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Fierce cry of yesterday’s youth: Be warned

05:05 AM September 24, 2020

The e-poster released by members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (1969-1972) shows domino pieces standing one after another and a finger about to push the first piece which is freedom of the press. The message reads: Kapag tumumba ang una, tutumbang sunod-sunod ang iba. (When the first one falls, the rest will fall, one after another.)

The pieces that follow after freedom of the press are: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to peaceably assemble, and freedom of association. At the bottom is the hashtag #NoToAntiTerrorAct. The e-poster goes with the statement titled “No to assault on press freedom, no to de facto martial law.” CEGP issued the statement on Sept. 21, the 48th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos that began a dark era that lasted 14 years (1972-1986).

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The statement is not brief but it bears reading. It is yesterday’s youth crying out not only to today’s youth but to all, so that we may all harken and heed. Let me first share the latter portion that answers the who and the why: “We, concerned members of the College Editors Guild of 1969-1972, are living witness to dictatorship. We made the willful choice in 1972 to keep writing. We stood witness to a country being run aground by a Strongman. We worked to get the information out there to a people whose constitutional guarantees had been wiped out by a Strongman’s absolute greed and absolute power.

“For this, we paid the price. Our stories are many, our chronicles slim. In the book ‘Not on Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened, We Were There’ we managed to put together how our lives were thrown off kilter, how we came under arrest and imprisonment, how we bore torture and exile, how our careers were derailed or crushed, and how our families paid the price with us.”

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The statement begins with a scathing blow on how the government has been handling the pandemic crisis, how “officials forget, too, that a democracy — even during a crisis or, mostly especially, during one — requires that there be transparency, that there be accountability in governance. Which requirements are fulfilled only when there is, throughout the republic, free press, free speech and free expression. The road is cleared for totalitarian leadership when people do not have these.”

The statement tackles freedom of the press, “red-branding” and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Freedom of the press being the first of the domino pieces, it must be guarded with vigilance, if not fiercely. “Seizure of state power is made easier when people do not have the information, cannot speak out, and are hesitant to investigate acts of corruption and bad governance. Government knows this.” Examples: The President browbeating the Inquirer, the cases filed against Rappler, the closure of media giant ABS-CBN.

“Cementing all this is the Anti-Terrorism Act. Certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte on June 1, passed by Congress on June 3, signed into law on July 3, 2020. The bill moved into law with a dizzying energy uncommon to our lawmakers, and yet this is the law to kill free press, free expression, and free speech in one blow.”

Some 30 petitions questioning the constitutionality of ATA have been brought before the Supreme Court (I am among the petitioners composed of journalists, lawyers, academics), the statement says, stressing that: “The protection of the Freedom of Speech is the one true constant in Philippine constitutional jurisprudence because it constitutes the cornerstone of our democracy. Without the freedom to speak truth to power, all our other freedoms mean nothing.” Not to belittle the terrorist threat but there was already the Human Security Act of 2007. ATA killed it.

“ATA is de facto martial law — and this early it telegraphs abuse. So, we hold the line. Arguably a step as sinister as deposed President Ferdinand Marcos’ 1972 martial law, it institutionalizes a super body called the Anti-Terorism Council, populated by the President’s men, coming directly under the Executive Department, and answerable only to the President.

“The press takes a direct hit. ATA’s Section 9 would penalize content, making terrorists out of anyone whose writing ‘incites’ or ‘invites’ or ‘proposes’ to someone else to commit a terrorist act.” A chilling scenario indeed.

We must not allow the first domino piece to fall.

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TAGS: Anti-Terrorism Act, Anti-Terrorism Council, de facto martial law, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, press freedom, Rodrigo Duterte
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