AMARC condemns the arrest of broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio of the Philippines

February 19, 2020, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC Asia-Pacific) joins its members, human rights defenders and advocates of free media in the Philippines in condemning the illegal arrest of Frenchie Mae Cumpio, 21, a community broadcaster and journalist associated with the Aksyon Radyo – Tacloban DYVL 819 kHz. Frenchie Mae is also the Executive Director of the independent media outfit Eastern Vista, correspondent of Altermidya in Tacloban City and an active member of the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television. According to statements, she and four other human rights defenders were arrested in Tacloban City early Friday morning, February 7, 2020.

According to human rights groups in the Philippines, the arrest of Frenchie Mae and the others is part of the government’s work to silence those media personalities that are critical to the policies and principles of the state. Frenchie Mae was under surveillance by the state forces since 2018. The last one was this year, January 31 where a suspected element of the Armed Forces of the Philippines visited her office in Tacloban City carrying a bouquet of flower with Frenchie’s photo inserted on it. Even though it was meant to be a death threat to her Frenchie Mae continued her work until her arrest.

AMARC and its global family of community radios and advocates of freedom of expression stand in solidarity with our members and colleagues in the Philippines in protesting against the attacks by the Duterte administration against human rights defenders and free media,” said Ram Bhat, President of AMARC Asia-Pacific. #

(The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) gathers more than 5,000 community radios, federations and community media stakeholders in approximately 115 countries.)

‘Detained for interviewing protester’: Altermidya denounces arrest of Radyo Ni Juan reporter

AlterMidya

National alternative media group Altermidya strongly denounces the intimidation and arrest of Davao-based reporter Glenn Jester Hitgano of Radyo ni Juan. 

Hitgano was interviewing protesting workers from banana company Philippine Dream Farm Dev’t in Carmen, Davao del Norte on Jan. 21 when police cut short his interview and took him to the police station. 

The police claimed that Hitgano “insulted” them by interviewing the protesters, and attempted to handcuff the reporter. They also tried to confiscate his phone and demanded him to delete the interview.  

Hitgano was held for an hour, and was released only after convincing the police that he will not report on the workers’ protest. The Radyo ni Juan reporter said he covered the protest after receiving information that the workers were harassed by uniformed men the previous night. 

Altermidya condemns this attack on our colleague, who was clearly being coerced into silence by state forces who were uncomfortable with the truth. The arrest and intimidation of journalists like Hitgano is a blatant violation of media’s task of exposing the truth to the public. It is pure assault not just on press freedom but on the public’s right to know. 

Altermidya calls for an independent investigation to hold into immediate account the members of the Carmen police involved in this gross wrongdoing. State forces should be at the forefront of safeguarding rights such as free speech and expression, and not be the purveyors of abuse. 

Initial people’s victory in the long march for justice

STATEMENT OF ALTERMIDYA NETWORK ON THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE VERDICT

AlterMidya

December 19, 2019

The conviction of members of the Ampatuan clan is an initial victory of the families and of the people who have joined their long journey for justice.

We hail the courage and determination of families, witnesses and lawyers who stood up against the powerful Ampatuan clan.

We commend Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for upholding the rule of law.

The decision today is a small step toward ending impunity. It sends the message that the powers-that-be can still be held accountable, albeit belatedly.

This is not the endgame. Eighty of the accused are still at large and it is crucial for the Duterte administration to make sure that they are arrested and tried. Legal options for appeal can still be availed – from the RTC, to the appelate court, up to the Supreme Court. We will soldier on, no matter how long.

The past ten years have galvanized us, fortified our ranks. After the massacre, killings of journalists continued. Fifteen of our colleagues have been gunned down under this administration.

Moreover, warlordism, political patronage and all the conditions that led to the tragedy ten years ago remain. The enablers of this dome of impunity remain vastly untouched.

We will continue to engulf the reign of impunity in the blaze of the people’s wrath.

State of Media Freedom in PH

Red-tagging, intimidation vs. press: Du30, state agents behind 69 cases

By The Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network*

  • A network composed of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), MindaNews, Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)

THE STATE OF MEDIA FREEDOM in the Philippines under the Duterte Administration remains a tragic story as new and more cases of attacks and threats continue, with marked uptick for certain incidents.

The situation highlights the unyielding reign of impunity, and the shrinking democratic space in the country, even as the nation awaits next week, on Dec. 19, 2019, the promulgation of judgment on the Ampatuan Massacre case of Nov. 23, 2009 that claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 32 journalists and media workers.

