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Unless reversed by a higher court, the conviction for cyber libel of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and its former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. will further shrink not only the democratic space for free expression and press freedom but also the people’s right to be informed on matters relevant to their lives as citizens and as human beings.
With no hint of irony did Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. declare on June 3, or a scant nine days before this year’s anniversary of Philippine independence, that the regime he’s been so faithfully serving has decided to suspend the termination of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States. He said this decision by President Rodrigo Duterte was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and “heightened superpower tensions.”
The Philippine government has eased restrictions on people’s movement and allowed the operation of some businesses in Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Laguna by putting these areas under what it calls a modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). Some provinces that used to be under ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) have been placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ).
THE American writer William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was also a lifelong doctor of medicine. In one of his short stories, “The Use of Force,” the narrator-physician recalls making a house call to check on a little girl who, her parents suspect, has caught diphtheria during an outbreak of that disease among children.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon headquarters of the US Department of Defense came the virtual reversal of the global trend towards liberalization and democratization that had characterized the last two decades of the 20th century.
A sovereign citizenry’s right and duty of monitoring and evaluating public issues and problems, and of commenting on them and proposing alternative approaches and solutions, are best served by a free press. But because their hold on power partly depends on being perceived as infallible, most governments -- including the Philippines’ own -- detest criticism, hence their antipathy to press freedom and free expression.
The Department of Health (DoH) has stopped the local government of Marikina City from testing its residents for COVID-19 despite the considerable efforts and costs of setting up the facility. The DoH said it should be located in a separate building all its own.
With over 500 cases in the Philippines, the COVID-19 threat is already serious enough to concern everyone. But its unwanted presence has also further exposed Filipinos to the authoritarian virus that to this day has survived the 1896 Revolution, World Wars I and II, the EDSA civilian-military mutiny of 1986, and the untiring efforts of human rights defenders, independent journalists, committed artists and academics, civil society organizations, and social and political activists to combat it.
It’s been said before, but has never been taken seriously by the members of a community whose egos are as vast as cathedrals: those in the media criticize anyone and anything except themselves. In more times than can be counted, irresponsible and ethically clueless practitioners excuse their own behavior no matter their consequences to the public they’re supposed to serve. They argue that they’re merely doing their jobs in behalf of the people’s right to know and the exercise of their rights to press freedom and free expression.
Perhaps the most outlandish lie ever concocted by one of the most notorious disinformation hirelings of the Duterte regime is that the Marcos kleptocracy was overthrown in 1986 because of the “fake news” that the communists and the “yellows” had supposedly been spreading about Ferdinand Marcos, his wife, his family and his government.
To most Filipinos who have become only too, too familiar with dishonesty in government, it may look like just another symptom of the corruption that is still metastasizing throughout the civilian and military bureaucracy that then candidate for president Rodrigo Duterte promised to end in 2016.
A 17th-century English writ that challenged a person to prove by what authority he holds a public office, a power or a franchise, a quo warranto plea has been used in this country for the second time in two years in an attempt to silence and penalize another Duterte-perceived critic.
He has made the police his security guards and the military his private army, while both remain cogs in the killing machine that keeps him and his ilk in power and things the way they are and have always been. He controls both houses of Congress and has the Supreme Court majority for accomplices. Unscrupulous judges and even worse lawyers have surrendered their independence to speak for him and do his bidding.
It should be more than evident by now that much like its predecessors, doing nothing until things get worse, and then blaming everyone else except itself is what passes for the Duterte regime’s principle of governance. As the last three years of its benighted rule have amply demonstrated, it has neither a sense of urgency nor purpose except power and self-aggrandizement. Only indifference, if not contempt, is what it has for the people it should be serving. But have Filipinos, particularly President Rodrigo Duterte’s die-hard, fact-resistant, untutored hordes, even noticed?
President Rodrigo Duterte’s making the cancellation of the US visa of the former enforcer of his murderous “war on drugs” the basis for the revocation of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States may be as absurd and as mindless as the rest of his so-called policies. But among its unintended consequences is the opportunity it provides for the country to seriously look into its foreign relations as a domestic concern. The public attention Mr. Duterte’s unashamed decision to make the interest of one person the basis of the Philippines’ dealings with another country will hopefully also knock some sense into his stubborn constituency and encourage the engagement in the debate over public issues of some of the uninformed millions who make up the majority in this benighted land.
As if to remind the Philippine press and media of the challenges they face during his troubling watch, President Rodrigo Duterte began the new year by urging the owners of ABS-CBN to sell the network. He had earlier threatened to make sure that the House of Representatives majority he controls doesn’t renew its franchise, which expires on March 30 this year. One of his accomplices in that House of ill-repute has in so many words assured him that they will do exactly that.
