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Let’s not forget Rey Santos Jr.

It’s easy to make the gender connection by simply looking at the pattern of who has been most rabidly attacked by the administration — Sen. Leila de Lima, former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa, to name a few.

But there’s also the youth. The headline conviction this week made me remember this other dimension.

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When asked about what he felt about the decision that convicted him and Ressa of cyberlibel, former Rappler researcher-writer Rey Santos Jr. explained that he felt disappointed because he just did his job as a journalist. He had a meek voice and was visibly in low spirits.

I encounter challenges at work, too, but they pale in comparison to what Santos is facing at the moment. Expensive bail. Potential jail time. A very public issue that could make or break a career. I cannot even begin to imagine how stressful this might be.

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And this is all because this young man dared to be what he dreamt of being, and did what was expected of him as an investigative journalist and a Filipino. His only mistake is that he did it at a time when the odds are stacked against truth-seekers, a time when asking the right questions costs more.

I will keep supporting and cheering for Maria Ressa, but I am less worried about her. I think she knows what she’s up against all along. That she let slip many chances to be in exile in her desire to take a principled fight shows what this woman is made of. She and President Duterte would both color our history books, but only one of them would be on the right side of it.

As for Santos, I fear that they might be making an example of him to send a message to the most critical and loudest among the critics — the young idealistic people whose grasp of what’s right and what’s important remains untarnished by the pessimism of struggles past.

Women are so tired of men’s bullshit that, when threatened, they almost instinctively come together to find strength not only in numbers but also their shared struggles and aspirations. Many women’s groups are solidly behind Ressa’s back.

The youth have the same impetus to come together. Just look at the mess we are inheriting. Now more than ever, we need to weave threads of solidarity, especially at a time when the fight of an individual has symbolic importance.

While I was watching the news earlier, I kept thinking about the young girls and boys dreaming to become a journalist who were watching the same thing. Santos’ present situation isn’t the most encouraging story.

While young people have lesser wealth and official power now, this shouldn’t stop us from imagining the kind of society we would like to have.

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In the society I dream of, the future Rey Santoses of the country can write about the truth without fearing for their security and doubting whether it’s worth it.

Our journalists in the frontlines of this fight are like sea-facing riprap that prevents our rights from losing ground. Rey Santos Jr. is as much a victim of a government that normalizes judicial travesties to undermine institutions and achieve selfish political goals.

While it involves individuals, this is a bigger fight about protecting a vulnerable democracy and the journalistic tradition that breathes life to it. We all have something at stake here, and it is my hope that Santos also gets the support that he needs from the youth sector and beyond.

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Kevin Mandrilla completed his MA in Asian Studies at the UP Diliman-Asian Center. He works as a proposal manager for a technology firm.

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TAGS: Commentary, cyberlibel, Kevin Mandrilla, Maria Ressa, Rappler, Reynaldo Santos Jr.
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