In some countries, freedom of speech is considered a luxury. But in our society, it is a necessity. It is the 4th estate on which our democracy depends on. As it is, the government has co-opted the media in their political campaigns and has influenced outcomes of elections. And now, they don’t want to just co-opt the media, they want to brandish it as their 4th arm of governance. Gone are the days of the media as a form of checks and balances; with the anti-terror bill, it is a singular check that relentlessly approves whatever the government says. It is an echo chamber, but the only voice we hear is of those in power.
The Filipino spirit is undoubtedly strong. We have survived many things – hurricanes, storms, a dictatorship, colonialism, relentless poverty, poor internet. But this is the one thing that we have asked not to be taken away from us – our voice. We are notorious for wanting to be heard – from the mass movements of university students to our unbridled passion for karaoke to the throngs of Filipinos who use Facebook as a way to simultaneously connect and disconnect from the world.
This bill takes away the one thing we have asked for. Not only does it run counter to this Filipino spirit, but it also stands against our constitution and our right to a free press and freedom of speech. It stands against the values of our society, where our national hero wielded not a sword but a pen, a pioneer in our society in speaking against injustices and defying status quo. (READ: ‘Draconian’ anti-terror bill, feared to be used vs gov’t critics, hurdles Congress)
Do not get me wrong – terrorism is not something I stand for. But defining activists and even journalists as terrorists is an outrage. We cannot criminalize the people with the bravery and courage to stand up against the status quo. We cannot make criticism a crime. We cannot punish those who seek a better life, nor continue to allow the government to prosecute journalists. We cannot instill fear in journalists and activists who expose the severe and crippling fault lines of inequality that run throughout our society. We need to know what the slums look like, what a broken education system looks like, what hunger looks like – because they all have a face. We need to know the faces of those who have suffered, because they have suffered.
You see, when you silence the media, you do not just silence the “activists.” You silence the entire Filipino population. You silence those who do not have the privilege to exercise their freedom of speech. You silence the poor, the hungry, the orphaned, the ones who have slipped through the cracks. Perhaps freedom of speech is a luxury, perhaps it is a privilege, but we must exercise this privilege in order to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
Those in power cannot monopolize the media. Many of them have failed us when we needed the most help. Many of them have left us to our own devices. And now, they take advantage of our vulnerability to pass a bill that leaves our country only more vulnerable to the corruption and the cronyism that has plagued us since the very beginning. We may be experiencing COVID-19 now, but this is not the only plague the Filipinos are victim to. Our battle has persisted far longer than this. As the death count rises, we must remember that the first victims died long ago. It is through the media we can access the truth. It is through the media that we fight for change. In this time of uncertainty, the media that connects us to each other, to the government and to the rest of the world might be the only thing we have left. (READ: Sereno: It is the most unfortunate time to pass anti-terror bill)
Our home is on fire right now, and we do not know when this fire will stop burning. We do not know how to put out the flames. The people we trust to do so have fumbled. They hesitated and the flames have only grown larger. As everything threatens to crumble to dust at this pivotal moment in history, the government targets the one last thing we have: the 4th estate.
We cannot let this happen. We, the Filipinos, have been silenced for far too long and we must not roll with the punches. We must stop them from coming in the first place.
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