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#DefendPressFreedom: A War Cry Against Impunity and Disinformation

From ineffective COVID-19 cures, to conspiracy theories, to deliberate propagation of fake news and propaganda, the wave of misinformation and disinformation can claim lives. Without press freedom, we would succumb to this second pandemic.

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Patricia Jardin

May 3 is the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, a day that serves as a reminder for people, especially governments to respect press freedom. This year, the theme for this celebration is “Journalism without Fear or Favor,” highlighting journalists’ need to freely do their jobs, especially during a global pandemic.

May 5, two days after World Press Freedom Day, is the day that ABS-CBN went off-air due to. National Telecommunications Commision’s (NTC) cease and desist order a day after its franchise ends. It is also the day when a radio broadcaster was slain in Dumaguete City, making him the 1616th journalist killed under the Duterte Administration.

#DefendPressFreedom has been trending on social media due to the shutdown of ABS-CBN and the killing of radio broadcaster Rex Cornelio. The hashtag was used to support the free press, and decry the attacks against the media and media practitioners aiming to silence them. While many people support #DefendPressFreedom, many still do not understand the concept of press freedom, even going as far as saying that the law is above the freedom of the press. 

However, #DefendPressFreedom goes beyond being just a hashtag or a trend.

Iron grip on media

Martial Law is a time of countless cases of corruption and human rights violations, and the press is not excluded in the abuses of power of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who held the Philippine media in his iron grip.

After the declaration of Martial Law through Proclamation 1081,  Ferdinand Marcos released Letter of Instruction 1, or the military  “take over and control”  of “newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications.” The reason behind the media takeover is to prevent involvement of media outlets with the Communists. Media outlets affected include ABS-CBN, Channel 5 (now TV5), Manila Daily Bulletin (now Manila Bulletin) Manila Times, and others.

With most of the media outlets closed or under strict government monitoring and censorship, critics of the Marcos administration were arrested. Several journalists like Joaquin ‘Chino’ Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., and others were detained. Media was also heavily censored and needs to be approved by the Department of Public Information.

Several laws such as  the Presidential Decrees 33, 36, and 90 were passed, placing the Philippine media into further chokehold.

Loosening chokehold?

After the People Power Revolution, the iron chokehold on the media began to loosen.

Press freedom has been written in the Bill of Rights, specifically in the Article III Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution. According to it,  “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.” 

While the situation of the Philippine media became better, there are still attacks to the press coming from the government in the form of criticisms and  lawsuits from previous Presidents. There are also cases of media killings. As of 2018, 185 journalists. were killed since 1986 according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

In March 1999, former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada sued The Manila Times over a story about government corruption on public works contracts. The Manila Times issued a front-page apology, prompting some of the  editors and writers to resign in protest.

The former president also prompted an ad boycott on Philippine Daily Inquirer. Estrada has criticized the newspaper for being biased after covering several government scandals.

The Arroyo administration also had several cases of lawsuits against journalists. According to Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo has filed 50 lawsuits against 46 journalists for writing articles about his alleged crimes.The lawsuits were eventually dropped in 2007.

It is also in the time of the Arroyo administration when the Maguindanao Massacre happened. This event is considered as the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists in history, with 32 journalists killed out of 58 victims. Although a verdict has been passed, there are still around 80 suspects at large according to the Human Rights Watch. 

The Strongman versus the Media

Recently, the 2018 Time Magazine article depicting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte as a strongman. A strongman is described as an authoritarian leader with a heavy reliance on the military. Duterte denounced the strongman label, but he cannot denounce the actions that he had done, especially his  attacks on the press.

In March 2017, Duterte threatened several media outlets, namely ABS-CBN and Philippine Daily Inquirer over “rude” reports against him. Duterte said that “karma” will come someday.

Another media outlet that has been on the receiving end of Duterte’s tirades against the media in the news site Rappler. The news isie is known for its critical reporting on the Duterte administration, and has been plagued by attacks both from pro-Duterte blogs and  Duterte himself. 

