Philippines media faces ‘eternal threat of punishment’ after cyber libel convictions

The Duterte administration’s war on media has entered a new phase

By Karlo Mongaya

A Manila court convicted one of the Philippines’ leading journalists on charges of cyber libel in a case widely seen as the latest attack on dissenting voices and press freedoms in the country.

Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 Judge Rainelda Estacio-Montesa sentenced news website Rappler’s chief executive editor Maria Ressa and former reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. to 6 months and 1 day up to 6 years in jail and ordered them each to pay P400,000 (about US$8,000) for moral and exemplary damages on June 15.

Ressa and Santos are the first journalists in the Philippines to be found guilty of cyber libel since the law was passed in 2012. They were allowed to post bail pending appeal under the bond they paid in 2019, which cost 100,000 pesos (2,000 US dollars) each.

Rappler, an independent website of international renown has been targeted by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The court, however, found Rappler itself to have no liability in the cyber libel case.

Targeting Rappler

Press freedom advocates in the Philippines and across the world swiftly decried Ressa’s conviction as part of the Duterte administration’s campaign to terrorize and intimidate journalists.

The case against Ressa and Rappler was filed in 2017 by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a 2012 Rappler story covering his alleged links to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was being impeached on corruption charges at the time.

Keng’s case was initially dismissed in 2017 because it was beyond the statute of limitations. Moreover, the article itself was published four months before the cybercrime law was enacted.

But the case was subsequently readmitted by the Philippine justice department, which extended the period of liability for cyber libel claims from one year to 12 years and argued the article was covered by the law because it was ‘republished’ in February 2014, when Rappler updated it.

While Duterte and his spokesmen deny any links to the cyber libel case, Rappler has been on the receiving end of regular ire from the president and his allies for actively investigating and exposing the administration’s bloody war on drugs, social media manipulation and corruption.

Rappler reporters were banned from covering presidential press briefings in 2018, for what Duterte characterized as “twisted reporting” during a presidential address.

Pro-Duterte trolls deride Rappler as a peddler of “fake news” and hurl invective at its reporters.

The cyber libel case is but the first in a total of 8 active legal cases against Ressa and Rappler which include another libel case and tax violation allegations. All were filed after Duterte came to power in 2016.

The Duterte government moved to shut down Rappler in January 2018, claiming that it violated laws on non-foreign ownership of media outlets — a claim that is demonstrably false.

A protester calls for ‘mass testing, not mass silencing’ at a rally held on June 4, 2020, the day the Philippine Congress passed the anti-terror bill. Photo by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Curtailing dissent

The College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s premier state university, condemned the decision as a dangerous precedent that gives authorities the power to prosecute anyone for online content published within the past decade:

The State can prosecute even after ten, twelve or more years after publication or posting. It is a concept of eternal threat of punishment without any limit in time and cyberspace.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the charges that Rappler faces is only the latest in “a chain of media repression that has seen the forced shutdown of broadcast network ABS-CBN and a spike in threats and harassment of journalists, all because the most powerful man in the land abhors criticism and dissent.’’

The government forced the country’s largest television network, privately-owned ABS-CBN, off air last May after the pro-Duterte congress refused to renew the station’s broadcasting license.

Growing persecution of media comes against the backdrop of an anti-terror bill passed by the legislature that allows the president to create an anti-terrorism council vested with powers to designate individuals and groups as “terrorists.”

That designation in turn allows warrantless arrests and 24 days of detention without court charges, among other draconian provisions.

Authorities have brazenly denied the bill threatens freedom in the country.

AERIAL SHOT: 5,000 human rights advocates and activists observe physical distancing as they commemorate Philippine Independence Day and hold a ‘Grand Mañanita’ against the Duterte government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill today, June 12, on University Avenue, University of the Philippines- Diliman, Quezon City. Photo and caption by Kodao Productions, a content partner of Global Voices

Holding the line

At a press conference after her court hearing, Ressa vowed to hold the line:

Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything.

A few days before Ressa’s conviction, thousands defied the lockdown to join anti-terror bill protests in Manilla despite threats of violence from the police.

Protesters ironically described their demonstration as a “mañanita” — the word that Police General Debold Sinas, a Duterte ally, used to justify his birthday party celebration, which took place amidst severe restrictions on gatherings.

Double standards for Duterte allies and the weaponization of laws against critics were a constant theme in tweets that used the #DefendPressFreedom hashtag in response to the Ressa case.

(Kodao is a content partner of Global Voices)

Explore beauty and heritage in the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand while staying at home

Virtual packages give would-be tourists a taste of better times ahead.

By Mong Palatino

Movement restrictions in place across the world as a result of the COVID-19 have canceled travel plans and left entire industries devoted to tourism in tatters.

In Southeast Asia, where tourism plays an important role in generating jobs and revenues, the pandemic has already weakened the economies of many countries. Tourism numbers are minuscule at a time when they should be booming.

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism reported that foreign arrivals went down by over 54 percent to 1.32 million from January to April this year. The tourism sector accounted for 12.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018.

According to the General Statistics Office, Vietnam welcomed 3.7 million international tourists from January to March, which was 18.1 percent lower compared to the same period in 2019.

