This Uncertain Democracy by Joel Pablo Salud


The forces that uphold our dignity as citizens of our nation—art, culture, laws, history, to name a few—are under attack.

Not only are we being forced to believe a rewritten history based on outright fabrications, the powers-that-be are also rewriting the core values that make up our Constitution.

It’s a disease rising to the level of a pandemic, inflicting its sores on a public that wouldn’t know its left hand from its right.

The tension is rising. Just last week, the San Beda high school campus magazine, The Bedan Roar, faced the odds when, by the school administration’s decision, the publication was refused circulation even after a print run of 1,700 copies.

The reason? It’s “too critical”. In an attempt to skirt the prohibition, the publication’s second issue was posted online (see my blogbox piece on page28 of this issue). How the school administration had responded to that open display of resistance to its decision remains unknown as of this writing.

Talk of censorship among student editors is still rife to this day. From withdrawal of funds to threats of expulsion, campus journalists have faced overwhelming odds for telling it like it is. You’d think such an open display of suppression belongs only to Marcos’ martial law regime. But no. It continues to this very day.

On other matters, the media are practically barred from covering the ruckus in Boracay. What used to be a fancy tourist destination now resembles a war zone complete with aerial reconnaissance by military helicopters, presence of armed-to-the-teeth SWAT teams and truncheon-wielding riot police.

Silence from government as to the real reason for this show of force is forcing the public to speculate. Is this administration securing the business interests of all foreign enterprises who wish to have their slice of the Boracay cake? Or is there something even more sinister up their sleeve?

And then I wake up to the news one Thursday morning that the House of Representatives has “toughened” the new rules of media coverage.

In a report by DJ Yap of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, it said, “Journalists who ‘besmirch the reputation of the House of Representatives, its officials or members’ may lose their credentials to cover the chamber, according to new ground rules for the media set by the House leadership. The tough rules for Philippine media formulated by the House came as media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that hostility toward journalists was growing worldwide, often encouraged by political leaders — even in democratic countries.”

The rules came in the wake of the Annual Global Index of Press Freedom drafted by Reporters Without Borders, which says that an overall rise in animosity against media practitioners have been recorded worldwide, Russia and the United States in particular.

The PDI report said, “In formulating the new rules, the House media office cited ‘a need to give more teeth to the House’s efforts of ensuring a systematic and orderly media coverage that will be beneficial to both the House and the media, and ultimately to the citizenry.’”

What is really being said here is that what is beneficial to the House and the citizenry may not always consist of the truth, as reputations, we all know, can only survive without anyone digging for skeletons in the closet, especially not in this election year.

Other vague rules apply: (1) If applicant/bearer is found to have made false claims; (2) If applicant/bearer is involved in activities that run counter to or violate the policies of the House; (3) If bearer abuses the privileges and entitlements extended to House-accredited media; (4)  If bearer is found guilty of gross misconduct; and (5) If the bearer commits any other similar acts or misdeed.

To note, some of these rules have already been in effect since the 17th Congress kicked off in 2016. “The new media code includes guidelines on which gate news vehicles may enter the Batasang Pambansa compound (where lawmakers hold sessions) in Quezon City, the areas that accredited reporters and photographers may access, and rules governing live TV recording of plenary sessions and committee meetings, and interviews with House members, including the Speaker.”

What we are seeing here are just some of the practical applications of the science of authoritarian rule, which is, by and large, being “exported” by authoritarian leaders like US President Donald Trump to the world.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte and his minions, it seems, are only too willing to adopt the said policies in order to skirt the prying eyes of the press.

It is apparent that the Duterte administration is waging a “new war,” an engagement he started off as early as the first few hours he sat in power back in 2016: a war against media.

What we are witnessing here is the slow collapse, or better yet, degeneration of the core values of our democratic foundations and institutions by pitting the facts against the lies. Worse, this administration is peddling the idea that free expression and freedom of the press are not anymore a necessary cog in the democratic wheel.

There is a clear pattern to this abuse of Constitutional provisions, one that can well be seen through the consistent animosity this administration is showing the press.

To this uncertain democracy we, as Filipinos, are now chained, unless we do something about it. G



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