In Duterte’s State of the Nation Address in 2017, he accused Rappler of being “fully owned” by Americans, which violates foreign ownership restrictions on the media. In January 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s license to operate over violation of the Constitution and Anti-Dummy Law. Duterte also banned Rappler from covering Malacañang in February 2018. Duterte himself banned Rappler reporter Pia Ranada, as well as Rappler CEO Maria Ressa from entering Malacañang. Maria Ressa was also arrested for cyber libel in February over a 2012 article on Wilfredo Keng. She was arrested again in March 2019 for violation of foreign ownership.

Duterte is said to have a personal vendetta on ABS-CBN due to an ad broadcasted on the network showing Duterte cursing and saying rape jokes. The ad was paid for by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. He also accused the network of not showing the campaign ads that he paid for back in 2016. ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak clarified that the campaign ads were shown, but some local ads worth 7 million were not shown due to airtime shortage.

Also in 2019, Duterte’s attacks continued and he once said that he will block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. 

In February 2020, Solicitor General filed a quo-warranto petition against ABS-CBN on the grounds of foreign ownership, labor conditions, unpaid taxes, and issues on Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) and TV Plus. 

The network responded to the allegations in a hearing on February 24, 2020. In terms of foreign ownership, SEC Commissioner Ephyro Amatong said that the Philippine Depository Receipts, which Calida said is a form of foreign ownership, is not a certificate of ownership. The Bureau of Internal Revenue also said that  ABS-CBN has no unpaid taxes and has complied with the tax requirement of the government. The network also said that the Department of Labor and Employment cleared the network for their compliance on labor laws, and said that the network does not practice contractualization. The network was also cleared on the pay-per-view issue on KBO and TV Plus, and if there are penalties, NTC can just fine the network instead of a shutdown.

The network was allowed to operate until May 4. NTC said that it will give ABS-CBN provisional authority as the network’s franchise renewal is in progress. However on May 3, Calida pressured the NTC by saying that the department could face charges under Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if NTC gives ABS-CBN provisional authority. Two days later, NTC issued a cease and desist order on ABS-CBN due to its expired franchise. ABS-CBN. went off-air at 7:52 p.m..

More than a hashtag

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that there is a “second pandemic” spreading as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads: the pandemic of misinformation. From ineffective COVID-19 cures, to conspiracy theories, to deliberate propagation of fake news and propaganda, the wave of misinformation and disinformation can claim lives. Without press freedom, we would succumb to this second pandemic.

Press freedom is necessary, with or without a global crisis. The press is the eyes of the masses. They are the watchdogs of the government, watching for corruption and injustices. They are the lenses that capture the society and its problems, bringing it to light for people to do something about these problems. They are also our frontliners in this global pandemic, reporting correct guidelines and calling out inaction when necessary. In short, taking away press freedom is like stripping a nation of its right to know and to be aware.

#DefendPressFreedom goes beyond a mere trend or a hashtag. It is a war cry against forces trying to silence the press to cover its wrongdoings and inactions, an advocacy promoting the right of every citizen to be aware, a simple message to the people spreading the culture of impunity that we won’t back down in this fight. As a popular protest sign says, “First they came for the journalists. This is a warning that we need to defend the free press”.

If we lose our press freedom, we will never know what happens next.

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Online classes: Paghandaan, pagdaanan, lagpasan

Matututo kaya ako? Paano kapag biglang nawalan ako ng internet sa gitna ng klase? Kaya ba ng laptop ko kaming magkakapatid? Kaya ko ba? 

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Litrato ni Annie Spratt galing sa Unsplash

Ang panibagong taon ng pasukan ay nagpapaypay sa iyo ng mga paru-parong may iba’t ibang kulay ng pag-aalala at pangamba. Bagamat nakasanayan mo na ang pakiramdam na ito bago magsimula ang klase, ngayon ay napagtanto mo na mas malalakas ang hampas nila sa iyong bituka sapagkat hindi pamilyar sa iyo ang panibagong mukha ng edukasyon. 

Upang maipagpatuloy ang paghahatid ng edukasyon, ipinatupad ng Kagawaran ng Edukasyon at Komisyon sa Mas Mataas na Edukasyon ang pagkakaroon ng online classes para sa darating na panuruang taon. Marahil ngayon ay naglalaro ang mga katanungan sa iyong isip na tila ngingangatngat ang lingid ng kapayapaang iyong pinaka-iniingatan. Matututo kaya ako? Paano kapag biglang nawalan ako ng internet sa gitna ng klase? Kaya ba ng laptop ko kaming magkakapatid? Kaya ko ba? 