Thai authorities said that from January to March, foreign tourist arrivals decreased by 38 percent to 6.69 million. Spending by foreign tourists accounted for 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019.

In response, governments in these countries have established virtual tours for those who want to explore famous travel locations in Southeast Asia without leaving their homes, and to encourage tourists to visit these places in the future.

Below are some of the free online travel packages on offer.

Philippines

The Intramuros Administration (IA), a Philippine government agency, has partnered with Google Arts and Culture to create a platform that allows users to virtually visit the ‘walled city’ of Intramuros in Manila.

Intramuros was the site of the old capital during Spain’s 300-year rule over the Philippines. Visitors can explore famous landmarks like Fort Santiago and Plaza Roma.

The website also showcases the IA’s art collection. The online exhibit ‘Christ in Filipino Consciousness’ features religious images of Child Jesus that reflect how Christianity was deployed to colonize the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism is also offering virtual backgrounds featuring famous tourism destinations in the Philippines which users can display in video conferences.

Screenshot of the Ha Long Bay 360 degree tour. Source: Website of ‘Stay at Home with Vietnam’

The Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism have launched the ‘Stay at Home with Vietnam’ kit that allows visitors to explore the country from a distance.

The website offers 360-degree tours of its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites which include Halong Bay and the Phong Nha caves.

Visitors can also download homemade recipes of popular Vietnamese dishes such as banh mi sandwich and bun cha (rice noodle served with grilled pork meatballs).

Several short videos feature local citizens providing tips and unique perspectives on some Vietnamese destinations.

coloring-in pamphlet that features Vietnamese icons is available for download.

Lastly, visitors can download photos of famous tourism sites that can be used as virtual background during video calls.

Thailand

Thailand has recently eased lockdown restrictions but it will take some time before international tourists are welcomed back again.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) tried to sustain interest through its #BooknowTravelsoon campaign and Amazing Thainess social media promotion.

It has launched 3D virtual tours for 13 attractions in nine provinces.

One of the virtual museums offering a glimpse of the country’s riches is the Arts of the Kingdom Museum, which features art collections created by the craftspeople of the Queen Sirikit Institute.

Jewels of the collection uploaded on social media include the ‘Model of the Mongkol Suban Royal Barge’ and ‘Egg-shaped Urn with Khankorbua Print Golden top etched’

The model of the royal barge, including the hull and the keel, are made of gilded silver. The bow is made of carved gold and colour enamel in the shape of a Garuda clutching a Naga in each claw.

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of the content-sharing agreement.

These officials flouted lockdown rules in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Arrest a community volunteer, then throw yourself a party

By Mong Palatino/Global Voices

Lockdown restrictions were enforced by many countries across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19, and Southeast Asia has hosted some of the harshest.

Most quarantine protocols require residents to stay at home, while mass gatherings are typically prohibited.

In Malaysia and the Philippines a particularly strict enforcement of these measures saw thousands of arrests and heavy penalties for violations from March onwards.

But a number of government officials were caught violating the very quarantine protocols they were supposed to oversee.

Global Voices looked into some of these cases, and their outcomes, which highlight how rules apply to ordinary citizens more than to powerful politicians.

We also considered a case in Myanmar that showed how religious discrimination can have a bearing on the application of the law.

Malaysia: ‘Disparity in sentencing’

Malaysia has arrested almost 30,000 people for violating its Movement Control Order (MCO). Harsh implementation was cited by authorities as necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But the public noticed that several politicians flouted the guidelines. The Centre For Independent Journalism compiled documented many of these instances. In one case, Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali posted a now-deleted Facebook photograph of him and another elected representative sharing a meal with about 30 students. Deputy Rural Development Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad meanwhile enjoyed an impromptu birthday party. Datuk Abdul Rahman Mohamad claimed that the party was a surprise sprung on him by friends and said he was unable to send them away for reasons of courtesy.

In many cases politicians and their families who got charged for failing to practice social distancing measures were slapped with light fines. Ordinary citizens, in contrast got maximum penalty fines and even jail time.

This prompted the Malaysian Bar to issue a statement about the ‘disparity in sentencing’:

The Malaysian Bar is disturbed by accounts of excessive sentences and cases of disparity in sentencing between ordinary people and those with influence, in relation to persons who have violated the MCO.

We acknowledge that the range of sentences handed down may well be within the ambit of the law, but the power of the Court to hand down sentences must be exercised judiciously in order to avoid any travesty of justice.

Philippines: ‘Mañanita’, not a birthday party’

The Philippines is cited by the U.N. Human Rights Office as another country that relied on a “highly militarized response” to deal with the pandemic. More than 120,000 people have been arrested for curfew and quarantine transgressions. Checkpoint security measures have led to numerous human rights violations.

But the government’s credibility in enforcing the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) guidelines suffered a tremendous blow after it was reported that Major General Debold Sinas, the director of the National Capital Region Police Office, benefited from a birthday bash organized by subordinates.

Sinas insisted that there was no birthday party but only a ‘Mañanita’ — a police tradition that features an early morning serenade for the chief. But the public backlash forced him to issue an apology.

