Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are among the most important basic rights enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. These civil liberties are also the best safeguards for all other rights: due process; free assembly, travel, and association; and the exercise of religious and political beliefs.
The first year and a half of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has seen a flood of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression. Duterte himself has led the assault, aided by a well-oiled machinery of disinformation peddlers and digital storm troopers.
Even before Duterte assumed power, he launched a campaign to undermine media, justifying attacks against journalists. He has since framed critical reportage – as he has all dissent to his policies – as part of imagined destabilization plots.
The President’s attacks have been amplified by a well-funded social media army, in part underwritten by taxpayers. They appropriated gains in freedom of expression even while unleashing violent threats on journalists, artists, activists and all other critics of the administration.
These threats are not simple rants on social media. They come with elements that clearly point to the potential of on-ground implementation, whether by state agents or their proxies.The Duterte administration did all these while pushing its propaganda’s alternative reality to Filipinos.
These attacks have a clear aim: Silence opposition to mounting human rights violations linked to his crackdown on suspected drug addicts and dealers and various parties he has dubbed as enemies of the state, including activists and rights defenders.
More than 10,000 have been killed in relation to his anti-narcotics crackdown. Rights groups have documented 143 political killings and more than a hundred illegal arrests. Duterte has just given soldiers the same reassurance he gave police implementing the crackdown against drugs – they can kill unarmed civilians and still enjoy his protection against justice.
More recently, Duterte has vowed to go after legal activists and opposition groups, claiming they provide aid to an underground communist-led rebellion that he has declared “terrorist”.
The President’s latest move only heightens the dangers poised on freedom of expression and the press, and all other freedoms, even as the government marches on with its plan to do away with democratic processes and bring the nation under one man’s dictatorial rule.
Artists in all fields, journalists, and media workers do not exist in a vacuum. A society enveloped by fear and repression is inimical to the development of the arts and the press.
The late great director, Lino Brocka, spoke these words in an earlier dark age. It is a lesson media took to heart in the fight against Duterte’s idol, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“(T)he artist is also a public person. He does not work in isolation from society. Instead of working alone in his ivory tower, he is a citizen of the slums, of the streets, of the battlefield if need be. The artist is always a participant. He tries to be true not only to his craft but also to himself. For it is the supreme duty of the artist to investigate the truth, no matter what forces attempt to hide it. And then to report it to the people, to confront them with it, like a whiplash that will cause wounds but will free the mind….”
It is in this light that we have formed a broad alliance of artists, journalists, and media workers dedicated to uphold and protect the freedom of expression and human rights in the practice of our crafts and professions and in the lives of the people as a whole.
All artists, writers, journalists, and media workers in all platforms, who believe in this objective and who are willing to stand up for freedom of expression and human rights, are welcome to join the alliance. Organizations may also affiliate with the alliance.
It is not enough to call for a halt to government-led disinformation campaigns. We will combat it on all fronts.
We will expose these deceptions. And we will work together in all fields of the arts and media, and reach out to all sectors, to reveal the harsh truths we live in.
As the government relentlessly moves to bring the country once more under a dictatorship, our Arts and Media Alliance raises this challenge: Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI).
Our call is our name.
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)
Arts and Media Alliance