Bago magsimula ang online classes

Litrato ni Kyle Gregory Devaras galing sa Unsplash

Karaniwan ang pakiramdam ng pagtahak ng daan sa dilim sa mga bagay na kakambal ng pangangapa — tulad noong panahong napag-desisyunan mong kumuha ng entrance exam sa unibersidad o noong pumasok ka sa silid-aralan nang walang nakikilalang mukha. Ngayon, ang kanto lamang ng iyong silid ang magsisilbing pugad ng iyong pagkatuto. Wala mang bagong mukhang tatambad sa iyo, maaari namang mahaluan ang iyong almusal ng sansinukob na problema mula sa loob at labas ng bahay.  Ito ay maaaring magdulot ng pagka-paralysa sa gawain, pagkawala ng inspirasyong magpatuloy ng trabaho, o pilit na pagsubsob sa trabaho. 

Sa isang kumot ng mga posibilidad at pagkabalisa, mainam na iyong panghawakan ang kahit gahiblang tiwalang may hangganan din ang lahat, na lilipas din ang sitwasyon, kasabay ng pagtanggap ng buong kalooban sa sistema at proseso. 

Gumawa ng sariling iskedyul

Litrato ni Estée Jansens galing sa Unsplash

Simulan mo ang panibagong taon sa pamamagitan ng paggawa ng iyong iskedyul kung saan nakatala ang oras ang pag-simula ng bawat klase. Mainam rin na isaayos mo ito ayon sa iyong pangangailangan at kagustuhan. . Isa ito sa mga paraan ng paglalagay ng kontrol sa iyong araw lalo na sa panahong nababalot ng walang-kasiguraduhan. 

Mas makabubuti rin kung isasama mo sa iyong mga pang-araw-araw na  gawain ang mga bagay na nagpapaalab sa upos ng iyong damdamin. Sa ganitong paraan, ang bawat araw ay hindi pawang nalulunod sa gawaing pang-paaralan lamang at sa halip ay may kaunting puwang para magpahinga.

Sabihin ang nararamdaman sa mga taong malapit sa iyo

Litrato ni Andy Art galing sa Unsplash

Ang kaisipan ng pagsasagawa ng online classes sa loob ng ilang buwan kasabay ng pag-aalala sa pangkalahatang sitwasyon ng ating bansa ay maaring magdala ng bigat sa iyong damdamin at magdulot ng pagkawala ng inspirasyong magpatuloy. Tuwing ito ay nararanasan, mainam na isipin na ikaw ay hindi nag-iisa sapagkat ito ay kolektibong karanasan na pinagdadaanan ng bawat estudyante. Ang simpleng pangangamusta at pakikipagkuwentuhan sa iyong mga kaibigan ay maaaring makatulong sa paghahanap muli ng saysay upang matuto. Gamitin mo rin ang social media upang makihalubilo sa mga tao’t diskursong nakararanas at nakaiintindi ng iyong pinagdadaanan. 

Sa gitna ng online classes

Litrato ng SCREEN POST galing sa Unsplash

Kaagapay ng pagtanggap at paglalagay ng pananampalataya sa proseso ay ang pag-ayon at pag-aangkop ng sarili sa sitwasyon. Bagamat iba-iba ang pagdaloy ng emosyon sa bawat tao, mayroong mga paraang makatutulong sa pagbuo nito na siyang magdudulot sa malusog na kalusugang pangkaisipan.

Humingi ng tulong kung kinakailangan

Litrato ni John Schnobrich galing sa Unsplash

Ang simpleng pagtatanong sa kung paano gawin ang takda sa isang paksa at paglapit sa pamilya, kaibigan, at mga eksperto tulad ng guidance counselors ukol sa iyong nararamdaman ay ilan sa mga paraan upang matulungan ang iyong sarili. Mainam na gawain ang pagkilala sa mukha ng tulong at paghingi nito, maging ito man ay nauugnay sa pang-akademikong kaanyuan o patungkol sa pangkalahatang konteksto. 