Critics pointed out that Sinas and his team have enthusiastically arrested activists and community workers organizing relief activities during the lockdown. They blasted the general for holding festivities at a time when millions have lost jobs and income due to anti-pandemic measures.

Sinas was later charged for violating ECQ rules but has so far managed to retain his position. His case is still pending in the court.

A retired military officer, Ramon Farolan, advised Sinas to step down:

Your apology would take on greater meaning if you step down from your position. Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate. Don’t wait for higher authorities to decide your case.

Myanmar: Religious event or pagoda renovation?

In Myanmar, Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein and Naing Ngan Lin, chairman of the COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, are both accused of breaking the law by attending a Botataung Pagoda festival while the country is observing a ban on religious gatherings.

Photos uploaded on the chief minister’s Facebook page showed dozens of individuals congregating at a riverside site to observe a Buddhist rite.

Social media reactions focused on the clear breach of government guidelines, which include a prohibition on gatherings of four or more people.

Phyo Min Thein denied that the activity was a ceremony, insisting instead that it was a pagoda renovation and that the other people in the photographs were mere onlookers.

Many commented that while the government has been consistent in jailing Muslims and Christians for holding religious activities during lockdown restrictions, it has been less decisive in probing activities connected to Buddhism — the country’s most widely observed religion.

Kyaw Phyo Tha, news editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy, criticized the chief minister’s actions:

Whatever the case, the chief minister’s actions were unacceptable. They have put the Union government in an awkward position, as its orders have been undermined by a senior official. Due to U Phyo Min Thein’s shortsightedness, Myanmar will have to pay the price internationally by being accused of religious discrimination.

Phyo Min Thein may yet pay for his lockdown scandal — a growing number of Yangon regional legislators are seeking to file an impeachment case against him for breaking the rules. #

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Kodao publishes Global Voices reports as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Where’s the Pacific voice in the viral ‘real Lord of the Flies’ story?

‘It lacked the very Tongans the story was about’

By Mong Palatino

A book excerpt published by The Guardian narrates the survival of six shipwrecked Tongan boys on an island for 15 months in 1965. The story received more than seven million hits in just four days, but some Tongans have pointed out that the story, which foregrounds the point of view of the Australian sailor who rescued the teenagers, lacks a Pacific voice.

The Guardian story, ‘The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months,’ was published on May 9 and immediately went viral, attracting the attention of filmmakers and global leaders. The book from which it is excerpted is “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman.

Bregman recounted how Tongan teenagers Sione, Stephen, Kolo, David, Luke and Mano survived on the depopulated Ata island for 15 months by relying on each other after their boat was destroyed by a storm. They were rescued by Australian sailor Peter Warner.

Bregman contrasted the story of the six Tongans with the tragic fate of the characters in the popular 1954 novel “Lord of the Flies” by British author William Golding. In the novel, the children survive a plane crash and end up on a remote Pacific island. Some of them become violent, with fatal consequences.

For Bregman, the story of the six Tongans offers a more positive view of humanity:

It’s time we told a different kind of story. The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.

The Guardian story was picked up by the local press in Tonga. Through the Matangi Tonga Online, we learned that the full names of the six teenagers are Kolo Fekitoa, Sione Fataua, “David” Tevita Siola’a, “Stephen” Fatai Latu, Mano Totau, and Luke Veikoso.

Not all are happy with the story published by The Guardian. In an ABC Australia audio interview Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi, a Tongan author and storyteller, took issue with the story’s “colonial lens”. She felt there was too much focus on the Australian rescuer while omitting reference to the island’s history of colonialism (which is why it was depopulated), and the local belief systems that could explain why the boys behaved the way they did. She expressed frustration that a foreigner owns the rights to the story about what happened to the six teenagers, which is well-known in the Tongan community.

Gesa-Fatafehi added that understanding Tongan history and the values promoted in the community would have made readers see that the western novel Lord of the Flies provided an inaccurate counterpoint to the story of the six teenagers.

In a widely-shared Twitter thread, Gesa-Fatafehi elaborated her other concerns:

Samoan journalist Tahlea Aualiitia also commented:

On Twitter, Janet. U revealed that her grandfather is one of the six castaways and posted the following appeal to the public:

Bregman responded to the Twitter thread of Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi by pointing out that the Guardian excerpt did not include his interview with Mano and Sione.

He said he also tackled the history of slavery on the island.

On May 13, The Guardian published an interview with Mano. The article quoted Mano and Bregman, who clarified that Warner did not benefit financially from the story of the rescue.

Gesa-Fatafehi posted a rejoinder to Bregman’s point that the story is not about racism or colonialism but resilience and interracial friendship:

She wrote a longer piece summarizing the points she raised on her Twitter thread:

The original article could’ve done more for the six men. The story should have been told by a Tongan. The story should have been told by the men themselves and their families. This is their story, will always be their story. The article doesn’t mention how the boys felt or why they made the choices they made. It lacked their perspective. It lacked the very Tongans the story was about, with the exception of Mano. But even then, Mano was sidelined. He deserves to share his story how he would want to.

