Unity at last

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The Arroyo regime’s wish for unity, unity and unity–a tune it’s been playing since the “Hello Garci” scandal blew up in its face last year–is being realized at last. But most Filipinos are not uniting behind the regime. They’re uniting against it in opposing the systematic assault on civil liberties that’s taken cover behind Proclamation 1017

For example, practically the entire studentry, faculty and non-teaching staff of the University of the Philippines Diliman walked out of their classes and offices in the afternoon of February 28th in a demonstration of unity that hasn’t been seen in UP Diliman for years.

Earlier, the normally contentious members of the University Council–an academic body composed of UP assistant professors, associate professors and full professors–had immediately agreed during an emergency meeting that the way Proclamation 1017 was being implemented had to be opposed.

The Council members heard statements two UP Diliman colleges–Mass Communication and Law–had issued on February 27th, and almost unanimously voted (only three voted “no”) to endorse the strongly-worded statement of the College of Law.

That statement noted the ban on demonstrations, the raid on the offices of the Daily Tribune, the government threat to take over media organizations, and the warrantless arrests of members of Congress. It condemned “in the strongest possible terms this brazen assault on essential freedoms,” and described Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5 (which orders the police and military to “suppress lawless violence” but is being used to suppress civil rights) as “constitut(ing) an unconstitutional infringement on civil liberties.”

Accountability for the violations of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution the police and the military are committing in the name of Proclamation 1017 and GO 5, the statement went on, is Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s. It also pointed out that not even during a declaration of martial law can those rights be suspended. “Thus, the suppression of free speech, the muzzling of the free press, and the prohibition on public assembly… cannot be construed as anything other than clearly and unequivocally unconstitutional.”

After voting to endorse the College of Law statement, the Council proceeded to draft its own, but agreed that more than a statement demanding the lifting of Proclamation 1017 and General Order 5 was needed.

In a declaration entitled “Defend our civil liberties and fight for freedom!”, the Council affirmed UP’s “commitment to the fundamental constitutional and human rights of the people.” In furtherance of that commitment, the Council reaffirmed UP Diliman’s being an arena of free debate, and a refuge for those threatened with arrest and harassment for political reasons. It then vowed to resist the stifling of basic freedoms, and reiterated its call, made last July, 2005, for the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo and a peaceful change in the country’s political leadership.

In keeping with the College of Mass Communication’s mandate as a professional school for media practitioners, its own statement was focused on the suppression of press freedom and media harassment, and demanded the immediate lifting of Proclamation 1017 and a halt to the assault on press freedom and the media.

Opposition to Proclamation 1017 was also unanimous among the media practitioners who showed up in force last Sunday, February 26th at the News Desk Café in Quezon City for a meeting called by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Broadcasters from at least three TV networks (ABS-CBN, GMA7 and ABC5) and several radio stations, as well as photo journalists, reporters, correspondents, wire agency stringers, magazine writers, columnists and even foreign correspondents were there.

To a man and woman they declared shock, outrage and anger at the harassment and suppression to which the media and press freedom, almost immediately after the issuance of Proclamation 1017, had been subjected.

But while unanimous in condemning 1017 and subsequent regime actions, they also agreed to issue a statement to be disseminated among all the media, to mobilize their own press organizations in fighting for press freedom, and to bring the assault on press freedom in the Philippines to the attention of the international press freedom networks. Equally significant was a pledge not to be intimidated by the regime.

The next day several media advocacy groups–among them the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the Philippine Press Institute and the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas: the Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines), also met to discuss the filing of a suit challenging the legality of government actions in implementing Proclamation 1017. This was followed by other media initiatives including a demonstration at the National Press Club in Manila.

The principled unanimity of opposition to the way 1017 is being implemented was equally resonant in other sectors. It was more than evident among non-government organizations whether conservative or liberal. Among professional groups like the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which vowed to lead a demonstration challenging the legality of PP1017, there was outrage to equal that of mass media practitioners. Only among the usual suspects–the hacks in certain tabloids and the now irrelevant Catholic bishops, for example–was there any evidence of support for 1017 or moral fence-sitting.

Opposition has also been gathering strength in the Senate and the House of Representatives, where even congressmen identified with the administration questioned the constitutionality of the suppression of free assembly, warrantless arrests, and government harassment of the media.

Among other reasons, the unanimity is driven by the brazenness with which the Bill of Rights is being savaged. So shamelessly and obviously is the regime trampling on the Constitution– so transparently and unjustly is it implementing martial law while calling it by another name–that all men and women of reasonable goodwill cannot but cry out in outrage.

But there is another reason for it. There is also the record-breaking sub-zero unpopularity of Mrs. Arroyo, whose approval ratings since she came to power have been steadily deteriorating because of mass disgust over her manner of governance and the web of corruption that shrouds “her” presidency. Proclamation 1017 and her subsequent acts have most likely driven her negative 74 percent approval rating further into the ground. We should see by how much in the next surveys. But it won’t be a pretty sight.

(Business Mirror)

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