Maging mabait sa sarili

Litrato ni Kinga Cichewicz galing sa Unsplash

Bagamat pawang sirang plaka na ang mga paalala ukol sa pagpapagaan ng damdamin, ang pagbaon ng mababait na salita para sa sarili ay makatutulong upang magawa ang mga gawain sa paaralan. Maging matiyaga sa pagpapaalala na tayo ay mayroong kanya-kanyang panahon at paraan sa paggalaw. Maging mas mabait sa pagbatid sa kabiguan bilang kapatid ng kapalaran kung sakali mang ito ay mararanasan. Ang ganitong pananalita ay higit na magiging kaagapay hindi lamang sa pagtahak ng iyong papel bilang estudyante, ngunit pati na rin bilang isang taong nababalot ng kapayapaan. 

Maglagay ng linya sa pagitan ng iyong mga papel

Litrato ni Mike Tinnion galing sa Unsplash

Isa sa malalaking balakid sa kinagagalawang mundo ngayon ay ang malimit na pagkarita sa pagitan ng pagpapalawig ng kaalaman sa bansa – kahit na puno ng nakapanlulumong balita – o ang pag-hilom at patuloy na pagyabong ng kalagayan ng mental health. Ito maaari ang isa sa mga kadalasang nagdudulot ng stress, lalo na sa pagsasagawa ng makabagong pamamaraan ng pag-aaral na naka-angkla sa plataporma nang walang hadlang. Maari mong ipaghiwalay ang oras sa paggamit ng social media para sa paaralan at paggamit nito para makakalap ng impormasyon. Mainam na ugaliing magpasya ng oras para sa mga papel na iyong ginagampanan upang maiwasang mapagod ang isip at damdamin.

Magkaroon ng mga kutkutin o pagkain kasabay ng pag-aaral

Litrato ni Pixzolo Photography galing sa Unsplash

Karaniwang bahagi ng mga alituntunin sa klase ang pagbabawal ng pagkakaroon ng pagkain sa loob ng silid-aralan. Ngayong dinadala na ng online class ang mga silid-aralan sa ating tahanan, kaakibat nito ang kalayaang gawin ang mga bagay na hindi papayagan sa paaralan. Kumuha at kumain ng mga pagkaing kinahihiligan habang nagkaklase upang magkaroon ng sigla at lakas habang nakikinig o gumagawa ng gawain. Ang mga pagkain tulad ng mani at tsokolate ay nakatutulong din sa pag-aalala ng mga aralin habang nag-aaral o nakikinig sa talakayan.

Sundin ang iskedyul sa klase kasama ang mga break at recess

Litrato ni Cathryn Lavery galing sa Unsplash

Nakasanayan na sa tuwing papasok ay makaligtaan ang pagkain dahil sa dami ng mga gawain sa paaralan. Subalit ngayong nasa tahanan na lamang, maiging pagtuunan mo ng pansin ang wastong pagkain bilang paraan na rin ng pag-aalaga sa iyong sarili at pagpapalakas ng iyong resistensya sa panahon ng pandemya. Ugaliing sundin ang schedule sa klase maglaan ng kaunting oras upang makapagpahinga at mabawasan ang nararamdamang stress na maaaring idulot nito sa sarili. 

Maglagay ng mga gamit o mga paalala na nakagagaan at nakapagpapalakas ng loob

Litrato ni Vana Ash galing sa Unsplash

Sa kasalukuyang panahon, bagama’t marami ang nakararanas ng bigat na dulot ng online classes, nangingibabaw pa rin ang pakiramdam ng pag-iisa at kalungkutan. Maaari itong maging sanhi ng burn-out na matinding kalaban ng mga mag-aaral lalo na sa matataas na antas. Makabubuti sa kalusugang pangkaisipan at damdamin ang paglalagay ng mga bagay o paskin na magpapalakas o di kaya’y makapagpapagaan ng loob upang maibsan ang mga matinding damdamin na nararamdaman.

