[OPINION] There's no chilling effect. Here’s why.
The intention was clear.
The arrest of Maria Ressa showed not only that the administration could have its way, it was also a signal to all critics that journalists are now next in line.
We know because as a people we’ve been here before.
At one point in our history the state weaponized the law to seize private corporations, shut down news agencies, and detain critics — so that a president could rule for two decades.
Even President Duterte’s staunchest defenders know. But the administration is also aware that there’s only so much they can do.
While other news agencies may have backed down, Rappler continues to do what it has always done: investigative journalism and thought leadership that speak truth to power.
But there is a silver lining. Now we know that Rappler is not alone.
Series of attacks
Malacañang washed its hands off the issue by saying that the case that led to Ressa’s arrest is a personal matter. Duterte, therefore, had no hand in it.
Only unthinking loyalists are convinced. The arrest would have been less suspicious if the case were an isolated moment. But that is not true. Not only did Maria have to post bail 6 times in the past two months, one needs to take into consideration other events.
In 2017, during his State of the Nation Address, Duterte singled out Rappler, accusing it of foreign ownership. Later on, reporter Pia Rañada and Rappler as a whole were banned from covering Malacañang. The company’s license was ordered revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission, too, although the Court of Appeals did not uphold this order.
All this is not unique to Rappler. At one point ABS-CBN was the target of Duterte’s attacks. He threatened to block the renewal of its franchise. Duterte promised, too, to go after the Prieto family, owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
What’s the common denominator? Duterte accused both ABS-CBN and Inquirer of bias and favoring administration critic Senator Trillanes.
The “special attention” journalists and critics have received from this administration stands in contrast to what it has given to Gloria Arroyo and Imelda Marcos. Remember that when the Sandiganbayan had Marcos arrested, the Philippine National Police hesitated because “the former first lady is very old.”
Salvador Panelo insists that press freedom remains. Perhaps he is correct, which is why even I, an academic, can still write opinion pieces like this one.
But to continue to believe that press freedom is not under attack is foolishness.
What Panelo also fails to admit is that the regime’s intention to silence critics has yet to happen.
They want a chilling effect, but they are not going to have it.
That is because ordinary people have the capacity to push back.
In recent days, journalists and legal experts have come to the rescue. In their own ways, Karen Davila, Theodore Te, Inday Espina-Varona, and Vergel Santos have made their statements. Students too have organized their own protests. A silent protest was held at the UP Fair, which was supposed to feature Maria Ressa in a public forum.
With these influential people are global voices putting Duterte’s regime in check. The journalist Christiane Amanpour and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have condemned the arrest.
Prophets of resistance
What the administration has forgotten is that in spite of its popularity, many are not willing to abandon the democratic ideal. Joining these global voices are Filipinos from all walks of life who are not going to abandon this just like that.
For sociologists, “prophets of resistance” are those who counter the status quo.
They do not have to be the most influential people. These prophets might be ordinary individuals such as teachers, student leaders, and community organizers who see through the smokescreen of lies.
In their own ways, these people are pushing back. They know that dissent is necessary to put in check abusive politicians.
Be that as it may, what they say has only landed on deaf ears. The majority, after all, remain trusting of the President.
But this is exactly what awaits prophets of resistance. Prophets are never popular.
What history has shown
Powerful people may prevail at this time. And they can wield their resources and energy to silence their critics.
But history shows that the future belongs to those who stand for what is right and just. While the elite may hold captive the present, there will one day be a time for renewal.
For some people, that renewal is incremental. For others, it is revolutionary.
Whatever the method, the future will demand accountability. That, we know, is how history progresses.
And among us are people ready to offer everything to see it come to pass. – Rappler.com
Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. His current research is on Christianity and the War on Drugs. Follow him on Twitter: @jayeel_cornelio.