Amusing advocacy for free speech | Inquirer Opinion

Amusing advocacy for free speech

/ 05:07 AM May 30, 2024

Former president Rodrigo Duterte is getting a dose of his own medicine on the issue of free speech or freedom of expression.

In the wake of the cancellation of the prayer rally organized by his supporters on May 25 in Tacloban City, he said “As part of the Marcos administration’s policy of stifling peaceful dissent, they are doing everything to prevent this rally from happening.”

He claimed that aside from the bad weather caused by Severe Tropical Storm “Aghon,” there was a deliberate attempt to stop the event through travel restrictions, power interruptions in some parts of the city, and the placing of heavy equipment at the rally site.

He also cited similar rally cancellations in Malolos City and Bustos, both in Bulacan province.


(Incidentally, the mayor and congressman of Tacloban are first cousins of President Marcos.)

Path of the storm

An aide of Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez said the mayor was unaware of the prayer rally and that he was focused on monitoring the storm that was affecting the Eastern Visayas region, including the city.

Note that several days before the prayer rally, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration had announced the coming of the storm and its possible strength.

Acting on that advice, the government agencies concerned and the local government units at the expected path of the storm were put on alert to take appropriate measures to minimize the adverse effects of the weather disturbance.


Considering the tragic experience that the Eastern Visayas region and the city went through in 2013 in the wake of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” that storm was, from an objective point of view, reason enough to call off the rally.

Reputation for bluster

Whether or not the other reasons cited by Duterte are true is a big question mark in light of his reputation for bluster in his speeches and his disposition to exaggerations in order to catch public attention.


Assuming the rally pushed through despite the storm and, in the process, caused injuries (or death) to some of the participants, the city government, not Duterte and the organizers, would bear the responsibility and costs of their medical treatment.

By sharply criticizing the cancellation of the rallies in Tacloban and Bulacan, Duterte had made it appear that he is a firm believer and advocate of free speech. Or the right of the citizens to speak freely and without fear on the issues of the day, in particular, with regard to the government.

To people who were living under the rock during his administration, that advocacy should be a cause for elation because free speech is the bedrock of a democratic country.

Demonized the media

But looking at the record of the Duterte administration on the issue of free speech, he is the last person in the Philippines who can claim fealty or allegiance to the right of the people to free expression within the bounds of the law.

It doesn’t fit, no matter how he tries.

Recall how he repeatedly demonized the media outlets that, among others, criticized his bloody war on illegal drugs that resulted in the extrajudicial killing of thousands of Filipinos who belong to the lowest brackets of our society.

Not content with the verbal attacks, he weaponized the law against those critics by filing criminal charges against them or putting pressure on their economic interests to “persuade” them to look at that issue the way he wanted it. Woe to those who dared not to kowtow to him.

For Duterte, public statements that put in a bad light his administration or the people who are closely identified with him were either communist-inspired, politically motivated, or aimed at destabilizing the government.

He even publicly stated that some of the journalists who were killed deserved their fate.

Empty rhetoric

Without passing judgment on the validity of the reasons that Duterte claimed to be behind the cancellation of his rallies, now he knows how it feels to be deprived of the right to free speech or the ability to express grievances against the government without being punished for doing so.

It is ironic that his so-called prayer rallies are anything but religious in character. The rallies that had already been held were marked with cuss words or expletives, or outlandish accusations against high government officials who refused to do his bidding.

Duterte’s protestations about his right to speech being curtailed by the Marcos administration may be described as empty rhetoric by a person who craves the attention he once enjoyed.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

But the problem is, the issue he has chosen to regain that notice is something that he cannot, no matter how he tries to, be truthfully identified with.


© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.