Gesa-Fatafehi said in the ABC Australia interview that if ever a film were to be made about the six teenagers, her advice is to hire a local crew and incorporate local perspectives in sharing the story to the world. #

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This article first appeared on Global Voices which Kodao republishes as part of a content-sharing agreement.

From Brazil to Kosovo to the Philippines, confined citizens protest from their windows

A COVID-safe way to capture the attention of politicians

By Jose Carpintero Molina, Fernanda Canofre and Raymond Palatino

There is a very good chance that you’re in lockdown as you read this. One in every three people on earth is under some sort of social distancing order as governments scramble to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the novel coronavirus was first detected in China in December 2019.

Lockdowns have been watched vigilantly by rights groups, who are urging governments to tread carefully when restricting civil liberties in these exceptional circumstances. But lockdowns do present a paradox for accountability on that very matter: How can citizens ensure officials don’t misuse their new emergency powers when public protests present an immediate danger to one other?

Fortunately, people have found alternatives. From Kosovo to Spain, from Brazil to the Philippines, pot-banging from balconies and windows emerges as a COVID-safe way to capture the attention of politicians.

Of course, such demonstrations are nothing new. As documented by historian Emmanuel Fureix, this type of protest was first seen in France in 1830. Back then, when the Republicans opposing the Louise-Philippe monarchy used kitchenware to make noise as a sign of protest, it was called charivari.

This method of resistance later reached other parts of the world. In 1961, during the Algerian war of independence one protest became known as “the night of the pots.” Other popular protests of this kind took place in Chile in 1971, during the Allende administration, in Quebec during the 2012 student protests, and in Turkey, during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Today it is particularly popular in Latin America, where it’s known as cacelorazo, and panelaço in Brazil.

From their windows in Kosovo, citizens begged authorities to put lives before politics

In Kosovo, citizens banged pots and pans from the balconies and windows every night for a week to show discontent with the current political situation — a power struggle in the ruling coalition over the emergency measures.

The protests did not prevent the prime minister from losing a no-confidence motion on March 25, making Kosovo’s government the first in the world to fall in relation to the coronavirus crisis.

With the Kosovo government ousted, the decision to either form a new government or dissolve the country’s parliament and call for early elections falls to President Hashim Thaçi, the main beneficiary of the prime minister’s sacking. However, holding elections in the midst of a pandemic seems impossible, leaving various important issues up in the air:

In Spain, a cazerolada against the king

On March 19, 2020, as the King of Spain, Felipe I, gave a nationally broadcasted speech asking for unity in confronting COVID-19, people went to their windows and balconies to demand that his father, Juan Carlos I, donate to the public health system the 100 million euros he allegedly has in a Swiss bank account, courtesy the King of Saudi Arabia.

Just a few days later, a similar protest was held against Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his government, as a criticism of their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Banging pots and pans for a while. Pedro Sanchez RESIGNATION, in Capitán Haya, Madrid.”

On April 1, right-wing and far-right again called on social media under the hashtag #cacerolada21h for a protest from the balconies against the government’s handling of the COVID crisis. However, this call ended up having little or no success in some parts of Spain.

One month of nightly protests against Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro

Since March 17, pots and pans have been echoing from Brazilian households at around 8:30 p.m. every night, in protest over how President Jair Bolsonaro is handling policies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in a country with 200 million people:

The first night of protests actually took place a day before the original date that had been planned via social media channels. In cities spanning from the north to the south of the expansive country — even in neighborhoods that used to bang those same kitchen utensils asking for the impeachment of left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff four years prior — people shouted, “Get out, Bolsonaro!”

The following evening, March 18, only half an hour after the protests began, Bolsonaro tried to turn this act of resistance on its head by calling for people to bang pots and pans in support of his government:

“The Today News (TV Globo) and Veja [magazine] ostensively publicize POTS AND PANS PROTEST tonight at 20h30 against President Jair Bolsonaro.
– But the same press, who claim to be impartial, DOT NOT PUBLICIZE another POTS AND PANS PROTEST, at 21h IN SUPPORT OF JAIR BOLSONARO’S GOVERNMENT.”

The Brazilian president has been downplaying the effects of the pandemic, calling COVID-19 “a little flu” and labeling media coverage and social isolation measures adopted by state governors as “hysteric”. In several states, roads have been blocked, interstate buses have been suspended, events canceled and schools closed.

Bolsonaro has given three televised addresses to the nation since World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. His messages have been described as confusing and erratic, at times directly criticizing state governors and at others calling for “union.”

Over the past two weeks, the Brazilian president has shifted from calling for schools and commerce to be reopened, to defending “vertical isolation” — the kind imposed only to people in high-risk groups — and, like US President Donald Trump, advocating for ample use of chloroquine against COVID-19, despite the lack of enough scientific evidence of its efficacy.

Surrounded by aides and cameras, Bolsonaro has also gone several times on walkabouts around the capital Brasília, speaking to and shaking hands with supporters. On his latest excursion on April 10, he declared: “No one will curb my right to come and go.”

Allies and leaders of the National Congress have criticized him for going against the recommendations of the WHO.

