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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Silencing critics in Davao City

What does it cost for writers in Davao City to be critical of the Dutertes? By writer, we mean opinion writers in print and online media as well as public intellectual writers.

A disclaimer for this article is necessary: Sources I have quoted here wish to remain anonymous.

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When criticisms against President Duterte are firing off on all cylinders across social media, there is generally a sedate silence from Davao City that seems to separate it from the national debate of ideas.

What is the root of that silence? A recently harassed opinion writer of a Davao City daily reveals: “The Davao City press in general is far from free, a fact we cannot deny. For one, most of our news outlets are beholden to pro-Duterte advertisers. News outlets survive on monetary considerations. Look at Davao City’s tabloids—more ads than stories.” For instance, why does no one speak of the alleged hidden wealth of the Dutertes that took Manila to find out? “It’s the editors themselves who kill the stories.”

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Then there is the threat of intimidation. One writer received this forwarded message last week: “From tomorrow onwards there are new communication regulations. All phone calls are recorded. Social media forums are monitored. Do not forward posts or videos you receive regarding politics/present situation about government. Writing or forwarding any message on any political and religious debate is an offense now… arrest without warrant. Groups please be careful.” The warning is not unfounded. The previous month, the station manager of Radyo ni Juan was shot by riding tandem gunmen.

But for those who choose fealty to the Dutertes, ample rewards await. “One former media practitioner turned rabid pro-Duterte. His role is to intimidate and attack the legitimate critical journalists. He has become a mouthpiece not unlike the public information officer of city hall.” Another writer averred: “The chance to work for Digong’s administration carries better financial security.” Paolo Duterte once said publicly: “Let’s admit it, media is bayaran.” He would know who these are from the rest.

The friendship factor is a serious point of consideration. From one writer who is openly critical on social media: “Many of Davao City’s writers are personal friends of Duterte. Many of them are bilib na bilib.” On the absence of condemnation of extrajudicial killings: “I see the same trend.”

Some writers who were originally solid anti-Marcos but were neutral on Mr. Duterte found a channel to a cause known as Konsensya Dabaw on the issue of Mr. Duterte’s Marcos burial. The group condemned the Libingan burial, later evolving into anti-Mindanao-martial-law amplifications. One who turned openly critical spoke against martial law and Mr. Duterte. But if the Marcos burial were a yardstick of how far ex-detainees under Marcos would have gone, one well-known Davao City author, who normally identifies himself as an ex-detainee, chose to keep a distance from the Libingan issue, part of the selective amnesia plague ailing our country.

One prolific opinion writer in a daily whose editor identifies as pro-Duterte chose the critical route. Asked about the public perceptions of the Duterte dynast children, the views are those typically unread of in Davao City writings.

On Paolo Duterte: “He’s really volatile. Pure gooning.” On the drug protection allegations: “I have sources who can link him. But that’s the thing. No one can dare speak out. Even when he resigned as vice mayor, he still went around with bodyguards arresting habal-habal drivers. And he would yell: ‘Anak ko sa presidente, palag ka (I am the President’s son, are you going to resist)?’”

On Sara Duterte: “People here see her as a brat, trying to show toughness, but it’s a big turn-off. The Duterte children can also use bullying. Business people can be pressured. The masa too feel the threats because of their hold on barangay officials, local intelligence, the local DDS who are so embedded in barangays. I can tell you there is a culture of silence here in Davao City from across all sectors.”

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Tyranny, abuse of office, political patronage appear to be the Duterte norm.

On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: abuse of office, bullying, crime, critics, culture of silence, Davao, Davao City press, DDS, free speech, freedoms, journalists, Konsensya Dabaw, marcos, Media, Paolo Duterte, political patronage, politics, press, reporters, Rights, Rodrigo Duterte, Sara Duterte, tyranny
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