In another demonstration of unpresidential pique, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Bureau of Immigration to stop United States Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy from entering the country. Messrs. Durbin and Leahy were the most instrumental in the decision to include in the 2020 US budget act, which Duterte phone pal Donald Trump has signed into law, a provision ordering the Secretary of State to deny entry into the US anyone in Philippine officialdom involved in the persecution, arrest and detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.
The guilty verdict on some of the principals responsible for the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre is the first instance in which members of a powerful warlord clan have been convicted as masterminds in the killing of journalists in the Philippines. No masterminds and only 14 assassins had previously been convicted of the killing of the remaining 133 journalists out of the 165 who have been murdered for their work since 1986.
TESTED for the first time by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a presumably representative population of 15-year-old Filipino students put the Philippines last in reading comprehension among 79 countries. They hardly fared any better in science and mathematics; they were rated second to the last at 78th place.
The transport, accommodations, athletic facilities, press accreditation and food issues, among others that hounded the Philippines’ hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games prior to its opening date, were real enough. But the response of government officials, Netizens, much of the public, and even the press itself to that “cauldron of errors” being reported by the Philippine media also underlined the need for developing authentic media literacy programs not only for the enlightenment of the citizenry but also, and perhaps even more urgently, for the education of the so-called leaders of this country.
Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso, who’s more popularly known as Isko Moreno, is thinking of putting up a “Freedom Wall” on which citizens can express their frustrations, call on others to be involved in public issues, and post their demands on government agencies or private entities like the media and employers. Such a facility would help enhance the capacity of students, labors, farmers, environmentalists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other groups to bring their concerns to their countrymen and engage them in their advocacies.
It has taken on a life of its own, but it was evident that President Rodrigo Duterte’s only purpose was to stop Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo’s criticism of his so-called “war on drugs” when he dared her on Oct. 31 to take charge of it for the next six months.
November 2nd this year was the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Recognized and supported by the United Nations, it is observed annually in the hope that it will focus attention on a global problem. The harassment and killing of journalists has made the exercise of press freedom and free expression dangerous, and democratic discourse difficult if not impossible in many countries including the Philippines.
The Marcoses have been asking for closure on the public debate over their late patriarch’s martial law regime and its impact on Philippine politics, culture, and economy -- and most of all, on the Filipino people’s lives and fortunes. Many are buying into the idea of relegating that period to just another meaningless episode in history that deserves forgetting either because they can’t remember how things were during that period, or just don’t know enough about it.
Not only the credibility of the Duterte regime is at stake in the scandal over the alleged appropriation and sale by 13 so-called “ninja cops” of illegal drugs they had confiscated during an anti-drug operation, as well as resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde’s supposedly preventing their dismissal from the service. On the block as well is whether the PNP should continue as the lead organization in that “war” -- or should have even been so designated at all.
It took him nearly four hours to make it to Malacañang from New Manila, Quezon City. He lives in Marikina, and if he had started from there it would have taken him an additional hour for a total commute time of five hours. But Duterte Spokesperson Salvador Panelo still refused to admit that there’s a transportation and traffic crisis in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Last year he did sign into law Republic Act 11053, which criminalizes all forms of hazing. But when asked to comment on the death of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadet Darwin Dormitorio, President Rodrigo Duterte nevertheless said that hazing is impossible to stop.
CONGRESS is supposed to control the purse strings in the Philippine system. But because the Constitution arms him with vast powers as head of a highly centralized government, it is the President who has the biggest say in how much of the national budget an office, including his own, will get each year
How could the Filipino people have allowed the outrage that was martial rule? Why did they just stand by while “the show window of democracy in Asia” was being smashed and turned into a dictatorship? Where were they when the newspapers and television and radio stations were being padlocked?
The phrase “heinous crimes,” for which death is their preferred penalty, falls often from the mouths of the advocates of state-sponsored murder, whether capital punishment, or the use of extrajudicial killings against suspected drug users and pushers as well as lawyer-, student-, farmer- and worker-activists and regime critics. Include in this lot certain senators and congressmen, the police and military, some judges, and, of course, the current president of this endangered republic.
Instead of the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations that have surged in unprecedented numbers during their troubling watch, the minions of the Duterte regime are condemning activism as if it were a heinous crime whose perpetrators deserve the death penalty they so eagerly want to restore.
Plans are afoot to bring back the long dead Anti-Subversion Act that became LAW 62 years ago. The military, the police and the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) are asking Congress to do just that on the argument that its re-enactment -- it was repealed in 1992 during the Fidel V. Ramos presidency -- will enable the Duterte regime to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA) and destroy the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that commands it.