Silence is prelude to dictatorship
It was no accident that among the initial targets for arrest and detention by military forces shortly after the declaration of martial law in 1972 were prominent journalists and opinion makers.
Along with leaders of the political opposition and known activists, labor leaders and community organizers, reporters, broadcasters, columnists, editors and publishers were arrested either in their workplaces or in their own homes. At the same time, constabulary and military units were dispatched to the offices, presses and broadcasting facilities of “unfriendly” newspapers and radio-TV firms, padlocking their gates and ordering employees still in the premises to leave.
Indeed, it was the silence that most ordinary Filipinos first remember about Marcosian martial law. During the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 1972, no newspapers could be found on the streets or in front of homes, the normally blaring radio news broadcasts were strangely gone, and TV screens showed nothing but “snow.”
Only that evening would radio and TV convey what had happened: Ferdinand Marcos, announcing on grainy footage, that he had declared martial law to counter a communist insurgency. Days or weeks later, newspapers made an appearance, but only three, owned by a relative and cronies of Marcos, were allowed to be published.
It was obvious why the media was targeted: to prevent the spread of any contrary opinion, leading to the creation and later marshalling of public opinion against Marcos. Cowed, muted and dumbstruck, Filipinos had no choice but to quietly
accept martial law — for a while.
Maybe that’s why the journalistic community has reacted with alarm and trepidation at the threatened closure of social news network Rappler.
Last Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the registration of Rappler allegedly for violation of the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law, specifically the requirement that local media should be owned and managed by Filipinos.
The SEC’s action comes two years after it accepted the Philippine Depository Receipt (PDR) of a foreign investor in Rappler. Maria Ressa, chief executive of Rappler, wondered in a press conference why the PDR’s of this foreign investor was no longer acceptable, leading her to believe that “the SEC’s decisions were politically motivated.” Indeed, it turns out that the SEC move was prompted by Solicitor General Jose Calida last month, asking the body to investigate alleged foreign ownership of Rappler.
In a press conference, Ressa and acting managing editor Chay Hofileña
decried the SEC move as a “blow to press freedom,” but assured its readers and subscribers that “assuming that there is rule of law in this country, we will go through the (legal) process,” going all the way up to the Supreme Court if need be.
At once, journalists’ organizations came to Rappler’s defense. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines noted that the SEC move “sends a chilling effect to media organizations in the country.” While the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines expressed support for Rappler while it struggles against all the threats against it. The Movement against Tyranny meanwhile warned that the move versus Rappler is “a preview of what’s in store for media under an openly-fascist Duterte dictatorship.”
This is but the latest blow aimed at the social news network. For more than a year now, it has come under withering criticism from pro-Duterte bloggers, officials and even Duterte himself, who even used the occasion of his second State of the Nation Address to hit some media outlets, this paper included, for their “bias” against his administration and to question foreign interests and investments in Rappler.
There is a role to be played, though, by ordinary folk like us. Late last year, Rappler launched a fund drive asking supporters to help them “stay free and independent of political pressure and commercial interests.” The campaign was able to raise just four months later a grand total of P1.75 million. I wonder by how much that total will increase in light of Duterte’s machinations.