The Right to Write

Big Brother is watching youEven though I don’t think an ouster of President Macapagal-Arroyo will benefit the country, I find the machinations taken by her administration against these rights abominable and troubling (i.e., the implementation of Proclamation 1017, Calibrated Preemptive Response, and the use of the Marcos-era “No Rally No Permit” law). There is an incongruence between these acts and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s claim that

“President Arroyo has worked steadfastly to preserve democracy in the Philippines… The only threat to democracy comes from those who don’t respect the Constitution… I think all members of our media community can attest to the fact that press freedom is alive and well in the Philippines. We have a press that is far too active and aggressive to allow any institution or individual to stifle their reporting. The President is committed to maintaining that press freedom.”

Bunye released that statement in response to a New York Times editorial criticizing the president for her “increasingly authoritarian tendencies,” and all I could think about was how much his spin-doctoring reminded me of Newspeak in George Orwell’s novel 1984. I even went to the trouble of seeking out a Newspeak dictionary to help me express myself. (It didn’t help that the country has only recently recovered from Pinoy Big Brother-itis.)

The novel’s protagonist Winston wrote (in his diary, which was illegal): “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four. If that is granted, all else follows.” The PCIJ blog has celebrated its first anniversary, and among its milestones are a TRO, libel suits, and being monitored for posting allegedly seditious material. I think these are attempts at chilling media criticism of the administration (they smack of Crimethink! Implement crimestop speedwise!) and thus shortcircuit why we guarantee speech and press freedom at all.

I think my four years’ education at the College of Mass Communication has, at the very least, instilled in me a deep respect for the freedoms guaranteed the people by the current Constitutional Bill of Rights. I re-read it recently for my thesis and it surprised me to find that the freedoms of speech and press are guaranteed in the same article (3 Sec. 4) as the “right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” It strikes me that these inalienable rights were given as a means of combating the authoritarian tendencies inherent in governments.

If you’ve been following this online journal of mine for the past five years, you may have noticed that politics-related posts make up an extremely small percentage of what I write here. As a former Political Science student, I avoided making such posts because I didn’t want to come home from studying politics in school only to keep writing about it in my personal space on the Internet. I suppose that it might have been better for my graduate course work in Journalism if I had done more than a few posts about isolated newsworthy incidents (like EDSA Dos, EDSA Tres, and the Oakwood mutiny, as well as my own rally fatigue), but I never really considered political commentary my forte. Thus this site has largely been an exercise in navel-gazing. Please forgive me for not exercising my right to write about Philippine society more often.

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