After over nine years of trial, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, presiding judge of Branch 221 of the regional trial court of Quezon City, will decide on the case that has been described as the “deadliest strike against the press in history.”

From June 30, 2016 to Dec. 5, 2019, or in the last 41 months, 154 incidents of attacks and threats against the news media had been documented jointly by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

The 154 cases include 15 journalists who had been killed under the Duterte Administration even as cases of intimidation and online harassment registered the highest numbers, by category of incidents.

The most worrisome numbers are 28 incidents of intimidation, 20 online harassment, 12 threats via text messages, 12 libel cases, 10 website attacks, eight slay attempts, and eight cases of journalists barred from coverage.

Sixty cases of attacks were made against online media — the highest by media platform — apart from 41 cases against radio networks, 33 against print media agencies, and 15 cases against television networks.

Of the 154 cases, at least 69 had linked state agents — public officials from the Executive and Legislative branches, uniformed personnel, and Cabinet appointees of President Duterte – as known or alleged perpetrators. Of these 69 state agents, about half or 27 are from national government agencies.

Luzon island logged the biggest number of cases at 99, including 69 in Metro Manila alone. Mindanao logged 37 cases, and the Visayas, 18.

In the last six months, however, the most disconcerting and fastest rising numbers of attacks and threats include:

  • Multiple instances of public broadsides and attacks by President Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. against certain journalists and media agencies, and threats by the President to personally see after the denial of franchise renewal for a television network. “Ayan. Nationwide man ‘yan. Ikaw, ABS-CBN, you’re a mouthpiece of… Ang inyong franchise, mag-end next year. If you are expecting na ma-renew ‘yan, I’m sorry. You’re out. I will see to it that you’re out,” the President warned ABS-CBN network;
  • Red-tagging of journalists and media organizations as alleged fronts of leftist and communist groups by officers of the Armed Forces, Philippine National Police, Philippine Communications Operations Office, and other state agents;
  • Workshops conducted by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) in the regions compelling journalists to sign off to a “Manifesto of Commitment” to “wholeheartedly support” the Administration’s “Whole-Of-Nation Approach In Attaining Inclusive And Sustainable Peace, Creating A National Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict, And Directing The Adoption Of A National Peace Framework,” as mandated by Executive Order No. 70 that Duterte issued in December 2018; and
  • A case of mistaken arrest of a journalist had also happened. In June 2019, Fidelina Margarita Avellanosa-Valle, Davao Today columnist, was arrested at the Laguindingan airport allegedly based on a warrant of arrest for murder and other alleged cases. She was brought to Pagadian, held incommunicado for hours, and later released in the evening with just an apology from the Philippine National Police or PNP.

RED-TAGGING

More cases of red-tagging or red-baiting of journalists by police or military officers or their intelligence assets and allies have been reported.

· On Nov. 4, 2019, in an interview with the anchors of “The Chiefs” program of TV5, Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, undersecretary for New Media and External Affairs, tagged the National Union of Journalists and other media personnel as so-called fronts of Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army. “Are they or are they not part of the CPP-NPA? They are,” Badoy said. Asked if she was saying that these groups are fronting or are part of terrorist organizations, Badoy replied, “Unequivocally. Yes.” Badoy added, “I just don’t want a reporting. I want a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the human rights violations of the CPP-NPA.”

In a statement, NUJP said that Badoy clearly painted the NUJP as enemies of the state. “This is essentially an open call for state forces to threaten, harass, arrest, detain and kill journalists for doing their job,” NUJP said.

“Clearly,” added NUJP, “the intent of this red-tagging spree and all other assaults on press freedom is to intimidate the independent media into abandoning their critical stance as watchdogs and become mouthpieces of government.”

· On Sept. 17, 2019, at a public forum at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga, Rolando Asuncion, regional director of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) claimed Pampanga TV manager Sonia Soto was among 31 identified media personalities in the NICA’s list of alleged rebels. “Sa CLTV36, kilala niyo ba yun? Si Sonia Soto, ‘yong maganda? Iyon.(Do you know Sonia Soto? The pretty one in CLTV36?)”

A report by SunStar said that in a Facebook post, Soto denied the accusation in no uncertain terms. “I cannot accept this label or tag because I am neither a communist nor a terrorist,” the report quoted Soto as saying. “I am a professional TV station manager and a Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)-licensed TV broadcaster. I have never allowed CLTV36 or any of its shows to be a mouthpiece for anyone advocating terrorism or to raise arms against government in the course of my work as a broadcaster and general manager of CLTV36.”

