Unless reversed by a higher court, the conviction for cyber libel of Rappler’s Maria Ressa and its former researcher Reynaldo Santos, Jr. will further shrink not only the democratic space for free expression and press freedom but also the people’s right to be informed on matters relevant to their lives as citizens and as human beings.
The Philippine government has eased restrictions on people’s movement and allowed the operation of some businesses in metro Manila, Cebu City and Laguna by putting these areas under what it calls a modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). Some provinces that used to be under ECQ have been placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ).
Both, so say government officials, are meant to address the crisis in unemployment and to restart the economy. The decision to begin the transition to something approaching “business as usual” in the capital and other regions was based on the assumption — about which some experts are skeptical — that the rate of transmission of COVID-19 has fallen, and that, although social scientists are saying that things will not be the same as they used to be and that the country must be ready for a “new normal,” the disease will eventually disappear once a vaccine is found.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is how imperfect such institutions as governments and even entire societies are — and that some are more flawed, damaged, and damaging than others.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon headquarters of the US Department of Defense came the virtual reversal of the global trend towards liberalization and democratization that had characterized the last two decades of the 20th century.
A sovereign citizenry’s right and duty of monitoring and evaluating public issues and problems, and of commenting on them and proposing alternative approaches and solutions, are best served by a free press. But because their hold on power partly depends on being perceived as infallible, most governments including the Philippines’ own detest criticism, hence their antipathy to press freedom and free expression.