The line above is from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet where Hamlet’s mother says it in reference to the protestation of a lady that she would not marry if her husband dies. The line has become a figure of speech which means that someone who is strongly denying something is hiding the truth or affirming what he is denying.
President Rodrigo Duterte vehemently denied ordering the Securities and Exchange Commission to shut down online news agency Rappler, pointing out that the corporate regulators who revoked its papers were all appointees of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III. During the inauguration of new air traffic facilities in Pasay City the President said:
“We never had a hand. I don’t give a shit if you continue or not. The SEC commissioners are all appointed by (former president Benigno Aquino). How can the decision be political? I don’t care about that. Now that you are under probe, you say it is harassment? P*******a. Kung kami magmura, mali? Pag kayo gumawa ng kalokohan, okay kayo? Press freedom is a privilege in any democratic state; you have abused this privilege. You are funded by foreign money; are you not ashamed of that?”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque echoed the President’s denial. Said he: “We would like to deny that the state has infringed on the freedom of the press, particularly of Rappler or any of its reporters. Their reporters are not prevented from exercising their profession. This is not an attack on the press. If the President wanted to do that, he could have just sent the armed forces and padlocked them as done by other regimes.”
The President doth protest too much so doth his spokesperson, leading many political observers to believe he did trigger the shutdown of Rappler.
After all, during his State of the Nation Address before the joint session of Congress last year, the President accused Rappler of being foreign owned. In October, he claimed Rappler was being funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa disputed the claim of the Duterte administration that it had nothing to do with the decision of the SEC. “That’s not true, that’s not what we have heard. Again, I think this is a war of attrition. What is publicly stated is not what is privately going on behind the scenes but that is what journalists do: we will shine the light,” Ressa said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
Ressa made clear that it was the Office of the Solicitor General that had questioned before the SEC Rappler’s ownership. “I have stated that this is about political pressure, and that we’ve been told in the same way that the SEC decision actually put on the record that it was the Office of the Solicitor General (behind the move).” She was mum on the alleged involvement of the President in the SEC decision but said that there was someone who was “running after the SEC on a daily basis for a decision that is adverse to Rappler.”
Mr. Duterte has on many occasions made known his extreme resentment of criticisms levelled against him by mass media entities, including Rappler, branding the criticisms as unfair, some even baseless. He has not been subtle at all about his resentment eventually turning into severe adverse action against those news organizations. The Philippine Daily Inquirer had felt the brunt of the fury of the piqued president. Now it is Rappler.
But as Ressa expounded, Rappler was “not against the government” and the role of the press in a democratic society is to “help the government come up with the right decisions.”
Perhaps the President can take counsel from the statesman Winston Churchill, who was voted No. 1 in a 2002 British Broadcasting Company poll of the 100 Greatest Britons of all time.
Churchill said: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
In reaction to President Duterte’s lament that “critics are interested in my death, not in my health,” my fellow writer of this column, the recently departed Mario Lopez, wrote in this space on June 27 last year a letter addressed to the President. I quote here excerpts of that letter:
“No, Mr. President, not true. Many others and I are concerned about your health. I did not vote for you but accepted you as the duly elected president and give you the loyalty every responsible citizen owes his or her duly elected leader. More than give moral support, some of us actively help agencies of government think through, plan, and implement the programs you wish pursued.
“Part of this loyalty is that in all good faith, I must criticize certain acts, including pronouncements that I and many others find askew, inappropriate, or we think poorly thought out. Even as we do these, I and many others like me wish you and your administration success in practically all of your programs for our sake as a nation. I also ask you and your ardent followers not to mistake our criticisms of acts and statements as personal criticisms against you.”
Abraham Lincoln, who in surveys of US scholars ranking presidents consistently ranked in the top three, often as number one, said: “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”
Mr. Duterte’s political allies who were in media prior and during the period of martial law like Teddy Boy Locsin would do well to advise him that shutting down media organizations critical of him would not suppress the truth about him. Somehow, truth will come out as it did during the martial law years.
President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under martial law on Sept. 23, 1972. In the first hours of that day, a Saturday, soldiers went around Metro Manila padlocking the facilities of mainstream media that were critical of Marcos and his administration.
Among them were the newspapers The Manila Times, The Manila Chronicle, Evening News, the weekly news magazines Philippines Free Press and Weekly Graphic, broadcast networks ABS-CBN of the Lopezes, Associated Broadcasting Corporation of the Roceses, Republic Broadcasting Company of Bob Stewart, and Manila Broadcasting Company of Don Manolo Elizalde.
Prominent newspapermen like Max Soliven, Louie Beltran, Amando Doronilla, Teddy Boy’s father Teodoro M. Locsin, Luis Mauricio, and broadcaster Jose Mari Velez were detained on charges of subversion and other such crimes.
There was total news blackout that day. No newspaper hit the streets. The early editions had been confiscated by the soldiers before they could be distributed. Not even Bob Stewart’s Channel 7, which showed cartoons on Saturday mornings, went on the air that day.
It was only at about 6 p.m. that one station, Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto’s Kanlaon Broadcasting System’s Channel 9 went on the air. It showed Marcos telling the stunned Filipino people that he had placed the country under martial Law.
In a few days Benedicto’s Daily Express resumed publication. Marcos brother-in-law Benjamin Romualdez took over the facilities of Andres Soriano’s Philippines Herald and put out his own newspaper which he called Times Journal. Hans Menzi, another Marcos crony, was allowed to resume publication of his Manila Daily Bulletin but under the name Bulletin Today.
However, those “crony” papers quickly lost their credibility. The people stopped buying them and turned to the “alternative press.”
Photocopying machines reproduced prodigiously New York Times, Washington Post, San Jose (California) Mercury News, and Far Eastern Economic Review articles critical of the Marcos regime. Video clips from the top 3 networks in the US and from BBC went the rounds furiously.
As the activists bragged then, “Sila may Daily Express at Times Journal, kami may Xerox machines at Betamax players.”
In this age of information and communication technologies, truth triumphs! Je suis Rappler.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.