“As a matter of fact,” Soto added, “like all TV stations, we use a standard disclaimer to caution the viewers should anyone among the guests in a TV show utter words that may be misconstrued as reflective of the Management’s views on a specific topic being discussed. Please know that I am concerned for my safety.”

Soto, a student leader at the Lyceum of the Philippines, was a signatory to a 1982 agreement between the League of Filipino Students and the Ministry of National Defense that bars state security forces from entering state universities.

The incident allegedly happened during a “Situational Awareness and Knowledge Management” briefing, which Asuncion described as “pursuant to the mandate of NICA in implementing Executive Order 70 calling for the creation of a National Task Force specifically in the adoption of a National Peace Framework to end the local communist armed conflict,” according to those who were invited to the event.

On multiple occasions, various state agents and pro-Duterte groups have tagged independent and critical journalists and media agencies as supposed fronts or supporters of the leftist and communist groups, via social-media posts and in press statements.

Those who had been targeted include journalists from Mindanao Gold Star Daily, MindaNews, Visayan Daily Star, Davao Today, radyo Natin Gumaca, the PNP Press Corps, Rappler, Vera Files, the NUJP chapter members in Cagayan de Oro, and PCIJ.

COMPELLED CONSENT

Statements by military officers and forums conducted by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) in the regions compel journalists to sign off to a “Manifesto of Commitment” declaring their “wholehearted support and commitment to the implementation of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 to the Regional Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict.”

  • On Nov. 19, 2019, journalists in Eastern Visayas were invited to a forum organized by NICA’s Region 8 Task Force in Tacloban City. “Partnering with the Media in Winning Peace and development in Eastern Visayas” was the theme of the forum conducted by the Task Force’s “Strategic Communications Cluster” and “Situation Awareness and Knowledge Management Center.” Some participants said that NICA’s invitation for journalists to sign off to the “Manifesto of Commitment” was practically compelled and demanded. To decline could have been interpreted as going against the Task Force’s supposed goal of ending the “communist armed conflict.”
  • On Dec. 6, 2019 in Butuan City, Agusan del Sur, the Philippine Information Agency reported the conduct of another meeting with journalists by the Strategic Communications Cluster of the Regional Task Force To End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) with NICA Regional Director Manuel Orduña.
  • In May 2019, members of the Defense Press Corps took exception to a letter to editors and social-media posts by Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations.

The Philippine Star reported that Parlade had accused reporters of being “biased and of colluding with communists” when they failed to carry the statement made by Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, about the writs of amparo and habeas data that the Supreme Court had granted the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.

“These media are allowing their government to be punched and bullied without giving it an opportunity to air its side, or more appropriately, to express the truth,” Parlade had said. The reporters “do not want to expose the truth about these front organizations” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Parlade added.

The Defense Press Corps said that not one of its members carried the AFP’s statement because “it was, to put it bluntly, a rehash of a written statement he issued three days earlier.” It stressed that DPC is an organization “indebted to no one—not to the AFP, the Department of National Defense, the NUPL, the left and other state and non-state actors.”

“It is a very unfortunate that MGen. Parlade, who is supposed to bridge the gap between the AFP and the ordinary people as the military’s top civil military operations officer, is shooting the messenger by falsely and randomly accusing DPC members of transgression on our core values,” the reporters said, adding that Parlade’s intention of spreading his letter in social media is questionable.

“To be accused of bias, merely by not carrying a stale statement, sends a chilling message to media practitioners to parrot the military line or else, be discredited,” the Defense Press Corps said. Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, 10 December 2019

DATA TABLES:

By the numbers, here are the cases of attacks and threats on media freedom in the Philippines covering the period from June 30, 2016 to Dec. 5, 2019. Some numbers/data may have changed from previous reports after some cases, upon further investigation/consolidation of data, were proven to be not work-related.

INCIDENTS, BY CATEGORY, PLATFORM, GENDER:

INCIDENTS, BY LOCATION:

INCIDENTS, BY ALLEGED PERPETRATOR:

South East Asia: Too many journalists targeted for simply doing their job

Journalists directly targeted for attack by public or private individuals is the primary threat for media workers in South East Asia with far too many facing arrest or detainment for simply for doing their jobs. Today, on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalists Unions (SEAJU) launch the preliminary findings of the 2019 annual survey of journalist working conditions in the region and call on governments and authorities to do more to enhance the safety of journalists in South East Asia.