Sa pagtatapos ng online classes

Litrato ni Priscilla Du Preez galing sa Unsplash

Matapos ang isang mahabang araw sa pakikipaglaban kasama ng mga guro at propesor, mabuting ihanda mo ang sarili para sa pagpapahinga. Hindi man tulad ng mga manggagawa sa araw-araw na nakikipagsapalaran sa kabila ng peligrong kinakaharap, may sariling digmaan pa rin na kinakalaban ang mga tulad mong mag-aaral at sangguruan. 

Kasama ng mga ilang manggagawa na nasa work-from-home na sistema, kalaban din sa bawat online class ang mga mahinang signal ng internet, mabagal na computer o cellphone, at maingay o madilim na paligid. Kaya naman sa dulo ng bawat araw na malalampasan ang mga hadlang na ito, mainam na bigyan ang sarili ng espasyo upang huminga’t makawala.

Maglibang gamit ang mga streaming site o mga video games

Litrato ni JESHOOTS.COM galing sa Unsplash

Sadyang kinatutuwaan ng lahat ngayon ang panonood ng mga palabas sa mga website tulad ng Netflix o mga vlog at mga bidyo sa YouTube. Bilang pasasalamat sa iyong sarili, maaaring manood at maglibang pagtapos ng mga klase. Kung ang kinahihiligan mo naman ay ang maglaro, maaaring maglaan ng oras para maglaro ng mga video games tulad ng Mobile Legends. Pagkakataon din ang mga online na larong ito upang magkaroon ng panahon na makasama ang mga kaibigan kahit sa virtual na pamamaraan lamang.

Kausapin ang mga kaibigan at ibang mahal sa buhay

Litrato ni Andrea Tummons galing sa Unsplash

Isa sa mga kapana-panabik para sa iba ang pag-uwi sa tahanan upang makasalamuha ang pamilya. Mayroon ding nag-aabang ng pagkakataong lumabas kasama ng mga kaibigan o sinisinta. Bagama’t may mga limitasyon lalo na sa pisikal na distansya, maaari ka pa ring magkaroon kahit papaano ng paraan upang mas mapalapit sa iyong mga mahal sa buhay. Mula sa pagkakaroon ng group call kasama ng barkada, watch party kasama ng sinisinta, o di kaya’y pagsasama-sama sa hapag ng pamilya, marami pa ring maaaring gawin upang payabungin ang mga ugnayan sa ating mga mahal sa buhay.

Maglaan ng panahon para magmuni-muni o magnilay-nilay

Litrato ni Priscilla Du Preez galing sa Unsplash

Kabilang sa mga pagsubok na kinakaharap ng lahat sa panahong ito ay ang mga emosyong naiipon o naiimbak dahil sa pagkawala ng mga nakasanayang libangan. Gayunpaman, maaaring mong subukan ang pagninilay-nilay o ang simpleng pagmumuni-muni upang mas madaling maproseso ang iba’t ibang damdamin sa buong araw. Makatutulong din ito upang maibsan ang bigat ng iyong dinadala dulot ng iba’t ibang dahilan sa buhay. 

Ang pagbaybay mo sa mundong ginulo ng ‘di inaasahang krisis ay kabilang sa bilyong mga buhay na malubhang naapektuhan. Kaisa mo ang bawat guro at mag-aaral na pilit nakikipagsapalaran sa kabila ng mga limitasyon matagal nang tinik sa tagiliran ng bawat isa. Hindi ka nag-iisa sa bawat pagsubok na iyong kinakaharap at gaano man kahirap ang suliraning pagdaraanan, palagi mong tatandaan na mayroon kang kakayahan upang malampasan ito. 

Sa patuloy nating pakikipagbuno, laban sa sakit at laban sa ating mga sariling anino, mahalaga na bigyang pagpapahalaga ang ating kalagayan. Palaging bigyang priyoridad ang ikabubuti ng sarili sa kabila ng mga matataas na ekspektasyon ng sistema. Huwag hayaang manatiling nakayukod ang ulo sa kabila ng unos sapagkat darating din ang panahon na lahat tayo’y makakabangon.

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July 2020: A great storm of misplaced priorities

What’s the plan now?

