[OPINION] The darkest hour
There is a line in the much-praised film The Darkest Hour where Gary Oldman, playing Winston Churchill, says, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” Rappler looks like a lost cause. But is it really?
Juggernaut versus Rappler
There is more than one sense in which the Oldman-Churchill lost cause analogy is appropriate to Rappler’s situation. Like Hitler’s armies in 1940, the whole Duterte juggeranut is now bearing down on defiant Rappler, having swept nearly everything before it. The juggeranut says that the matter is a constitutional issue, that Rappler violated media ownership rules. But not even the apologists of the administration can say that with a straight face, without spluttering, since they know they are engaged in what they hope will be final stage of a political maneuver to silence the last independent medium on the national scene, one that President Duterte himself publicly launched in his State of the Nation address last July.
At another time, the question of ownership might be a valid subject of legal debate, but not when what is at really at issue is a brazen move to advance towards dictatorship, not when there are no other independent media around to check Malacanang’s dark ambitions.
Like the Marcos burial, like the frame-up of Senator Leila de Lima, like the effort to impeach Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the SEC move against Rappler is part of the multi-sided offensive to lock up the Philippine political system for good, and this is why it must be resisted.
The circumstances are not auspicious for the resistance, let us admit that. In an article I wrote early in the Duterte regime, I said that carrying out thousands of killings in the war on drugs was a new variant of fascism – blitzkrieg fascism – where indiscriminate repression comes at the start rather than at the tail end of the drive towards authoritarianism, with the destruction of the separation of powers and elimination of political rights left to the end as mopping up operations in a political climate where the opposition has been terrorized into submission.
Contrary to the original plan, the opposition has not been terrorized into submission. But it is relatively weak and disunited. A great number of people are staying on the sidelines, as a regime with significant and vociferous backing from the elite and middle class tramples its way to authoritarian rule.
Successful resistance is rooted in an acknowledgment of realities, while not being overwhelmed by them. We must first of all try to understand why the Duterte regime’s moves to lock up the political system appear to have backing from a significant portion of the citizenry.
Most fascist regimes have had popular support, and the reason for this is that they take advantage of people’s fears and frustrations, of the failure of democratic systems to deliver on their promise to protect them from the ravages of an economy that favors the powerful and the rich, of their toleration of pervasive corruption, of their inability to curb the use of democratic freedoms to advance selfish interests.
In this regard, many Filipinos have cynically resigned themselves to pervasive corruption in the Philippine press, to the ubiquity of “envelopmental journalism,” that they feel an independent press is not worth fighting for. In a sense, it is ironic that Rappler, an independent, crusading medium that was founded precisely to carry out the functions of a free, critical, and clean press that is not beholden to any vested interest is paying the price for the sins of others, including the despicable hacks that sold their their pens to the highest bidders and enriched themselves that are now in the forefront of the Duterte blitz against press freedom.
An open and plural political system where rights and freedoms are respected is not worth fighting for since it fails to delivers on the things that really matter to people: That is the subliminal message that Malacañang is promoting as it shuts down the institutions of free choice, free expression, and critical opposition one by one. It is, one must admit, a powerful message to the frustrated and the angry. To resist it we must first acknowledge its power, so we can successfully craft a more persuasive, more potent message, that while elite democracy has indeed failed, the administration’s solution – authoritarian rule – will bring about a worse outcome. Moreover, central to our response must not just be a warning of worse things to come but a positive program of genuine, as opposed to elite, democracy, of which a truly independent press, like Rapper, is a part. That struggle of ideas is one to which we must launch ourselves with not a moment to lose, with the underdog’s determination to prevail against the most powerful threat that our people have ever confronted.
Rappler may look like a lost cause, but it is only a lost cause if we who value its role believe the administration propaganda that it is a lost cause. In fact, the administration’s assault on it can turn out to be a blessing in disguise if a unified defense of Rappler becomes one of the launching pads of the long-postponed counter-offensive of the forces determined to save the country from a slipping into the darkness of authoritarian rule, again. It is up to us to make that move. – Rappler.com
Walden Bello writes regularly for Rappler. He made the only recorded resignation on principle in the history of Philippine Congress during the Aquino administration owing to differences with then President Benigno Aquino III on a number of issues, like the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the Mamasapano Raid, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States.