The survey, which is the second collaboration of the IFJ and journalist unions in South East Asia, found that the single biggest threat to the safety and security of journalists was their working conditions. The survey delves into the issues impacting journalist safety and working conditions on the region as a whole, as well as taking a focused look at the situation on the ground for media workers in the seven SEAJU member countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Timor Leste.

The survey of 1,265 journalists also revealed that one in two journalists had felt insecure in their jobs in the past year. Noted key threats were physical random attacks by members of the general public, threats to journalists’ families or others close to them, and poor working conditions.

The survey also showed that 38% of journalists felt that the media freedom in their countries had worsened or seriously declined in the past 12 months. Impunity for crimes against journalists was seen as a major problem or considered to be at epidemic levels in the region.

Government and political leadership were the two biggest determinants of impunity for crimes against journalists, while the prevailing poor performance of the criminal and civil justice system to deal with such threats and acts of violence against journalists was a major contributing factor. Full results of the survey and an in-depth report will be released later this month on November 23, the anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.

Ten years on from the massacre of 58 people including 32 journalists in Maguindanao in the Southern Philippines, there is still no justice for the victims and their families. This year, the Philippines is one of the five countries that IFJ is giving focus to in its global campaign to end impunity.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the IFJ’s Philippines affiliate, has launched a month-long campaign and commemoration of the massacre. #

The chairperson of the NUJP, Nonoy Espina, said: “While a verdict on the Ampatuan massacre would be most welcome, it would not ensure complete justice with many of the suspects remaining at large after a decade, and still hardly make a dent on the dismal record of 186 journalists’ murders in the Philippines since 1986, all but a handful of which have been solved.”

In Indonesia, the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia, Abdul Manan, said the survey is a brutal reflection of the violence journalists face day today. Ironically, the authorities that should be protecting journalists are the perpetrators of too many assaults.

“We should not stop increasing our efforts to push the government to ensure the safety of journalists. We demand the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and end the culture of impunity not only to Indonesian government but also governments in the region, including Philippines,” Manan added.

The IFJ said: “Attacks on journalists are attacks on our freedom. Together with our South East Asia affiliates, today we call the authorities to take urgent action and ensure the freedom and safety of journalists and end all attempts to silence journalists.”

On Panelo’s ‘honor’

Presidential legal counsel and spokesperson Salvador Panelo again proved that both libel and cyberlibel should be decriminalized when he threatened both Rappler and the Inquirer.net with legal charges for simply reporting on an important and raging public issue. Panelo is showing the Filipino people that this country’s criminal libel and cyberlibel laws are, more often than not, used as weapons wielded by the powerful to exact revenge and to punish than a legal remedy for justice.

In a press briefing in Malacañan Palace Tuesday, Panelo said his office is drafting the libel complaints, against both media outfits for being “irresponsible” and “malicious.” To his mind, reports about his February 26, 2019 letter to the Board of Pardons and Parole forwarding Antonio Sanchez’s family’s request for executive clemency were meant to discredit him in public and to tarnish his honor.

“Balat-sibuyas” is what we Filipinos call officials who are incapable of thinking beyond their imagined hurt and fail to see that the reports are not all about them. Officials of Panelo’s kind must at least admit that, in this case, those reports helped avert the travesty of the convicted rapist and murderer’s early release. Those reports informed the public that flawed laws are being abused by powerful people and that such laws beggars revisiting. Those reports also serve to warn officials like Panelo to be careful in dispensing both duties and favors, even to old friends.

If protecting his honor is what Panelo is really after, he should refrain from carrying out his threat against Rappler and Inquirer.net. Magnanimity is key. Honor is, after all, like a nice shirt seen by others on the wearer, not a sword wielded harshly by the bearer. #

The National Directorate

NATIONAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS OF THE PHILIPPINES

September 4, 2019

All about accountability

A lot has been said and written, even a poem romanticizing rape, on the sexual assault that allegedly happened at the Iligan National Writers Workshop a few weeks ago.

Rape is an abominable crime. The victim, in our damaged society, often suffer blame for “encouraging” the act as well as the excruciating stigma of being dubbed “damaged goods.”

That a victim bravely made public such an assault took a lot of courage, lending great credence to her claim. Such fact must not be perfunctorily dismissed, as is clearly the case immediately following the complainant’s publication of her ordeal.