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Photo courtesy of Reuters

We have all managed to get past the halfway mark of 2020, but Pandora’s box has barely opened.

As infections skyrocketed and millions continued to struggle due to the pandemic, the government had arguably been taking a detour from the main assailant. While they celebrated the “success” of their recent maneuvers, the public simmered with outrage and discontent.

In true bayanihan spirit, Filipinos continued to come together in physical protests and social movements to voice their dissent and frustration towards the government’s lack of concern for the real issue and its crumbling effects. Considering how the pandemic has been exhausting hospitals and healthcare workers, many echoed the urgent need for a concrete and feasible plan as the country is a ticking time bomb. It would only be a matter of time and misplaced priorities for it to go haywire.

We listed down the events and movements that made headlines this month.

1. Harry Roque and the UP Prediction

Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines

With the country’s COVID cases tallying to 36,438 on June 29, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque congratulated the Philippines for its victory against the pandemic and the 40,000 cases prediction by the University of the Philippines. Rather than cheers, this caused a stir on social media as many expressed their dismay over the government downplaying the COVID situation to a mere “UAAP Game” statistics.

On the same day, the UP OCTA Research projected that the number of COVID-19 infections would likely reach 60,000 by the end of July based on the infectivity rate of the virus. However, the number of cases had already breached the 60,000-mark in the second week of July.

While some netizens congratulated UP for winning this round, many raised their concerns for the drastically increasing number of infections and again urged for immediate actions from the government. A recent estimate by UP researchers showed that the reproductive rate of the country rose from 1.28 to an alarming 1.75. If the trend continues to grow at this rate, not only would this result in a staggering number of cases and deaths but also overwhelm the already struggling healthcare system.

2. ABS-CBN remains off-air

Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

On July 10, the franchise renewal battle of ABS-CBN concluded as the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted 70-11 to reject their bid for a 25-year extension. In the 13 congressional hearings conducted, Congress cited issues on Gabby Lopez III’s dual citizenship, tax avoidance, foreign ownership, and unjust labor practices as some of the network’s violations of its constitutional provisions.

Support for the network poured on social media through the hashtags #NOtoABSCBNFranchiseDenial, #IbalikAngABSCBN, and #DefendPressFreedom, to name a few. While House Speaker Alan Cayetano insisted that the issue was not press freedom, journalists, media groups, and student organizations argued otherwise. As Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon puts it, “The sword of Damocles will continue to hand perilously over other media networks. Both the legislators and the executive can wield the sword at their whim and caprice. This is when democracy starts to weaken.”

Together with the employees and supporters of the network, various media groups and human rights organizations joined the noise barrage held at the company’s headquarters in Quezon City to voice their dissent following the said decision and to shed light on the importance of press freedom. ABS-CBN’s regional stations also took part in the movement in their respective provinces.

This week, the People’s Initiative for Reforms and Movement for Action (PIRMA Kapamilya) was launched by a group of citizens in an effort to grant the network a “people’s franchise.” The initiative, which currently has 13,000 signatures, aims to gather 7 million more to comply with RA 6735.

3. People of the Philippines vs. the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Photo courtesy of Rappler

Amid the coronavirus health crisis, President Duterte signed the feared Anti-Terror Bill into law despite strong warnings from legal experts and concerns from human rights groups. Filipinos went on social media to denounce the law that blatantly “penalizes” freedom of speech and other constitutional rights.

On July 4, a group of lawyers and civic leaders, led by Professor Howie Calleja, filed the first petition seeking to nullify the said law. More appeals from senators, Muslim lawyers, veteran journalists, human rights groups, and church leaders followed suit. As of this writing, 19 petitions challenging the newly signed law have been submitted before the Supreme Court.

Public protests also sparked all over the country to denounce the passage and call for the immediate scrapping of the controversial law. Various organizations in Metro Manila held an indignation rally in UP Diliman while maintaining social distancing. 

In another protest in Cabuyao, Laguna, 11 members of Karapatan, Gabriela, Pamantik KMU, and other youth organizations were arrested. Kyle Salgado, a member of Karapatan ST, stated that they were not informed of the charges against them upon arrest. “Free Cabuyao Eleven” then trended on social media, demanding the immediate release of the captured activists.

