LIKE a bereaved family refusing to accept the reality of a member having died, we the so-called Fourth Estate gathered ourselves and our thoughts last Friday under a bold headline declaring that freedom of the press is an inalienable right, is crucial to democracy, and must flourish.
The occasion on May 3 was World Press Freedom Day as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993.
That day, we the surviving members paused to remember and honor our colleagues who have been “killed in action,” and proceeded to chronicle the ongoing attacks of the present regime on that fundamental freedom enshrined in the Constitution.
Many of us have been provoked by the blast of a top official asking his minions: “Buhay pa ba yan?” (Why is he/she still alive?) It is a dire hint of what might happen to the target, knowing that in the uniformed service, a superior’s mere expression of a wish is an implied order.
With such intimidating remarks being thrown around by one who deludes himself as possessing the godlike power over the lives of people who cross him, Filipino journalists have reason to fear – and persevere.
…Or to feel insulted by the official’s sneer that some investigative journalists used to be “poor” but made some pile manufacturing critical reports about him – such as comparative analyses of his escalating net worth based on his own sworn financial statements.
…Or to get weary defending themselves against made-up criminal cases in court and in regulatory agencies whose independence from the Palace is in serious doubt.
In the Philippines, while the media worker is an endangered species, we know as insiders that the local press may be fighting for its life but it is certain to outlive its oppressor.
It is not only the press, but also a variety of other individuals and institutions, that is threatened when an Executive official legislates orders and his subordinates apply their own judicial interpretation of the law to comply with explicit or implicit instructions or wish from the top.
• ‘Bitoy’ mystery deepens in DoJ hands
THE ABOVE point calls to mind the case of “Bitoy” – the shadowy figure who published videos on social media about alleged ties with drug syndicates of President Duterte and some family members and associates, complete with a list of huge sums supposedly given to them by drug lords.
The “Bitoy” series was depicted in a matrix presented by Malacañang, much like earlier narco-lists peddled by the President to shame local officials he claimed were into the drug trade. The matrix sought to chart the working relationship of those linked to the cabal.
Last we heard, Department of Justice agents arrested a man — not “Bitoy” himself — who the DoJ said uploaded the videos and distributed them to journalists and media groups that the Palace said were part of an oust-Duterte plot.
The suspect was arrested on a complaint of inciting to sedition, then later reportedly considered as state witness against the real targets. These points stand out in the “Bitoy” case:
*The case was for inciting to sedition. But as former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay pointed out, sedition is a crime against the government, that Duterte is not the government, and criticizing him is not an act against the government.
*The suspect was held for distributing the videos. Is forwarding or sharing materials in social media now a crime under Duterte? It seems so, especially after the DoJ warned that others who had shared, retweeted or passed on the videos may find themselves in hot water also.
*Threatening with prosecution those who share information or opinion is a case of prior restraint or censorship, which is a curtailment of the freedom of information and of the press. The threat impedes mass communication, making it censorship.
*Public relations-wise, the heavy-handed crackdown on critics could backfire on Duterte. Indeed, why should the President give priority to tracking/penalizing “Bitoy” and not to verifying the serious facts alleged in the matrix. Why shoot the messenger, while ignoring the message?
*Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo originally said the President gave him the matrix, and that it must be authentic because it came from the president. But in a later briefing, he was saying in a confused way that he got the matrix from someone he did not know who sent it to his cellphone and validated it by comparing it with the Manila Times report of a PR “ambassador” of Duterte.
• News: Duterte reads Philippine Star!
WE were delighted to see on Facebook and Twitter a photo of President Duterte at home in Davao reading the April 30 issue of Philippine STAR. We thought all along he does not bother reading newspapers, except probably the daily owned by his PR “ambassador.”
We did not know for what purpose the photo was uploaded. By coincidence that issue carried our Postscript titled “What happened to Marawi funds?” and that Duterte was looking at an early inside page — possibly the Op-Ed section?
On a playful impulse, we tweeted what to us was a joke: “Duts starts his day by reading my Postscript column. (Smiley)” but quickly deleted it because in this town many people cannot recognize a joke if it hits them between the eyes. I asked some tweeters to delete their reaction, which they kindly did.
…This one is not a joke: At dawn yesterday, I fell off my bed while dreaming I was rushing off a bus on EDSA. I had no lumps or bruises so I gingerly followed my day’s schedule. Later in the day, I felt pain or soreness in my neck and torso, so alerted my editor Mon Lim it was likely that I would not be able to file a column — but here it is. My jueteng codigo for dreams says the winning pair is 8-11.