alleged coup plot. The government controlled public utilities which included the media. On the midnight of February 25, 2006, the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group raided The Tribune’s office. The police padlocked the newspaper in what was seen as a warning to others perceived to be hostile.
The administration went for a further crackdown when The Tribune’s publisher Ninez Cacho-Olivares was convicted for libel for a series of articles she wrote in 2003 criticizing “The Firm,” a group of lawyers linked to alleged irregularities over the controversial decision of President Arroyo to abort a $450-million contract to build the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3, which remains mothballed.
Mrs. Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, has also been the subject of a class action suit filed in late 2006 by 40 journalists and media organization, who sought 15 million pesos in damages for ‘’anxiety, loss of income, and other inconveniences’’ caused by libel suits that he had filed against them.
The end of 2009 was a terrible year for press freedom when the single deadliest attack against the media happened when 32 journalists among the 58 killed in a massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province. They were attacked, brutally killed, and buried using a government-owned backhoe.
The powerful Ampatuan clan—ally of the Arroyo administration—was believed to have plotted the massacre to derail the candidacy of political rival Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu in the 2010 gubernatorial elections. More than eight years later, none of the 188 accused have been convicted.
In Arroyo’s administration alone, according to a data from the CMFR, 83 media workers were killed from 2001 to 2010, including three journalists who were gunned down in broad daylight.
Almost a month before he took office, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte had already expressed his disdain for the media in the bluntest manner.
“Kill journalism in this country,” he said in a press conference in his hometown of Davao on June 2, 2016.
This rooted from his belief that there can only be three kinds of journalists in the country: those who does harm by telling the truth, those who spread alternate truths, and those “lowlifes” who receive money to keep the truth.
And so, with an obvious declaration of war against this arm of democracy, his mouth continues to lash out at the media, with every whip skinning the very value of press freedom.
In his 2017 SONA, Duterte made his first public statement against Rappler, an online journalism community which is known for its critical reports of the president.
Pres. Duterte claimed during the speech that the online media site is “fully owned” by Americans, which made their existence unconstitutional. This move became a precedent of an ever-deepening conflict between Rappler and different government agencies.
The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) was first to make the big blow when they ordered Rappler to close down, supporting the president’s claim that it violates the Constitution. The media site escalated the order to a legal battle that still continues as of press time.
Rappler has since published countless pieces detailing their ownership status that disproves Pres. Duterte’s claim. However, other agencies still went after them with different cases, from NBI’s cybercrime case to the president himself barring one of their reporters from entering Malacanang.
Most recently, the Department of Education (DepEd) terminated its five-year partnership with Rappler that involves training of students and teachers in journalism, disaster management, and online platforms.
On February 7, 2018, Education Secretary Leonor Briones terminated Rappler’s partnership with DepEd in disaster preparedness and in the National Schools Press Conference without stating any reason at all.
On April 14–21, 2018, Rappler was also refused to be given accreditation in covering the Palarong Pambansa held in Vigan City and nearby towns in Ilocos Sur.
Despite the barrage, Rappler continues to hold the line by publishing relevant stories and issues that curtail press freedom, such as their series that detailed the government’s mechanism of propaganda that exposes professional marketing agencies, social media personalities, political bloggers, and online trolls getting all involved in the movement that aims to disable democracy and silence dissent.
Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN
In July 1 of the same year, Duterte accused the Prietos, owners of the Inquirer Group of Publications, a paper critical of his government, of incorrect tax payment and ambiguity of the contract in the said family’s Mile Long property.
However, the property in conflict is a court case between Sunvar Realty Development Corporation, a developer owned by the Prietos, and the City of Makati. The president dragging the name of the family-owned paper and going out of his way to deal cases on a municipal level gave away the veil in this another attack to the media.
The instance in 2017 was not the first time that the president hit Inquirer. Back in 2016, he already spouted insults to the paper when he decried the Inquirer’s banner photo that portrayed a victim of his war on drugs being carried by a woman in a Pieta-like manner.
Soon enough, the threats actualized when Ramon Ang, the president’s major campaign donor and close friend, bought the majority stake of the newspaper that, according to the Prietos, was “purely a business decision” given that the sales of print has dwindled in the rise of the digital.
The discussion on the ownership is still being discussed as of press time, but some employees from the paper are already fearing for the looming effect on editorial independence.
On April 27, 2017, Pres. Duterte accused TV giant ABS-CBN of swindling for not showing his political ads during the 2016 campaign season and threatened to block their franchise renewal in 2020.
