WE AT THE Altermidya denounce the Philippine military’s threat to censor the press, including social media, during the implementation of martial law in Mindanao.
AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla on Friday told the media that the military will exercise its right to censor on the grounds of ensuring the safety of the people, soldiers, and to protect national security. Those who will violate this, he warned, end up with the police’s coming “to your door to arrest you.”
While it is true that fake news and wrong information are easily spread through social media, it should not be an excuse for censorship. “National security” as the supposed grounds for censorship is too broad and too vague, and would allow the military to tag any statement or piece of information as a threat.
The answer is not controlling information and threatening the media and the public of censorship, but government’s ensuring that complete and accurate information is accessible to the public.
As in the Marcos era, creating a system of censorship denies the Filipino public crucial information on Mindanao. As it is, there is an enormous information vacuum on the actual events in Marawi leading to the declaration of martial law. Until today, almost a week later, there are still conflicting reports on the Marawi crisis, on the Maute group and the AFP involvement, on the actual number of casualties and victims, and on the whole impact of military rule on the communities in Mindanao.
The truth has not been completely brought to light, and the whole nation is still piecing together and trying to make sense of the Marawi crisis and the martial law declaration. Threatening to stifle the media, including netizens turning to social media for news on the continuing military offensives in Mindanao, is an enormous blow to Filipinos looking for solutions on the crisis other than the regime’s militarist approach.
As in the nation’s experience under Marcos’s martial rule, censorship is beyond what the AFP alleges to be part of protecting national security. Censorship has always been part of martial law’s atrocious means of intimidation and repression, with the real objective of covering up the truth about the excesses of the state and the military. The nation has not yet forgotten how the late dictator padlocked the media, targeted journalists critical of the regime, and demolished a free press under its martial rule.
Under the Duterte regime, serious concern has emerged among the public of the future of press freedom – from the president’s verbal pronouncements of stifling certain media outfits to making threats against critics of his controversial drug war and human rights violations. Duterte’s most recent displays of animosity were his rants against the Inquirer and New York Times, and his threat to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise for “swindling” him during the electoral campaign. Even before the president declared martial law on May 23, all this posturing has alarmed media practitioners and evoked bitter memories of martial law.
In these extremely pressing times, the media, journalists, and netizens should not be censored but should instead be encouraged to work together in investigating the Mindanao crisis and examining the basis, implementation, and possible excesses of martial law.
Thorough reporting on the martial law in Mindanao is crucial now more than ever in providing the public the context by which armed conflict persists in Mindanao, other than merely reinforcing the prevailing anti-Muslim bias and accepting that such “terrorist” attacks stem solely from these groups’ objective of sowing chaos and violence – and thus justifying the irrationality of Duterte’s martial law.
We call on our fellow media practitioners and fellow freedom-loving Filipinos to remain vigilant, resist censorship and any form of attack against freedom of expression, and demand the immediate lifting of martial law in Mindanao. Let us not allow press freedom to be another casualty of Duterte’s martial law.