Silent No More: Why We Should Speak Up Now In The Face Of A Challenged Democracy



The political and the press become even more personal, escalating into a mighty word war that is threatening the very foundations of democracy. Question is, where do we go from here?

Related: Are We Being Too Sensitive Online?

A good day on my social media timelines means an endless amount of dog videos, Timothée Chalamet tidbits and Tastemade snippets. In fact, if it weren’t for these seemingly inane strongholds, I wouldn’t even be trawling the abyss that is Facebook, Instagram and when I’m really down for it, Twitter. These days, at least for me, logging on doesn’t so much as offer an escape, as it was perhaps intended to be, but it wreaks of piled on negativity and hostility. What about quenching the human thirst for knowledge and the social responsibility to keep up with the times? Forget about it, because the open playing field of the internet has created monsters out of all of us, some for creating and culling fake news and the rest, for countering it with Neanderthal-like aggression. I’ve said it once and I’ll damn right say it again: we do not deserve the internet.

We live in troubled times, that’s a fact. Social media sites have been turned into a weapon by any Tom, Dick or Pedro with an access to WiFi or a dependable 3G data bundle and used against the very freedom it was built upon, that’s another cold, hard truth. And finally, and even more alarming, there has been blatant smite of hand when it comes to challenging the constitutional right of expression, which consequently equates to freedom of speech as protected and exercised by the free press. What these have enacted is the perfect storm of a he-said-she-said, either-you’re-with-us-or-against-us type of discourse—if it can even be called that.

Forget about responsibility. Everyone has something to say and they will want to make it known in any way possible. And unfortunately, all it takes is a few clicks and taps at a keyboard. Or if we’re really talking spine-chilling terms, it means revoking your very right to say what you want to say. Oh, have the walls come down.

But thank God for those puppy videos.

TUG OF WAR

The push and pull between the free press and the ruling government isn’t anything new. In the Philippines alone, administrations past and present have long been at odds with a media that is critical of their decisions and actions, with some, or well, most, going the extra mile and curtailing the very foundation of freedom of speech, written or recorded. Does the grotesque and thick-galled dictatorship of decades past ring a bell? Good, then we’re up to speed, which brings us to the present-day circumstance.

Long embattled online news site, Rappler, has hit an unprecedented road block in its existence when the Securities and Exchange Commission has ordered a revocation of its permit to operate in the country, citing a direct violation of a clause in the constitution that limits the media ownership to Philippine citizens. With two US investors, namely North Base Media and Omidyar Network, it is argued that the money invested in the operations is owned and thus, controlled by foreigners. Rappler has categorically denied foreign control and insisted its independence saying, “Rappler is 100% Philippine owned, let me state for the record that we are actually following the Philippine constitution.”

Allegedly a repository of news deemed inappropriate to the ruling few, Rappler has known to be a long-standing critic of the current administration, earning its ire with published hard-hitting pieces of journalistic integrity and relaying the news to its readers that aren’t necessarily favorable to them. It is odd, if you think about it, this David versus Goliath type of scenario, because ideally, these two have one thing in common: transparency to the people it serves. In a world of common disinformation, who is telling the truth? Or more importantly, who really has the best interests of the people in mind?

MARGINS OF DEMOCRACY

In an effort to put a cork in the proliferation of fake news, the government has made a move to amend the constitution, more specifically Article 3, Section 4 of the Bill of Rights, which states: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” The proposed change (oh, here we go again with that word)? Appending the phrase “responsible exercise” right before freedom of speech. Now, in a time where keyboard warriors purposely derail the numb consumption of the public of content and click bait articles are all the rage, responsibility is but necessary to a status quo that throws around freedom as a currency of convenience like loose change you can just hurl at the next person provoking you.

However, who gets to define the words proposed appendage? Responsible exercise is a very lofty set of words and to limit it to a lopsided understanding seems moot and academic. If its intent is to regulate and ultimately put an end to fake news, isn’t it necessary to bring in literacy into the equation? What is happening is that certain forces are making a move to write within the margins of democracy, undermining the very foundation it functions on. There is no taking sides here, except that of the truth. Any effort to bookend the flow of ideas, discourse and criticism is not only a failure of governance, but a failure of humanity.

What this does is it harbors fear of expression, of speaking up, of moving forward. A double-edged and selective type of integrity is in place, threatening everything we have come to know (and enjoy) up at this point. Most importantly, the menacing reining in of the free press puts a tight lid on the accountability of the two agents of society. Simply put, the media and the administration are meant to serve the governed, and not the other way around. That is a sworn fact.

SPEAK UP

There have been moves that call for an active resistance, an act that might do more harm than good, especially at a very turbulent time. Remember in Beauty and the Beast when the mob was aimlessly led to raid and raze the castle of the Beast to the ground, without clearly knowing who or what the enemy was behind those iron- wrought gates? It is a case of life imitating art these days, because while there is no actual beast to brandish a torch of fire at just about anything that moves or harks of terror, there is a proverbial one in the monsters that we are faced with, some greater than us while the rest, walk among (and within) us.

(The recent news and current events have not been so kind, proving why we should not just keep watch, but stand ground and speak up on the apparent oppression on various fronts that just won’t relent. Use your space and reach online wisely and put it to good use.)

We fear what we don’t know, yes. So, where the walls are seemingly closing in, it is imperative we keep vigilance and to keep our own narratives intact, telling them to the next person who will read and listen. This doesn’t mean we are going to shout to get the point across, no. The last thing we need right now is a war. What we need is a re-introduction to the laws and liberties that govern our great nation, as well as a re-education as to what it truly means to propagate truth that is fair and serves the greater good. It’s already there, we just have to hit our heads on the wall and be reminded of it, despite the harrowing deft of hand that wants to quiet down those who guard tenets of democracy. But let it be known that when push comes to shove, in apparent silence, we speak louder—especially when our very presence is being ceased to exist.

Photography SHAIRA LUNA of ARTISTS & CO. MANILA
Styling Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena