Normally during Saturdays, I’m either at the Smart Araneta Coliseum or the FilOil Flying V Centre as a spectator of a DLSU basketball or volleyball game. On other Saturdays, I’m at Robinsons Magnolia as a spectator of the newest Filipino or Marvel films. Although, last March 23, I was a different kind of spectator for once.
That fine Saturday afternoon, I was a spectator of the past, what once was, what is being reminisced now, and what can inspire in the future.
I was a member of the audience who witnessed the book launching of Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship. The book is a compilation of more than 30 magazine and newspaper articles written by journalists during the dwindling years of the Marcos dictatorship.
Writers, journalists, and any individual involved with the media, all bore together consequences of publishing their two cents. The media was shutdown, arrests took place left and right, detentions upheld, resignations and interrogations forced, defamatory libel cases—and death for some. These were some of the many pictures painted in Doyo’s compilation by various writers and publishers during the Martial
Likewise, journalist Jo-Ann Maglipon, one of the contributors of the book, also spoke of the accounts and stories that took place during the said era of oppression. Despite these dark times, Maglipon also gave the audience a glimpse into how this was also the time to really champion the many who stood up and broke the status quo. Brave and courageous journalists gathered and rose to wield and wave their weapon—a pen—against the dictatorship.
As a mere spectator of the stories Doyo and Maglipon continuously imparted to the audience, episodes of déjà vu suddenly played in my head. As press freedom is currently under pressure at this time and day, I am pushed to discern how the same oppression from yesterday is reminiscent in the very happenings today.
What lingers on my mind right at this very moment is how history is repeating itself right before my very eyes. The time when Martial Law took place, around 30 years ago, is no hindrance to the fact that the same problems media practitioners faced in the past are currently resurfacing once again.
The year 2018 has been blighted with threats and violence toward journalists around the world. The Philippines is no stranger to the same perils and hazards in the media. Filipino journalists continue to fall as victims to daily troll attacks and threats on social media.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) stated in a report that in the first 22 months of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, the country has earned the honor of recording a total of 85 cases on attacks and threats on rights of the citizens of the country. The tally significantly exceeds the numbers logged under the last four presidents before his administration.
These 85 cases have proven that the practice of journalism is an even more dangerous profession in the Philippines. According to the CMFR, from a specific timeline dating from June 30, 2016 up to May 1, 2018, these cases include the nine slain journalists, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, six slay attempts, six cases of harassment, five cases of intimidation, four cases of website attacks, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies. Doesn’t this sound like the state of the Philippines from the years 1972 to 1986?
The events that continuously unfold are shards of broken glass—evidences that barriers that separate the past and the present are broken.
Last March 29, the executive editor of the Philippine news website Rappler, Maria Ressa, recently posted her seventh bail. Ressa, her managing editor, and five members of the website’s 2016 board, were all accused of violating the anti-dummy law, which bans foreign ownership of Philippine media outlets. It was in January 2018 when the Securities and Exchange Commission decided to revoke the company’s licence on the grounds that it was not totally Philippine owned. In just a span of 14 months, she received a total of 11 cases and complaints—another female journalist at the cusp of the Philippine government’s attack on media and the very essence of press freedom.
Without a doubt, mass media influences the way facts are viewed and debated. Varying perspectives, published opinions and views, even criticism of people in power keep the balance of a healthy democracy. The attacks and shots fired against journalists and media outlets continue to prove the vulnerability of the fourth estate, the pillar of democracy. Likewise, dictators, tyrants, and weak governments are afraid of the truth which is why they try to break such pillar.
After giving her speech and sharing a few short glimpses of what to expect in the book, Doyo proceeded to the book signing segment of the event. Upon approaching her table, I didn’t know what to expect when the author signed my personal copy of the book. I opened the cover and read, “Truth—no matter who is in power.”