Since the arrest and eventual posting of bail of news site Rappler’s chief Maria Ressa, Malacanang’s spin doctors have been attempting to absolve the president from allegations of curtailing press freedom and grave abuse of power.
Still, the political backlash that the Duterte administration is getting has been unforgiving, and rightly so. Even the simplest of minds can read between the line that the media repression these days is but part of efforts to stifle the slightest dissent towards installing an open dictatorship government that Duterte has long been dreaming of.
The media, as the fourth estate, plays a big role in ensuring that genuine democracy is in place. For the obvious reasons, only those who are threats to a just and truly democratic country would want to silence the press, most especially those that air and amplify the grievances of ordinary mortals.
Ressa’s arrest brought to fore the sorry state of press freedom in the country, even when a former journalist and now senatorial candidate recently painted a rosy picture of what he believed was an “isolated” Rappler case.
It is not.
In fact, Ressa is not the first to be subjected to such attacks. Dominant media outfits such as ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer and alternative media outfits are also under attack.
Alternative and campus journalists were among those arrested while covering the violent dispersal of NutriAsia workers’ picket last year.
Back in December, several local papers published identical stories tagging the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines as front of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Such red baiting is not new to NUJP, Bulatlat and other alternative media outfits.
Lately, more and more websites of online news, media groups, and even people’s organizations are being subjected to a politically-driven and well-funded distributed denial of service (DDoS), a form of cyber-attack that overwhelms the website’s server with millions of fake and dubious traffic to shut it down.
Meanwhile, in Negros Occidental, a province known for its robust community papers, at least 15 journalists were among those named in a list being circulated of purported drug protectors.
Worse, 12 journalists have been killed and about 85 cases of threats and harassments were documented by media organizations since Duterte assumed power until November 2018.
The present administration appears to be ignorant of the lessons of the conjugal Marcos dictatorship and how the media and the people fought for press freedom. It has forgotten how the media, in the past, has risen above all state-sponsored attacks to inform, educate and guide the public in their decision-making and actions.