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Senate minority to Congress, SC: Preserve independence, democracy

MANILA, Philippines – As the nation celebrates its 119th Independence Day, minority senators urged Congress and the Supreme Court to preserve their independence and called on the public to fight for democracy in the age of fake news.

"Now, more than ever, it is important for our democratic institutions to show their independence amidst the complicated and divisive political environment that we have today," minority senators said in a statement on Monday, June 12.

"We will not be able to protect and serve our people if we do not preserve our independence and integrity as institutions of democracy," they said.

The 6-member Senate minority bloc is composed of Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and senators Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, and Risa Hontiveros.

Drilon said disrespecting institutions is an "insult to the memory of the brave and selfless Filipinos who fought for our freedom as a nation."

Trillanes, one of Duterte's vocal critics, said the people should keep "dissent alive in the face of tyranny."

“As we celebrate our independence today, let us breathe life to the liberties that were fought for us by our forerunners by defending the independence of our institutions," he said.

Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao on May 23 following the clashes in Marawi City, with some senators questioning the scope of the declaration. Congress rejected calls for a joint session to discuss the proclamation. The issue is now before the Supreme Court.

Duterte earlier insinuated he would defy Congress and the SC but Malacañang downplayed the statement. (READ: Duterte cannot ignore SC, Congress on martial law – senators)

"Our freedom can only be guaranteed by strong democratic institutions. I call on the public to honor the sacrifices of our heroes by opposing a martial law declaration that is not compliant with the Constitution. Let us always remember, the promised order of tyranny will never bring us to full democracy," Hontiveros said.

Fake news

Pangilinan and Aquino also said Filipinos should be free from lies and deceit amid the proliferation of misinformation online.

"Sa pagyabong ng social media, lumaganap din ang fake news na nagbabanta sa katotohanan at nagdudulot ng kalituhan. Nais nating mga Pilipino na maging malaya mula sa fake news at kasinungalingan," Pangilinan said in a statement.

(As social media flourished, so did fake news which threaten the truth and cause confusion. We, Filipinos, want to be free from fake news and lies.)

"In an era of fake news, rabid online persecution, and weak political institutions, we need to fight for our democracy now more than ever," Aquino said.

Pangilinan and Aquino are members of the Liberal Party (LP), whose members and allies have been subjects of fake or inaccurate news.

Recently, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II claimed, without solid proof, that the opposition, including the LP, Trillanes, and Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, plotted the Marawi siege. (READ: FACT-CHECK: Aguirre uses old photo to tag opposition lawmakers in Marawi crisis)

Aquino has demanded a public apology from Aguirre but the justice chief has not yet done it.

It was not the first time that a government official spread fake and unverified information. No less than Communications Secretary Martin Andanar accused reporters of receiving $1,000 each to cover an anti-Duterte press conference. (READ: Senate media to Andanar: Prove claim or apologize for fake news)

Prior to that, former National Irrigation Administration (NIA) chief Peter Laviña shared a photo of a murdered child to question President Rodrigo Duterte's critics. It turned out, however, that the photo was taken in Brazil.

Martial law, killings

Minority senators said the country is still facing bigger domestic battles such as terrorism and martial law.

"Patuloy na bumabalot ang kaguluhan sa Marawi City dahil sa banta ng terorismo, aerial bombings, at martial law. Nais nating mga Pilipino na maging malaya mula sa takot at pangamba," Pangilinan said.

(Violence continues in Marawi City due to the threats of terrorism, aerial bombings, and martial law. We, Filipinos, want to be free from fear and uncertainty.)

"We fought for independence from foreign rule. We fought for freedom from a ruthless dictator. Now, we fight terrorism, encroachment on our territory and our freedom to dissent," Aquino said.

De Lima, for her part, urged the Duterte administration to end the killings to free people from injustice. 

Instead of extrajudicial killings, she said the people need the government's concrete programs to address poverty and unemployment.

"Kaya naman nananawagan tayo sa rehimeng Duterte: Tigilan na ninyo ang mga baluktot ninyong sistema ng pamamahala. Hindi maiaahon ang bansa sa pagpatay sa mahihirap nating kababayan. Hindi madadaan sa karahasan at pagkitil sa demokrasya ang pagkamit ng katarungan at kapayapaan. Kailangan ng ating mamamayan na makita ang kongkretong programa at proyekto ng pamahalaan," De Lima said in a statement.

(That is why I am calling on the Duterte regime to stop its crooked ways of governance. The country won't improve by killing the poor. You can't achieve justice and peace through violence and trampling on democracy. Our people need to see the concrete programs and projects of the government.) –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email