Article 3, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of the speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances”. In essence, this provision guarantees the right of every Filipino to press freedom. However, history tells us otherwise.
During the Martial Law, Ferdinand Marcos issued Letter of Instruction no. 1 which imposed the taking over control of all newspapers, magazines, radio, television facilities, and all other media communications. Marcos justified this act as part of his action plans to solve the national emergency crisis he declared as well as to prevent the media from undermining the faith and confidence of the Filipino people to the government. Likewise, Department of Public Information (DPI) Order no. 1 was released requiring all media publications to get a clearance from the DPI, and Presidential Decree No. 33 which penalizes the printing, possession and distribution of leaflets and other materials, and even graffiti which undermine the integrity of the government. Among media outlets that closed were ABS-CBN, Manila Times, Manila Daily Bulletin, Manila Chronicle, and others.
In a democratic set-up, the freedom of the people to express themselves and publish information for the consumption of public is very important and critical in ensuring transparency and accountability of the government. Similarly, Levitsky and Ziblatt in the book, How Democracies Die, have emphasized readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media as a key indicator for identifying an authoritarian leadership. Consequently, Carmel V. Abao once argued that Rodrigo Roa Duterte is a resurrected Ferdinand Marcos. With their similarities in the style of leadership, do you think that history would repeat itself? Will the media be curtailed again? If so, how severe could it be compared to other states?
Yes, the history of curtailing press freedom in the Philippines is repeating itself. Article 353 complements and suffices the paradigm, since it bestows power on the freedom to sue a journalist should he or she say something that seems to be derogatory to the government. Moreover, Executive Order 609 paved way to the creation of a National Security Clearance System wherein classified information shall be protected and that journalists are allowed to be wiretapped based on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. Nevertheless, several actions taken by the government have threatened journalists. Following the Kill List (document containing the names and particulars of casualties) in relation to War on Drugs released by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Duterte stated that he would initiate an expose against Philippine Daily Inquirer (Largest Philippine Boadsheet), for incorrect tax payment. Similarly Maria Ressa, the Chief Executive Officer of Rappler was arrested due to five Tax Evasion cases and Cyber Libel over a report on a businessman’s alleged ties to a former judge. In addition, the administration has also banned the online reporting agency form covering news in the Presidential Palace and all official presidential events because of “twisted reporting”. The renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise was also threatened by Duterte for swindling since the network did not air his paid political advertisements during the 2016 campaign season.
These manifestations are alarming but are not as severe as what happened during the Marcos regime where there are straightforward attacks and censorship. In fact, the Philippines is relatively free in the Free and Independent Media indicator of the Freedom House with a score two over four compared to Russia which scored zero on the same category. In the article, Reflections of Putin and the Media, Gelbach highlighted that Russia controls the three most prominent national television networks namely Rossiya, Channel 1, and NTV. Top officials of these networks meet every Friday to discuss the previous week’s and next week’s coverage. Similarly, in Venezuala, the National Constituent Assembly passed a Hate-speech Law enforcing fines and up to 20 years’ imprisonment for any who disseminates information deemed intolerant against the government either through traditional or social media.
The case of the Philippines might not be as worst compared to other states but it is important to note that media repression is happening which is contradictory to what the Constitution oughts it to be. Regardless of its severity, curtailing press freedom is curtailing it – there is no grey side. While history might be repeating itself (only with a different approach), Filipinos should learn from its mistakes to ensure that there is a free and independent media. While upholding press freedom should be prioritized, responsible reporting and fact-checking must be practiced by media personnel to ensure transparency and accountability.
After all, Filipinos deserve the truth and nothing but the truth.
Image Source: Romeo Gacad and College Editors Guild of the Philippines