#ProtestFromHome in the Philippines

Kadamay, an urban poor group in the Philippines, organized noise barrage protest actions to highlight the slow delivery of food assistance from the government. The lockdown order it was under, though aimed at containing the COVID-19 outbreak, also disrupted the livelihood of street vendors and other workers from the informal sector:

The lack of a clear plan on how to extend assistance to poor households prompted Kadamay to organize the protest, which involved the banging of empty kaldero (pots) in houses. The Twitter hashtag #ProtestFromHome trended on March 22, after the campaign gained online support in the country. The police responded by accusing Kadamay of being anti-Filipino.

The protest also asked that the government conduct mass testing for COVID-19 and prioritize the sending of relief to affected communities.

Argentine women pot-bang against domestic violence

In Argentina, the sound of kitchenware was also heard in protests over the increase in violence against women during quarantine. Thousands of women were involved in these protests, which also called for the lowering of politicians’ wages:

“This Monday night, a cacerolazo was heard in different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Under the hashtag #Ruidazo, calls were made to reduce wages in the political sector amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

Protect the vulnerable in Uruguay

Beating pots and pans was also the method that many Uruguayans used to call for social protection measures for the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis, though others did attempt to counteract it by playing the national anthem and applauding:

“With hymn and tutti #SuenaUruguay #uruguay #montevideo #cacerolazo

Just as global citizens are bound together in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that at present, when street protests are impossible, they are also united by banging pots and pans. #

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Kodao reposts Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Facebook apologizes for translating Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as ‘Mr. Shithole’

By Mong Palatino

Facebook issued an apology after a technical error translated Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s name as ‘Mr. Shithole’.

The error was noticed when the official Facebook page of Myanmar’s state counsellor posted updates regarding the official visit of Xi in Myanmar on 17-18 January 2020. The post, which was written in Burmese, cited several important trade and other bilateral agreements signed by Xi and the Myanmar government.

Xi’s visit highlighted China’s increasing economic and political influence in Myanmar. Its investments are both welcomed and criticized because of their social impact.

Journalists were the first to highlight the wrong translation of Xi’s name. They also noted that this was only on Facebook because Google Translate yielded a correct translation.

It took more than 24 hours before the error was corrected. Facebook also offered its apology:

We have fixed an issue regarding Burmese (Myanmar) to English translations on Facebook and are working to identify the cause to ensure that it doesn’t happen again…This issue is not a reflection of the way our products should work and we sincerely apologise for the offence this has caused.

Poppy McPherson, the Myanmar bureau chief of Reuters, posted screenshots of the translation errors:

Facebook has temporarily disabled the translation of Burmese to English posts. As of this writing, the translation option has not been restored.

Aside from the error in translating Xi’s name, a Facebook bug also prevented Kachin users from posting updates in their native language. There was initial speculation that this was related to Xi’s visit in Myanmar but it was reported as a purely technical problem. Many Kachin residents are opposing a China-funded dam project in their region.

Facebook has been previously criticized for its slow response in addressing the spread of hate speech targeting ethnic minorities in Myanmar. It has since then adopted measures aimed at combating disinformation perpetrated by state-backed accounts. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)


University of the Philippines unveils new subject on the Marcos dictatorship to counter historical revisionism

The subject was offered 33 years after the downfall of Marcos

By Karlo Mongaya

A new General Education (GE) subject that will tackle the dark years of military rule in the Philippines during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship will be taught at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP), the country’s premier state university.

Philippines Studies 21 (PS 21) tackles the historical experience of repression and resistance under Martial Law as a way of countering attempts by political allies of the late dictator Marcos, including the incumbent Rodrigo Duterte government, to whitewash the crimes, corruption, and rights abuses under the martial law regime.

The new subject will focus on the language, culture, and literature from the Martial Law era. The course title PS 21 was taken from the date of the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972. Then President Ferdinand Marcos imposed dictatorial rule for 14 years until his overthrow by a popular uprising at EDSA in 1986.

The new subject has stirred controversy as the Marcoses complained that it may be “one-sided” against their family while the armed forces raised the alarm that it would be used as a recruitment tool for “communist rebels”.

Instituting PS 21

PS 21 has been in the works since 2014 when it was first proposed by Philippine Studies professors at the UP Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature (DFPP).

But efforts to institutionalize the subject gained renewed impetus late in 2018 when the issue of UP President Danilo Concepcion dancing with Senator Imee Marcos, the eldest daughter of the dead dictator, at a function in the university was reported by the media.

The UP Diliman University Council issued a statement calling for stronger efforts to educate the public on the horrors brought about by the Marcos dictatorship, including the creation of additional subjects in the university.

After passing several steps in the rigorous academic process for approving subjects, PS 21 finally made it through the UP Diliman University Council last September 2019. The proposed syllabus of PS 21 has been uploaded online.

Asked by media about the subject, Senator Imee Marcos appealed that her family’s side of the story be included in the course. The PS 21 proponents assured her that the late dictator’s speeches and writings legitimizing military rule are indeed part of the subject.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who served as counsel for the Marcoses in their cases on their ill-gotten wealth, said the subject is a good idea: “Every student should know and learn any subject that concerns governance.”

Contentious history

The Martial Law era remains a contentious topic in the Philippines today. On the one hand, many Filipinos continue to seek justice for those whose rights were violated — the tens of thousands who were imprisoned, tortured, killed, disappeared — by the Marcos regime.