Instead of assuring it will investigate and promising justice if the complaint is found to be true, it appears that the workshop organizers and their defenders took to professing their personal literary and even moral credentials in a vain attempt to shield themselves from accountability for an incident that should never have happened under their watch. They likewise politicized the issue, hinting that this is less about sexual assault but more an attack on their political principal widely known for misogynist acts and statements.

What the organizers cannot deny, however, is that a workshop fellow raised a complaint about sexual assault, with a workshop panelist as the perpetrator, and with the incident happening right at the official residence of the workshop fellows and panelists. That the organizers refused or failed to immediately start a formal investigation or to formally inform the police of the incident betray a terrible lack of awareness and also an inability or refusal to make the workshop a safe space for participants.

Worse, it is deplorable to see respected authors and poets clearly rushing to protect the accused sexual predator, totally ignoring the power dynamics between speakers and mentors and their younger fellows. After the accused admitted to taking advantage of a situation, we did not see from the workshop organizers’ a condemnation of his predatory act and an admission of their failure to prevent such from happening. If only for the latter, they must be held accountable.

Their even more preposterous argument would have us believe that the accused and the organizers must not be judged on the case at hand but on their past good deeds, on a very subjective scale benefitting a small group of people. That latter position, taken to its logical conclusion, would forgive administrators of institutions providing charitable aid to vulnerable sectors for abuses heaped on the very people they claim to serve. That stand reflects the sycophantic nature of our politics and many of our institutions, where the bottomline is patronage and largesse dispensed and received.

Such unfortunate sense of entitlement must not be allowed to infect arts and culture.

Again, accountability, akin to criticism, is sacrosanct to people. It must be as well to artists who have great power over how society thinks and acts. The reported sexual assault in Iligan must be investigated and, if found true, punished, not excused. #

Steering Committee
Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity
Aug. 10, 2019

Freedom-loving Filipinos defy Duterte — LODI

We are free because we choose to be free.

The results of the recent SWS survey are a testimony to Filipinos’ love for freedom and their defiance of the regime’s attempts to impose full-scale tyranny.

The oft-peddled claim of massive support for the President’s most oppressive policies crumbles amid the clear findings of the SWS survey: Those who report or express views critical of Duterte face safety issues. Yet those who believe they face clear danger refuse to crumble.

Filipinos will not surrender to any tyrant the freedom to think and express these thoughts, and to act accordingly.

We continue to defy the regime’s tyrannical obsession to silence or crush Filipinos’ free expression and press freedom: The harassment cases against Rappler; the DDOS attacks on alternative news websites; the threat to deny ABS-CBN a franchise renewal; the mobilization of hateful and disinformation-spreading troll armies; the conspiracy theories from Red October to the matrix; the Red-tagging and open threats against independent-minded and critical journalists, artists, and cultural workers; the filing of sedition, libel and other charges meant to intimidate or suppress freedom of expression and public participation; and the unremitting killings of journalists.

We journalists, artists and citizens alike must continue to ask questions and to express our democratic demand for accountability. The president has skirted many important questions from his health to the full details of his agreements with China and the likes of the Marcoses. He has refused to enact a Freedom of Information Law. He has refused to disclose the illegal acts of cabinet members, and top civilian and military officials he fired purportedly for corruption. He and his minions deny the public full disclosure on their designs for charter change.

We reiterate: Filipinos continue to exercise their rights by asking questions, expressing themselves and taking direct action. Because that’s what a freedom-loving people do in the face of a rising tyrant allergic of transparency and the breakdown of institutions supposedly holding him accountable.

There’s a saying that’s truly relevant today and applicable to Duterte: Duterte can fool all the people some of the time, and some people all of the time. But he cannot fool all the people all the time. #

Freedom of expression in the time of Duterte

Over three years ago, the nation has been promised: change is coming. And change did come, but things took a turn for the worse.

As the nation marks President Rodrigo Duterte’s third year in power, we look back in sheer dismay over the unprecedented attacks perpetrated primarily by the state, with the apparent goal of shrinking the space for free expression in the country.

Once Duterte assumed the presidency in June 2016, the dome of impunity has widened and enveloped practically the whole of the archipelago. What was once considered rare and infrequent news on police-instigated killings, massacres, and haranguing of communities speedily became frequent staples in the news. Aside from the drug war, dozens of massacres, killings, and arbitrary arrests have been committed at a rate only comparable to the dark years of the Marcos era. With the rampant human rights violations, wittingly or unwittingly, the victims have become mere statistics, losing their names and identities to the dark powers-that-be.

