Ending the information crisis

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity
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The reformists and revolutionaries of the late 19th century; those who fought the Japanese invader so during World War II; and the professionals, workers and farmers who comprised the core of the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship understood only too well the role of information in exposing the injustice and racist assumptions of Spanish colonial rule, the brutality of Japanese militarism, and the illusory promises and barbarism of home-grown despotism.

Information was also a crucial factor in mobilizing support for independence and for alternatives to colonial and fascist rule, quite simply because only by correctly understanding and interpreting the Philippine world can it be changed. Jose Rizal and Marcelo del Pilar thus published and wrote for La Solidaridad; Andres Bonifacio, for Kalayaan. The guerrilla press provided Filipinos reliable information during World War II to counter Japanese propaganda. Alternative publications such as Malaya and Liberation helped provide the information Filipinos needed to oppose and finally overthrow the Marcos terror regime.

Information has helped Filipinos survive and overcome the most acute stages of the Philippine crisis. Information that’s both reliable and accurate can once again enable them not only to navigate the treacherous waters of lies and deceit that’s once again threatening to overwhelm Filipinos into approving and supporting a recycled version of tyrannical rule that will surely destroy the country. It can also provide the awareness and understanding crucial to the realization of the long-unmet demands for authentic change. The Marcos dictatorship initially had the support of the middle class and business, but was eventually exposed as a monumental fraud through the efforts of the alternative media and other democratic forces, which paved the way for the restoration of democratic institutions and the enhanced possibilities for real change.

The central irony in the Information Age, in which billions of people are deluged with trillions of bytes of information globally, is that those billions are either severely uninformed or still encumbered by a flawed understanding of the world. The reasons for this are many and varied. But among the more prominent ones are the old media (print and broadcasting) as well as the new’s (the Internet and the new communication and information technologies) being used by various groups as weapons of disinformation in behalf of the political agenda of keeping things the way they are and even as means of regression.

That reality and its use in furtherance of authoritarian rule in the Philippines has thrust upon those involved in information and communication — journalists and media people, artists, film makers, actors, and other cultural workers — the urgent task of providing the information that today, as during the Spanish colonial regime, the Japanese occupation, and the Marcos dictatorship, is vitally needed to resist tyrannical rule.

A group of media people and artists, in apparent recognition of the need for an information campaign that will counter the false “information” (otherwise known as “fake news”) that have become so prevalent in both social media and the Internet as well as in some of the corporate press, have thankfully come together under a coalition called Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity, or LODI.

LODI declared in its launching statement the need not only to defend free expression, press freedom and human rights as well as to put an end to government disinformation, but also to “work together in all fields of the arts and media, and reach out to all sectors, to reveal the harsh truths we live in.”

That last phrase echoes Dr. Jose Rizal’s Dedication in his novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), in which he vowed to expose the sufferings of the Fatherland under Spanish colonial rule so a remedy for them may be found. Exposing current ills is urgently demanded today by both the need to halt the epidemic of disinformation that’s among the political weapons the Duterte regime has harnessed in its headlong rush to repression and one-man rule, as well as to find a cure for it.

The support of many Filipinos — it often boasts of the 16 million who voted for then candidate Rodrigo Duterte in the presidential elections of 2016 — is what the Duterte regime often cites to justify even its most outrageous policies.

Those policies include not just the hyped up anti-drug campaign itself. There is also the murderous brutality with which it is being pursued, and its on-again off-again threat to either declare martial law nationwide or to impose an anti-Constitutional “revolutionary” government as a quick-fix “remedy.” It also presumes that its decision to end peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) terrorist organizations enjoy popular support.

Add to these supposedly popular policies and decisions Mr. Duterte’s tirades against human rights defenders and institutions as well as against human rights itself. There are also his threats to arrest members of activist organizations, and his orders to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to shoot on sight NPA guerrillas and to bomb Lumad schools and those communities suspected of pro-NPA sympathies.

It is difficult to scientifically establish the extent of public approval for regime policies and decisions. There is convincing evidence that it is losing support among the poorer sectors of the population due to growing perceptions that it is anti-poor. But some surveys do say that Mr. Duterte is still fairly popular despite the “war” on drug’s terrible toll in lives and the prospects for further conflict, economic uncertainty and political destabilization brought about by Mr. Duterte’s current and threatened courses of action.

About those consequences and the real reasons behind regime policies and decisions, those who in good faith support them — i.e., who’re not paid to do so or for whose economic and political interests government approval is crucial — seem to be either grossly uninformed or burdened by the same flawed view of events and the world that also afflicts billions of men and women all over the planet.

The disastrous consequences of tyrannical rule and the enshrinement of violence and murder as simplistic “solutions” to the country’s many problems; the impact on free expression and on everyone’s well-being, peace of mind and security of the sustained and worsening assault on human rights; and Mr. Duterte’s frustrating the imminent signing of an agreement on social and economic reforms between the NDFP and the Philippine government when he stopped the peace talks, are among those issues whose significance has escaped his idolators and many other Filipinos.

Challenging such retrograde assumptions and providing the information that will help enable the people of these islands to arrive at the informed views that will empower them into meaningfully engaging in the resolution of this country’s problems have always been among the media and cultural workers’ primary responsibilities in a society in crisis.

The alternative media and committed artists courageously discharged that duty prior to and during the Marcos dictatorship. They can do so again. It will take some doing due to the repressive environment and the immensity of the effort and skills needed. But an organization of media practitioners and artists committed to truth-telling and exposing lies can hopefully help put an end to the information crisis that for so long has been a major factor in preventing the resolution of the political, social and economic problems that have plagued millions of Filipinos for centuries. By doing so, everyone of its members would then be among the true heirs of Rizal, Del Pilar and Bonifacio, who, in their effort to change the world, understood so well the need to explain and interpret it.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from Bulatlat.com.

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