This screenshot from a video posted by the Presidential Communications (Government of the Philippines) Facebook Page shows Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo holding a piece of paper with names of journalists and lawyers the Palace claims are part of an alleged plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Why has every Philippine regime taken the press and journalists to task, tried to control them, and even arrest and kill practitioners? It’s a question Filipinos should be asking in the context of the laughably fact-challenged attempts of the Duterte regime to paint journalists as part of a grand conspiracy to remove President Rodrigo Duterte from power.

The answer is that journalism provides information and helps shape public opinion about the events and issues that in particular times and places are of common concern. As one of those enterprises whose fundamental responsibility is that of describing and explaining to us ourselves, society, nature and the world, journalism also has the power to help advance change if the information it provides is accurate, fair, relevant and complete.

The need for change is publicly accepted in this country even by those opposed to it.  Duterte came to power in 2016 on the wave of the demand for change and even revolution by promising that change is coming. It’s a promise that isn’t really new: even Ferdinand Marcos promised to “make this nation great again” in 1965, and to “save the Republic and reform society” when he declared martial law in 1972.

No one in power has ever said they’re against change because 21.9 million Filipinos are officially considered poor, with  some 50 to 60 million more being vulnerable  enough for the quality of their lives and those of their families to be at risk when catastrophes such as illness, the loss of a job, or  the death of a breadwinner,  a son or a daughter, or runaway  inflation, befall them.  

Among the consequences of this true state of the nation are social unrest and the rise of revolutionary movements. In response, however, those in command of the Philippine state, while claiming to be committed to change, rather than address their causes have used varying means and devices as well as violence and force to suppress the social and political consequences of poverty. The outstanding example so far is the declaration of martial law in 1972. But a repeat of it is increasingly becoming likely — that is, if a de facto version of it isn’t already here.                   

To the guardians of the status quo, any institution, individual or group that dares describe what is happening, particularly how the very same individuals who claim to be for change are in truth against it, is the enemy: regime critics and independent journalists qualify.

Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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