A Crossroad in Press Freedom and a Golden Chance

I remember watching from my room in 2007 the footage of journalists handcuffed in plastic bands and shoved to a bus during their coverage of the Antonio Trillanes IV-led siege at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati.

I was a 2nd year journalism student in UST.

I think that was one of the first defining moments for me as a journ major— the second and most startling of course was the Maguindanao massacre in 2009—but I remember being restless.

Why was I not in Manila Pen? What am I going to school for tomorrow?

I don’t know if it’s my passive Thomasian upbringing but I just decided my duty at the time was to stay in school. Try to uphold journalistic values in a university setting.

It was not my battle to fight. Not yet at least.

Besides, I trusted my elders to fight it for me. They kept that trust.

Journalists filed a class suit against the government for acts they said amounted to prior restraint.

It’s a legal fight they would lose eventually. A loss affirmed in January 2019, under this administration, when the Supreme Court First Division said that the handcuffing was a valid exercise of authority.

But I liked what the journalists did, despite the result.

Which brings us to now.

We have seen a redux of the Erap style crackdown on the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which was almost sold to Duterte donor Ramon Ang, as its owners—the Prietos—face tax cases for their other businesses and a property takeover care of the president’s most loyal legal soldier, Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Rappler, my organization, was ordered shut two years ago. It has been remanded for review by the Court of Appeals but it is a threat that hangs over our heads as we watch our bosses pay one bail after the other in multiple courts. The shutdown order over our Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDR) has spurred on a total of eight related cases against Maria Ressa and members of our 2016 board.

Maria is going to get her verdict for cyberlibel in the next 2 months, a case that will test the bounds of the very young Philippine cyberlaw, and which will have far-reaching implications on our highly-valued freedom to publish online.

Meanwhile, the solicitor general has deployed another quo warranto offensive against the biggest television network, whose reporting has also gotten the ire of the president.

There is this line Maria always likes to say: turn crisis into opportunity.

We face a daunting crisis, but we are also given this golden chance.

I am no longer the 17 year old girl who was too intimidated to go to Manila Pen.

My duty has evolved. I now have more and better means.

This is now my battle to fight.

Last year a group of students asked me: what gives you hope?

I told them it’s our history.

Philippine media has gone under siege many times before and we have always come out stronger.

Philippine media has gone under siege many times before and we have always come out stronger.

Call it false optimism, but I have almost no reason to believe we cannot do it again.

I source this optimism from the martial law-time journalists who are still here, many of whom were at Sgt Esguerra on Valentines Night to show solidarity with the embattled ABS-CBN.

If they did it before for us, then we have the duty to do it again for the next generation.

Because the harder the situation gets, the more worthy the fight becomes.

In this crossroad in press freedom, where do you want to be?

Somewhere, a 17-year-old girl is counting on you. Let’s not let her down.

[Entry 287, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Subselfie - Lian

Lian Nami Buan is the Associate Editor of Subselfie.com. She is a multimedia reporter too for Rappler, covering the Justice Beat. She was a news producer for GMA News for six years before she moved to England supposedly to take her Masters, until she realized what has been obvious all along—she belongs to the Philippines and nowhere else. Her areas of journalistic interests include human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.

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