The rabid state forces are at it again: just this weekend, Bulacan police apprehended six volunteers of Tulong Anakpawis-Sagip Kanayunan, along with former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, who were on the way to a relief drive in Norzagaray, Bulacan. The manner that the police presented the circumstances of the arrest to the public also had a not-so-subtle message: publishing and distributing materials that are critical of government could now land people in jail.
Based on social media posts made by official accounts of the military and the police, one of the bases for these charges were the copies of Pinoy Weekly, a founding member of Altermidya Network and a multi-awarded alternative newspaper, which were seized from the relief volunteers and misrepresented as “anti-government propaganda materials” as the newspaper bore stories about how the hashtag #OustDuterte trended on Twitter even before the onset of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
To bluntly portray this article in Pinoy Weekly as basis for filing sedition charges is tantamount to haphazard violation of the constitutionally-protected freedom of the press and expression. Altermidya Network unequivocally denounces this move as sheer abuse of power. We ask, why are government forces targeting volunteers undertaking COVID-19 relief efforts? And how problematic is it to use credible publications like Pinoy Weekly to substantiate trumped-up charges?
More press freedom violations have been recorded in past weeks. Northern Dispatch (Nordis) correspondents Paola Espiritu and Sherwin De Vera have been red-tagged by troll accounts, branding them as a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The same is the case with Pokus-Gitnang Luzon correspondent Pia Montalban. Other freedom of expression violations have been recorded, even against common citizens who merely posted critical messages on social media.
The recent spate of red-tagging and brazen use of authority against the alternative media and the people’s growing voice of dissent speak volumes of how the Duterte administration – and its emboldened security forces – are facing the COVID-19 pandemic not only with apparent incompetence, but also under a self-serving, and despotic brand of governance.
Many experts have pointed out how misguided the Duterte administration’s response is as regards the public health emergency. Instead of offering swift, clear-cut, responsive medical solutions, the state has invariably ramped up its militarist moves. Instead of flattening the curve of the pandemic, the administration’s state forces are bulldozing our fundamental rights.
But the public will not back down and quietly accept this situation. The alternative media is united with the Filipino people in keeping our guards high, ever vigilant on the creeping fascism that the Duterte administration is espousing to paint over its gross incompetence in facing this crisis.
We may be living in abnormal times. Yet we must continue unwaveringly asserting our rights and the shrinking space for public opinion. We cannot allow another creeping pandemic – the affliction of a mounting autocracy – to spread unabated.