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POV Philippines by Jon JoaquinTaking down freedom of speech

by Jon Joaquin

As a journalist, I’m a stickler for freedom of speech. For one thing, my whole livelihood depends on my ability to write or say anything I need to express, be it an opinion piece, a feature, or a straight news article. Beyond that, I believe freedom of speech is the very foundation of a democratic society. Only when we are able to express ourselves freely can we truly call ourselves democratic and free. The greatest threat to authoritarianism and dictatorship is freedom of speech, and we as a nation saw this when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. One of the first things he targeted was the media. He had newspapers and TV and radio stations shut down and had around 8,000 people — some of them journalists, all of them voices of dissent — arrested. All in one day. According to the Official Gazette (gov.ph), these are what Marcos ordered closed on September 23, 1972 (the actual day of the proclamation of martial law):

  • 292 radio stations
  • 7 television stations
  • 66 community newspapers
  • 11 English weekly magazines
  • 7 major English dailies
  • 4 Chinese dailies
  • 3 Filipino dailies
  • 1 English-Filipino daily
  • 1 Spanish daily

Among the journalists arrested were Max Soliven, Chino Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., Hernando Abaya, Luis Mauricio, Luis Beltran, Amando Doronilla, and Ernesto Granada (the Official Gazette does not list those arrested after September 23). Marcos knew the power of the media and how liberating it is to hear dissenting views and voices that are not government’s. He knew that he could only proceed with his plan of domination if the voices of the people were silenced. As they say, the first casualty of martial law was freedom of speech.

Today, 44 years later, some people seem to have learned little. A person named Paul Quilét believes it is his (and his believers’) right and duty to silence sexy star/dancer-turned social media influencer Mocha Uson for the following reason:

“Mocha Uson, a Filipino entertainer-turned-Duterte die-hard supporter uses her Facebook page to spread fictitious/unsupported claims, fake news, and false information about pressing issues in the Philippines, from the role the USAID plays in the country to news concerning government officials and other personalities, eliciting unwarranted hate from the public. The said Facebook page widens the rift between those who support the current administration and those who are critical of it.”

As I write this (October 25, 2016), the petition has gotten 30,845 supporters, 4,155 signatures shy of the 35,000 goal. This means 30,845 people believe with Kulet —er, Quilét — that Mocha Uson does not have the same right as they to express herself. Now I do not know Mocha personally, but I do know that she is one of the most influential people on social media right now in the Philippines. Her blog has 4.3 million followers to date, while Rappler has 2.9 million and the Philippine Daily Inquirer has 2.6 million (only ABS-CBN News has more followers at 11.7 million). But more than just followers, Mocha trumps these two in terms of engagement, which is a measure of likes, comments, and shares — which shows that her followers are not passive readers but active members of her community. As of August, Mocha has an engagement of 1.2 million, leaving behind Rappler (408 thousand) and the Inquirer (350 thousand). Maybe it’s this massive influence that has prompted Quilét (and whoever is behind him) to try and take Mocha’s blog down.

To be sure Mocha has had her share of mistakes, but most of the things she posts are verified and verifiable. She is biased, of course, but she has never claimed not to be. Her followers accept this and so they keep engaging her. The media networks, on the other hand, have had a history of getting it wrong when it comes to Duterte (the Hitler remark and his alleged cursing of US President Barack Obama, both of which were based on misquotes). That Quilét would target only Mocha is the height of one-sidedness and hypocrisy.

People say they don’t like dictatorship, but they don’t think twice about silencing Mocha Uson. Go figure.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.

Jon Joaquin is the Chief Editor of www.mindanation.com. E-mail Jon at jonjoaquin@gmail.com.

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