The president then wrapped up the tirade with a threat saying “someday . . . karma will come.”
House of Representatives
But the harassment on the media is not only done by the executive; the contagious hate for reporters has spread to the legislative as well.
A 19-page draft circulated on April 27 by the Press and Public Affairs Bureau(PPAB)—the office in the House that accredits media—seeks to ban reporters who “besmirch the reputation of the House of Representatives, its officials or members.”
This harassment of mainstream media continues to hamper waves of fear toward the student press, which could only lie in wait for whatever form of attack their respective school administration can do to it. After all, student publications play a big role in promoting critical thinking among students, a trait that the present administration is trying to suppress from the citizens.
But, alas, the first case of suppression against the student press during this administration has finally taken its form through the discrimination of two staffers from one of the most formidable student press in the country, the Philippine Collegian of University of the Philippines–Diliman.
In a primer released by the student publication in its Facebook page, the two student-journalists were excluded from the list of examinees of the editorial exam, a large part of the selection process for the next editor in chief of the publication which is being carried out by the Board of Judges (BOJ).
“At a time when the media whimpers and howls for help, the society calls for citizens who will refuse to cover their ears when it gets too loud and bite their tongues when fear gets them.”
The disqualification was grounded by the case that the two students are about to graduate this school year, which they already dismissed as a non-issue for both of them are taking up another program by next semester.
The exclusion took the students by surprise as they did not receive any notice. On May 5, as they were taking the case to the BOJ, the examinations were already underway. Their appeal did not bear fruit either, as the decision to bar them was still upheld by the board, with the backing of the university chancellor this time.
The primer slammed Dean Elena Pernia, BOJ chair, for implementing loose technicalities in the selection process that aims to “discriminate against students who possess the skills and capacity to lead the almost century-old publication.”
To strengthen their campaign in upholding press freedom given the recent light of the issue, the Philippine Collegian held a Black Friday protest on May 11, 2018.
In 2017, the Philippine Collegian released their annual lampoon issue, Ang Bagong T*t* (exact title censored), that showed Pres. Duterte, Pres. Trump, and Businessman Ayala engaging in a threesome as the cover. Their lampoon release is always something the UPD community anticipates because of its political parodies that elevate critical thinking.
However, the recent issue with this formidable student publication is only the tip of the iceberg of the suppression that plagued the student press. Some issues were already so deeply ingrained in the culture that it has already become a norm. University administrations withholding publication funds is the most common example.
In fact, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) records show that 200-800 cases of campus press freedom violations are related to withholding of funds when according to Section 5 of the Campus Journalism Act of 1991, “funding for the student publication may include the savings of the respective school’s appropriations, student, subscriptions, donations, and other sources of funds.”
But this law, also known as Republic Act No. 7079, is perceived to have flaws that compromise press freedom as it is seen to be weak in the implementation level. Hence, a bill is being pushed through the Congress to defend the rights of the campus press.
House Bill 1493, known as the Campus Press Freedom Act which was introduced by Kabataan Party-List Representative Terry Ridon, proposed for a mandatory
funding of student publications and mandatory establishment of at least one student publication, among others.
But imposing it to become a law seems so far-fetched seeing that it is only on its first reading despite being proposed way back in 2013.
The media’s suppression is the most effective gauge of the level of our freedom of speech as it is the embodiment of the free speech itself. People may not have noticed it, but the works of the journalists have paved way for the truth to make its citizens foolproof.
It is also good to note that what they report spark movements for change. Like, for a recent example, if the Inquirer had not reported the military base that has been constructed by China (because, for some reason, the government refused to tell us so), we would not have known about this threat of territorial security.
When the government shut down Boracay and refused the media entry to cover the island’s “rehabilitation,” does it not ruffle your senses that the people were somehow made blind about what is currently happening to our own piece of land?
Forces continue to threaten the media because they want to get ahold of the truth. Rather than letting it fulfill its duty as an independent watchdog, the administration forces a leash to the media so it can only bark the truth when it’s convenient.
For some who have full trust in the government, this would not matter as they tend to take in whatever the administration feeds them. Yet the people are more than that.
At a time when the media whimpers and howls for help, the society calls for citizens who will refuse to cover their ears when it gets too loud and bite their tongues when fear gets them. The time today needs the Filipino people to be critical of every information, and that in itself is already enough to take part in the action.
Because, most importantly, when the eyes have already been open to the truth, it is already a sin to close them.