Marcos’ debt-driven development programs and massive corruption favoring his family and cronies have been cited even by mainstream economists for the many ills facing Philippine society today.

On the other hand, human rights activists said that the failure of post-Marcos administrations to convict the dictator’s family and his cronies has allowed the Marcoses to return to power. The dictator’s son and namesake Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. almost won the vice-presidency in the 2016 elections. His sister Imee Marcos currently occupies a seat in the senate.

President Duterte, who has openly expressed admiration for Marcos, and his officials have been blunt in calling on the public to “move on” from the horrors of dictatorial rule while his officials tout those years as the “Golden Age” of Philippine history.

A propaganda video released by the state-managed Philippine News Agency (PNA) against activist organizations as part of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign, for example, praises the Marcos era as the highest point of the country’s economy.

Duterte moreover allowed the burial of the body of the dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) on November 18, 2016 sparking indignation and nationwide protests.

Students listen as proponents explain the rationale and contents of the PS 21 subject during its launching held in UP last September 18, 2019. Photo by author

Target of red-tagging

Ironically, the subject that tackles abuses of the dictatorship is itself now subjected to Marcos era-style repression. PS 21 is yet to be taught but the new subject is already in the cross-hairs of the Duterte government and its armed forces.

The UP Rises Against Tyranny and Dictatorship (UPRISE) network recently condemned the Philippine military for falsely red-tagging the new subject as a recruitment tool for “communist rebels” in a lecture at the Isabela State University Cauayan campus.

Target of red-tagging

Ironically, the subject that tackles abuses of the dictatorship is itself now subjected to Marcos era-style repression. PS 21 is yet to be taught but the new subject is already in the cross-hairs of the Duterte government and its armed forces.

The UP Rises Against Tyranny and Dictatorship (UPRISE) network recently condemned the Philippine military for falsely red-tagging the new subject as a recruitment tool for “communist rebels” in a lecture at the Isabela State University Cauayan campus.

UPRISE said that red-tagging is in line with President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 mandating a “whole-of-nation” approach that synchronizes the activities of all civilian agencies as part of the military’s counter-insurgency efforts:

This presentation was made in line with Executive Order no. 70, fronted as a talk on ensuring student safety and security, but is in essence a massive smear campaign against nationalist and critical education espoused by schools and legal organizations.

Senator Bato dela Rosa, who as former police chief was the lead executor of Duterte’s “War on Drugs”, is leading a crusade to “save students” against “communist infiltration” in schools and universities.

His Senate Committee Report no.10 proposes school administrators clampdown on “radicalization” thru increased police and military presence in campuses, regular review of academic programs, monitoring of school events, up to the filing of charges against professors.

Students, faculty, and employees hold protests last August 20, 2019 at the historic Palma Hall of the University of the Philippines Diliman against the threat of military and police intrusions on campus. Photo by author.

Conscientization amidst repression

Last October 31, 56 activists in Bacolod City, Negros and 2 in Manila City were arrested in raids conducted by Duterte’s security forces on the offices of legal people’s organizations and homes of activists in Negros and the national capital.

This was followed by an early morning November 5 raid on the office of activist group Bayan in Tondo, Manila and threats of state reprisals on legal offices of human rights defenders and progressives.

The crackdown on legal activists who have been the most vocal critics of the Duterte administration has not stopped, with various humanitarian and religious groups included in the military’s list of “communist terrorist groups”.

As the current administration intensifies the constriction of democratic spaces in the country, the new PS 21 subject hopes to be a platform for the “conscientization” of a new generation of Filipino youth on the importance of human rights, social justice and the continuing struggle for genuine freedom and democracy.

Concerned faculty in other UP campuses outside Diliman are endeavoring to institute the same subject in their respective regions. The proponents hope that the same efforts will be pushed in other schools and universities in the country. #

Disclosure: The author teaches Philippine Studies at the UP Diliman Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature.

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Will collective farming by artists save one of Manila’s remaining urban fields?

By Mong Palatino

In the Philippines, a group of artists and volunteers have turned themselves into farmers to cultivate a piece of land situated in the heart of the larger metropolitan area of Manila as part of a campaign to prevent evictions of land tillers. The group, which belongs to the Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, an organization known locally as SAKA, advocates for peasant rights in the Philippines.

In an interview with this author, SAKA leader Angelo Suarez explained what motivated the group to organize what is called a a bungkalan, a collective land cultivation in Quezon City, one of the sixteen cities making up Metro Manila whose total population reached nearly 13 million in the last 2015 census.

As peasant advocates who advance agroecology, we wanted to participate in agricultural production.
In the spirit of bungkalan, we thought this was a great chance to start participating in production and learning the rudiments of both organic agroecology and organizing a community for the assertion of people’s rights.

Suarez related the complicated history of this specific piece of land: initially used as farming land, it was grabbed from peasant communities in the 1930s to become a territory of the newly established Quezon City. Its status changed again in the 1950s when it was donated by the government to the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP), the country’s premier state university.

