Saturday, March 18, 2006


This story was taken from

First posted 01:23am (Mla time) Mar 16, 2006

A VIGIL was held in the offices of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) last Tuesday. Earlier that day, a TV crew from GMA Network had arrived, after their news desk was tipped off that soldiers would raid the premises of the journalists' advocacy group. Some NUJP members remained on the premises until 11 p.m. that night, just in case. Mercifully, the raid never came. A raid was also rumored to be in the works, this time at the offices of Newsbreak magazine. That didn't take place, either.

The former was based on a credible source; the latter, just a sign of how jittery the situation has gotten, particularly since Newsbreak is coming out with photographs showing the alleged doctoring of election documents.

A search warrant that would have allowed government agents to go through the offices of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) also wasn't produced that Tuesday -- though not for lack of trying. Quezon City policemen, according to the PCIJ, went to two different judges and were refused each time. While surprisingly no records exist to show such requests were made, one of the PCIJ's lawyers (the sister of PCIJ head Sheila Coronel) saw policemen at one judge's sala in the company of a citizen who has filed cases against the PCIJ in the past (only to be rebuffed by the Supreme Court).

As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made it explicit in her proclamation of a state of national emergency that she considered the media as a threat to her stay in office. Though she has nominally put an end to her state of emergency and its accompanying orders, she has also called for "one comprehensive, continuing sweep" against her enemies or, as she loftily calls them, "the enemies of the State." The sweep is not necessarily a frontal assault, but an effort aimed at achievingthrough other means what the law forbids: the stifling not only of dissent but also of criticism. The administration policy, in a word, is subversion.

There is no other word that properly defines what the administration has set out to do to the media that will not unquestioningly sing its praises. There is no other way to describe what the President's civilian, police and military officials are doing: jabbing, feinting, stabbing, probing to see who will fold simply by being at the receiving end of words and outlandish accusations, or who will stand firm and perhaps require more bare-knuckled measures.

It is fair enough -- indeed, it is to be expected and demanded -- that the media be held accountable for what they publish and broadcast. Not only officials, but also the public, are expected to assert their rights and defend their honor if aggrieved or unjustly maligned. It is proper to ask media to make sure their mechanisms for accountability and action function. It is every citizen's right to resort to the courts for relief, if necessary.

The subversion that is taking place, however, aims at thought control. To force journalists to fret over the integrity of their right to privacy, their freedom of communication, their freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, is to force them into a situation that no citizen of the country, regardless of profession, should have to endure. The constant state of disquiet and even alarm resulting from this is not only a disservice to an independent profession, it is an attack on the broader liberties that are guaranteed as rights, not privileges, by the Constitution.

Under what circumstances would a raid on the premises of a journalists' association be justified? And since when does a democratic government's police ask the courts for a warrant to search the offices of journalists for materials that are "subversive," considering how subversion can be so very broadly interpreted? To do their jobs, journalists must talk to many people, and read all sorts of things. Are they to be subjected to persecution because of their reading and interview choices? By any definition this is prior restraint.

Yet the Constitution says there shall be no prior restraint on media. But so much for the Constitution. The real guide of the administration is its list -- the trademark fetish of every totalitarian regime waiting to be born. Justice Secretary Gonzalez says the list includes five PCIJ journalists being watched. For what? For sedition, he says. And all along we thought the only way to watch a writer was to read what he wrote.

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