Even freedom of expression is in peril. Merely voicing out concern and reporting on the aggravating human rights situation in the country puts one at risk. The attacks were sustained and targeted all fronts: from the red-tagging of activists and organizations, to the harassment and even killing of journalists. The string of cases against Rappler, for instance, shows how this administration wields its entire machinery to hide the truth in its bloody “war on drugs.” Based on the report released by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, from June 30, 2016 to April 30, 2019, a total of 128 cases of threats and attacks against the media have been documented, 60 of which were directly perpetrated by state agents. These incidents range from intimidation, including red-tagging, visits by police teams to the offices of media agencies, to the association of independent media organizations to supposed ouster plots.

No one was spared – from incarcerating vocal critic Sen. Leila de Lima, to attacking the church and even international organizations, Duterte stopped at nothing to make his perceived enemies fall, mincing no words, except in certain instances, like in issues concerning China. Remember how the state practically booted out Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who have worked for decades among the poor and the marginalized just for voicing out her concerns and joining a fact-finding mission? And what about the perjury charges filed by the military against human rights defenders from Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela?

Remember how, just recently, veteran journalist Margarita Valle has been nabbed for unknown reasons, only to be released eventually, with the state saying it was just a case of mistaken identity?

Even artists are being criminalized. Two artists — Alvin Fortaliza of Bohol, and Clydie Sabate of Negros Occidental, have been arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. And who could not forget the military’s red tagging of filmmakers who produced socially relevant works?

The attacks were unrelenting. From the “Red October” plot to the egregious “Oust Duterte matrix,” clearly the administration is not on a “wait and see” mode but rather on an active frenzy. Recently, the police filed sedition, cyber libel and other criminal charges against Vice President Leni Robredo and 35 other individuals, including lawyers and Church people, over the Bikoy narcotics video series. Their goal: mass intimidation. They are deploying all weapons in their arsenal to police even the opinions of the public: from the employment of a massive “troll army” and other forms of astroturfing or the attempt to bloat supposed public support for policies, resulting in an era where genuine reports and fake news are difficult to tell apart; the ramped-up surveillance of perceived critics of the administration; to imposing martial law in Mindanao, and similar thinly-veiled military efforts in provinces in Visayas and Luzon.

Even the Internet is no longer a safe space. Remember how easy it was for state agents to relentlessly conduct “distributed denial of service” or DDoS attacks against the alternative media, shutting down their websites at critical moments when reports on attacks against the marginalized and underrepresented were published. International observers dub these attacks as one of the worst cyber-attacks they have seen across the globe in recent history.

The Duterte administration has even tapped draconian laws such as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to file cases such as cyberlibel against its critics. With Duterte allies now controlling both houses of Congress, soon, the reviled Human Security Act is also set to be amended to give stronger powers to state agents to tag practically anyone and everyone as terrorists, with little to no effort.

Most of these schemes and turn of events aimed at mass intimidation employ the same tactic: preemptive vilification – discrediting those who dare critique policies, pronouncements, and actions of the government even before these critics open their mouths or type their statements. In a nutshell, the last three years drastically shrunk the space for free expression.

Just as state agents are not sparing any moment to practically trample on any and every form of dissent, we must also not wait as our basic civil liberties are being pressed for space. At this juncture, we must realize the importance of the freedom of expression: losing this right opens the floodgates to the violation of other civil, political, and economic rights. Freedom of expression serves as a safeguard for the people to enjoy other freedoms. Without free expression, we can lose all our other important rights in an instant.

It is easy to allow fear to set in and shut our lips and eyes to the worsening state of our nation. But once we do that, will it alleviate the situation? No, it will only continue festering.

To allow the state and its agents to pillage on the right to free expression is tantamount to surrendering hard-earned victories of our people in the past decades. We cannot simply allow the looming shadow of dictatorship to easily slip back. We must decisively unite and fight back.

We need to reclaim the real meaning of change, of how that potent word opens a world of possibilities. Despite the relentless attacks on our basic civil liberties, we need to remember that real change is a force that makes us question everything. Change is what we aspire when we innovate, when we invent, when we create. Change sparks genius, and ignites the fire that seeks to melt and recast the status quo.

To change is to reaffirm the value of militancy, of seeing the potency of collective action. Genuine change requires united action. From artists to journalists to the common people, we need all the force we can muster to fight back. There is no moment to spare. We need to reclaim every inch of space for our civil rights. We need to fight back now. #

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI)

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

Concerned Artists of the Philippines

Altermidya