MANILA, Philippines — Journalists and other advocates of free expression gathered at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City and the Fountain of Justice at the old city hall in Bacolod City to mount the first of a series of “Black Friday” protests for press freedom on January 19, helping make the hashtag #BlackFridayForPressFreedom trend the most on Twitter.
Bearing placards that read “Resist!”, “No to media crackdown”, and “We will not be silenced,” voiced support for news site Rappler, whose registration was revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission and could also face criminal charges after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre ordered it probed by the National Bureau of Investigation.
The protest was organized by, among others, the media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity or LODI, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Altermidya and College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
“There’s a lot of effort being put to turn journalism into a crime, which it shouldn’t be. It isn’t,” Rappler CEO Maria Ressa said at the Quezon City rally. “There’s certainly many more crimes … for the government authorities to look at.”
She noted that on Thursday, she received a subpoena summoning her to the NBI though he has yet to be given a copy of the actual complaint.
A subpoena issued by NBI’s Cybercrime Division on Thursday ordered her, former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos, Jr., and businessman Benjamin Bitanga, an incorporator of Rappler Holdings shareholder Dolphin Fire, to appear before it on January 22 in relation to a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng, who accused them of violating the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
But the allegedly offending article, which reported that Keng lent his black Suburban SUV to the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial, was published in 2012, before the law was enacted.
“I think that we’re overwhelmed both by government action, and by the support you’ve shown. I think that we need to continue. What we say in Rappler is, ‘We’re going to hold the line.’ We’re not doing anything but journalism. Speaking truth to power. That’s what we do … We’re gonna keep doing that. We’re not afraid, and we won’t be intimidated,” Ressa said.
For his part, InterAksyon columnist and Far Eastern University Institute of Law dean Atty. Mel Sta Maria noted that the anniversary of the 1987 Constitution is approaching — February 2.
It is on this charter that the SEC based its decision to curtail Rappler’s freedom of speech, he said.
“Mukha yatang mali ang pag-uunawa nila sa tinuring na Freedom Constitution na ginawa ng mga mamamayang Pilipino at saka po naratipika ng mamamayang Pilipino. Sapagkat kung binase nila ito sa isang probisyon ng Konstitusyon na nagsasabi na ang pag-aari at pangangasiwa ng isang mass media ay dapat buong-buong hawak ng mga Pinoy, wala naman pong nalabag diyan. Sapagkat nga po sa pag-aari, kung mababasa niyo ‘yung desisyon, wala naman pong tuwirang sinabi ang SEC na ito ay nilabag,” Sta Maria explained.
(It seems they made a mistake in the interpretation of the so-called Freedom Constitution, which was created by the Filipino people and was ratified by the Filipino people. Because if they based this on a provision of the Constitution which says the ownership and management of a mass media should be wholly in the hands of Filipinos, then there was no violation. Because when it comes to ownership, if you read the decision, the SEC did not categorically say that there was a violation of this.)
“Ang gusto lang po nilang puntiryahin ay ‘yung pangangasiwa. Ang sabi po, hindi diretso, kundi circumvention … Pero ang problema, mali pa rin. Sapagkat nga po sa usaping legal, basta po kayo’y nag-iinterpreta ng Konstitusyon, dapat inisasang-alangalang ninyo ang pag-uunawa ng mga taong nagratipika ng Konstitusyon. Tayo pong lahat. At nung 1987, wala pa naman pong institusyonal na pagbabalita through Internet. Kaya po hindi talaga maiisip ng mga gumawa ng ating Konstitusyon, pati na rin po ng mga taong nagratipika ng ating Konstitusyon, ang Internet na kasama sa katagang ‘mass media’,” he added.
(The only thing they were found problematic was the management. They said this was not direct, but that there was a circumvention… But the problem is, it’s still wrong. Because when it comes to legal matters, when you interpret the Constitution, you must consider the understanding of the people who ratified the Constitution. And that’s all of us. And in 1987, there was no way to deliver the news through the Internet. And so the framers of our Constitution, as well as the people who ratified the Constitution, will not think of the Internet as part of the term ‘mass media’).
Read Sta Maria’s column where he expounds on the matter here:
“Nakakahiya po sapagkat nga ang pagbabase ay isang Konstitusyon na batay sa karanasan ng kahirapan natin sa Martial Law. Nung Martial Law, kinitil ang pamamahayag, gumawa tayo ng Freedom Constitution, at ito na naman tayo, kikitilin na naman ang pamamahayag (It’s embarrassing because they based it on a Constitution that was based on our experience of hardship during Martial Law. During Martial Law, the freedom of the press was curtailed, so we created a Freedom Constitution, and here we are again, with the freedom of the press again curtailed). Deja vu!” Sta Maria said.
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism executive director Malou Mangahas said the punishment meted to Rappler was excessive, but noted that this was just one of several crises being faced by the media.
For example, the government did not renew the broadcast franchise of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for its television and radio service. The application of ABS-CBN for a renewal of franchise is also in limbo. The Philippine Daily Inquirer has also been criticized by President Rodrigo Duterte, even as longtime owners the Prieto family divested of their majority stake in the paper last year.
Mangahas also raised issues of the killings and harassment of reporters from all over the country.
“Ang press freedom ho, ang freedom of expression, nakasandig ang ating people’s right to know, kung wala pong media na malaya, walang pwedeng mag-cover nang buo at walang hadlang tungkol sa con-ass, sa charter change, sa federalism, at pati na siguro ‘yung sinasabing revgov na babala. Mahalaga din pong tutukan pa rin ang mga usapin ng extrajudicial killings (It is on press freedom and freedom of expression that the people’s right to know relies on. Without a free press, no one can cover fully and without barriers topics such as the constitutional assembly, charter change, federalism, and even the threat of the so-called revolutionary government. It is also important to keep covering extrajudicial killings),” Mangahas stressed.
“Akala ko po ang ating nahalal ay isang pangulo. Pero parang tila ang nangyari, nagluklok tayo ng isang bully (I thought we elected a president. But what seems to be happening is we put a bully in power),” she added.
The proper response to this is to unite and continue to attend activities to advocate for the freedom of expression and of the press. After all, what is at stake is the people’s right to know, Mangahas said.