The land then remained underdeveloped over the next five decades despite the rapid urbanization of Quezon City. In the mid-2000s, the local peasant community successfully petitioned the government to put the land under the coverage of the agrarian reform program but UP contested this notice of coverage by ‘colluding’ with the Quezon City local government in rejecting the terrain’s agricultural classification. Indeed UP plans to build a parking lot in the community.

Yet Suarez is adamant the land should be considered as an agricultural area, as he explained:

It is a bit strange that a farmland can exist in what appears to be a highly industrialized city. But given the reality of uneven development, there does exist a large farmland in Quezon City that resembles nothing of its urban surroundings. Sure, it’s not agricultural on paper—but all it takes is a quick visit to the actual site to determine there’s nothing industrialized about this part of Quezon City at all. In fact, it is so bereft of industrialization that much of the work carried out on the farm is done by hand. The farmers cannot even afford the fuel needed by their rusty old hand tractor to make it work. Even threshing unhusked rice is done manually. What SAKA does is help maintain—and eventually prove—the agricultural status of this farmland by keeping it productive.

Suarez said SAKA started working in the area in early 2019.

We sought permission from the local peasant community to let us till the few square meters they had left unkempt for its difficulty to till. We worked the land for months, till it’s finally able to yield eggplant, okra, pechay [a form of cabbage] , string beans, and other vegetables. We are yet to devise a more efficient system for portioning out the produce among those who’ve worked on it, but for a good span of time all produce was for anybody’s taking: primarily the resident farming community, then the SAKA volunteers who’ve worked on it.

But the group now faces a series of challenges:

The first challenge is the fact that, being artists, literally none of us is a farming expert. Once in a while we get volunteers who have experience in urban gardening and amateur organic farming—but this land is the real deal, we’re practically starting from scratch on actual agricultural land.
Another setback is our lack of experience in organizing. Many of us in SAKA are new activists, and while we are guided by seasoned peasant organizers, many of them spend more time in the countryside where most of our peasant communities are.

Suarez reported how a series of rains flooded SAKA’s little portion of the farm, thus they started digging a makeshift canal system to get rid of excess rainwater. This project has become their number one priority and will remain so in the next few months:

We’ve been digging canals to jumpstart another massive till; the makeshift trenches we’re making should prevent another flooding from killing our crops. Ka Toto, one of the resident farmers and an active member of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) partylist group, reminds us that the last quarter of the year is a great time to plant, a season conducive to growth. So we have to work double-time in gathering volunteers to join us. To do this, we have been actively campaigning in different forums, talking about bungkalan as a nation-wide mass movement that plays a significant role in the peasant struggle, as well as about bungkalan itself as an urgent intervention in UP’s forthcoming eviction of resident peasants.

It is unclear if the law signed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on August 2019 allowing UP to sell portions of the farming land to the Quezon City government would resolve the dispute. But initiatives like the bungkalan organized by SAKA are helpful in raising awareness about the need to preserve this farmland in the center of Quezon City, and to resist the eviction threat against residents in the community.

Below are more photos from SAKA’s bungkalan activities:

Farming in the city with a high-rise in the background. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Planting activity organized by SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Volunteers of SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Filipino community radio stations struggle to survive amid attacks and difficulties

By Mong Palatino

A book published in 2018 documented the challenges faced by community radio networks in the Philippines. This author interviewed one of the groups behind the book project about the significance of community radio in a country where most of the murdered journalists are broadcasters from the rural provinces.

Titled ‘Amplifying the People’s Voices: The Philippine Community Radio Experience and Challenges’, the book was published by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television and Kodao Productions. [Note: Kodao is a content partner of Global Voices.]

Jola Diones-Mamangun, executive director of Kodao, shared via email some of the highlights of the book and the current challenges of community radio broadcasting under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte. First, she explained what community radio means:

Community radio is broadcasting or ‘narrowcasting’ by a community on a topic that is of importance to them through a (usually) low-power radio transmitter (broadcasting) or a public-address system (narrowcasting). It is a form of a town-hall meeting that uses the radio program format. Both the broadcaster/s and the interviewee/s are usually members of the community themselves. If the community succeeds in putting a community radio station, they broadcast a series of programs that is similar to how other radio stations operate (eg, Radyo Sagada). If not, they can set up a public address system and place speakers around the community and the program/s usually last for just hours (eg. Radyo San Roque).

Sagada is part of the Cordillera Region, the home of the Igorot indigenous peoples, in the northern part of the Philippines. San Roque is an urban poor community in Metro Manila, the country’s capital region.

She mentioned how community radio stations formed a network in the early 1990s

There have been earlier stand-alone community radio stations in the Philippines but it was only in the early 1990s that the late Louie Tabing started the Tambuli network of community radio stations. He is acknowledged in the global community radio broadcasting movement as an Asian pioneer.

‘Amplifying the People’s Voices: The Philippine Community Radio Experience and Challenges’. (Published by IAWRT)

She said Kodao’s work was inspired by the legacy of the Tambuli Network. Tambuli spearheaded the establishment of more than 20 community radio stations in remote villages across the Philippines, with assistance from various sectors such as the academe, church, international NGOs, and the communities themselves.

She then summarized the main challenges faced by community radio in the past two decades:

Sustainability is the main challenge. When funding for Tambuli dried up, most of the stations became moribund, shriveling the network and stopping the project on its tracks.

Second problem are the laws that appear to discourage the establishment of independent community radio stations. For example, while there are more than a hundred Radyo Natin stations all over the archipelago—low-power Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC)-owned stations—there are very few genuine community radio stations such as Radyo Sagada. It is unjust that large networks such as MBC are given hundreds of frequencies on both AM and FM bands that it is no longer possible, for example to put a radio station in the Metro Manila area, or Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and others. What if the Dumagats of Antipolo want to have a radio station of their own? [Dumagats are indigenous peoples from Rizal province. Antipolo is part of Rizal, located east of Metro Manila].

Third, because they are non-profit, community-owned and operated, and assisted by non-government organizations, genuine community radio stations are often victims of attacks and harassments, leading to their closure or abortion of their establishment. Radyo Cagayano was burned down and its staff attacked in Baggao, Cagayan in 2006; Radyo Sugbuanon’s full operation was aborted because of threats by the police and politicians; Radyo Lumad was closed last January 2019 because of threats and harassments. NGOs that help put them up are red-tagged and some have even been killed or imprisoned.

Radyo Cagayano, Radyo Lumad, and Radyo Sugbuanon are located in communities where the residents have been either resisting the entry and expansion of mining interests or opposing the approval of large-scale projects that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. These radio stations have consistently worked with communities threatened with displacement by broadcasting the issue and providing a platform for local residents to articulate their demands. It is this mission of ‘amplifying the people’s voices’ that led to vicious attacks targeting those who are speaking truth to power.

She emphasized that the ‘people’s right to communication’ should be part of the broader struggle for real development and inclusive democracy in the Philippines:

These are no small challenges that could be addressed by simple problem-solving. There must a systemic social change if community radio is to finally succeed in the Philippines. It must be pursued as part of the people’s right to communication. If the marginalized are underserved by the mass media establishment, they must be allowed to be their own voice (as opposed to claims that they are voiceless and that the networkers are giving them one.

She accused the Duterte government, which came to power in 2016, of enabling more attacks against the independent press including community radio:

It is under the Duterte regime that Radyo Sugbuanon and Radyo Lumad have been threatened, leading to the abortion of the former’s full establishment and the closure of the latter.

She said Kodao plans to give copies of the book to mass communication schools throughout the country to serve as a resource. She added that the book can be part of a campaign to push for an enabling law promoting community radio broadcasting in the Philippines.

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

A snapshot of climate strikes across Southeast Asia

‘THERE IS NO PLANET B”

By Mong Palatino

Filipino protesters in a human-Earth formation. Source: Facebook page of Scientia

Several actions were organized across Southeast Asia from 20 to 22 September 2019 in support of the Global Climate Strike. One of the aims of the global strike was to mobilize young people and put pressure on world leaders who were scheduled to meet at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

The protest actions in Southeast Asia highlighted various issues such as the impact of large-scale mining, haze pollution, and continuing dependence on fossil fuels. Like in other parts of the world, the climate strikes in Southeast Asia featured the active participation and leadership of young people.

Below is an overview of protest activities across Southeast Asia:

Myanmar protesters demand the declaration of a climate emergency

More than 200 people marched from the new Bogyoke Market to Sule Pagoda, and then gathered outside Mahabandoola Park in Yangon on 21 September. They urged the Myanmar government to declare a climate emergency, impose a moratorium on projects that harm the environment, and promote environmental justice.

Young environmentalists joined the protest in Yangon. Source: Facebook page of Climate Strike Myanmar

Filipino activists call for climate justice

More than 600 young environmentalists in Manila participated in a human-Earth formation while carrying placards that call for climate justice on 20 September. They denounced the rising number of extrajudicial killings targeting environmental defenders and land rights activists under the government of President Rodrigo Duterte who came to power in 2016.

Thailand asked to stop building coal plants

More than 150 young environmentalists held a die-in protest in front of Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on 20 September. They submitted a petition asking the government to phase out coal and transition to renewable energy. A government official received the letter and lauded the concern of young people for the environment.

Young environmentalists rally in front of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Source: Facebook page of Climate Strike Thailand

Malaysia pressed to act against haze pollution

More than 300 people joined the protest organized by Klima Action Malaysia on 21 September. They linked the worsening haze pollution to the climate crisis and asked the government to probe companies responsible for financing the deforestation of lands in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Stop forest fires in Indonesia

Reports indicated that more than a thousand young people marched in Jakarta on 20 September. They criticized the failure of the government to stop the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan which caused massive haze pollution not just in Indonesia but also in Malaysia and Singapore. The expansion of plantations and illegal land conversions are blamed for the raging forest fires in the country.

Singapore told to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Singapore had a large turnout during its climate strike on 21 September at Hong Lim Park. An estimated two thousand people joined the action calling the government to decarbonize the economy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Participants wore red to symbolize the climate emergency we are facing today.

Vietnamese activists defy risks and hold protest in Ho Chi Minh City

And finally, in Vietnam, environmental activists organized a climate protest in Ho Chi Minh City despite the political risk of such an action.

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)