4. The call for an academic freeze

Photo courtesy of 8List

As the coming academic year shifts to other modes of learning, the future of Philippine education came into question. Last week, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones stood firm by her decision to open classes on August 24 despite the constant plea of students and teachers regarding the lack of resources. Likewise, CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III said that universities and colleges are “ready to open classes this August” through the implementation of flexible learning.

While many students and teachers understood the importance of learning, they feared that this would further compromise the quality of education to be delivered and the academic competence that the students will gain. On a socioeconomic stand, effectuating an “online and offline” mode of learning would aggravate the digital divide among students and burden families to pay for the delivery fees of modules and requirements. 

With face-to-face classes still being far from reality, students and youth groups urged government agencies to initiate an ‘academic freeze’ which would require “a flexible academic term, calendar, and curricula to lessen the school days required, lower the number of course requirements, and reduce tuition and other fees.”

5. SONA 2020

Photo courtesy of The Summit Express

Despite several invitees testing positive for COVID-19, President Duterte pushed through with delivering his 5th State of the Nation Address at Batasang Pambansa. Only 50 officials, mostly Duterte’s allies, were present to physically witness the annual tradition, whereas the usual attendees were present through Zoom.

The incumbent president opened his speech by assuring the Filipino people that a vaccine is “around the corner” and thanking the frontliners for their sacrifices. He then spent the next minutes to praise his administration’s “success” in the 30th Southeast Asian Games and Senator Bong Go for his work on several bills filed in the Senate.

Duterte called on Congress for the quick passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act, and National Land Use Act, among others. He also sought for the creation of government agencies for OFWs, protection of online consumers, support to provide accessible food for every Filipino, implementation of “e-governance,” and the revival of the death penalty for drug convicts.

Although he raised measures to improve the country’s healthcare system, there was no mention of a concrete and detailed plan to address the current health crisis—a point which Malacañang officials said he would lay down. Instead, he detoured and went on a tirade about tangential matters like fire trucks and telecommunication services and his grudge towards the “oligarchs” of ABS-CBN and Senator Drilon who “defended” them. Surprisingly enough, the enactment of the highly debated Anti-Terror Law was not brought to light in his penultimate speech.

6. #SONAgkaisa: The unified resistance

Photo by Mark Demayo/ABS-CBN News

As with previous addresses, this year’s SONA was met with protests from various groups and organizations in the country. Thousands of people from all walks of life marched to UP Diliman to condemn the government’s response towards the pandemic, the signing of the anti-terror bill, and the franchise denial of ABS-CBN, among others. Issues on human rights, education, livelihood, and freedom were also raised.

Unlike past protests, the traditional burning of an effigy was done through a stop-motion video shown during the program. Along with the iconic singing of ‘Bayan Ko,’ a Filipino rendition of Les Miserables’ ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ titled ‘Di Niyo Ba Naririnig’ was also performed.  

During the protest, veteran journalist Ces Drilon spoke out on how ABS-CBN’s shutdown would negatively affect the press as many might fear to report the truth. Likewise, it carried the warning that anyone who reports on them may be shut down next. Meanwhile, when asked to rate the president’s performance, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said that he could not give one since the president himself insults human rights.

A focal point at the unified protest was an urgent call for the government to realign its priorities in responding to the COVID-19 crisis as millions more will suffer if trivial matters are attended to first. Placards raised during the event highlighted the resumption of operations for jeepney drivers, environment protection, mass testing, red-tagging of students and indigenous people, and the call to oust the president.

This year’s protest drew attention not only for its cause but also for its creativity. Artist-activist Mae Paner who went viral with her iconic Debold Sinas look in last month’s Grand Mañanita, dressed up for this year’s protest in a swimming attire while carrying inflatable dolphins as a reference to Spokesperson Harry Roque’s trip to Subic Bay despite the strict quarantine protocols.  

Along with wearing face masks and social distancing, the event capped off after a few hours in adherence to health protocols. Those unable to attend physically registered their support through an online rally and use of the hashtag #SONAgkaisa. The mass protest also spread to many regions in the country like Cavite, Laguna, Baguio City, and Cebu City who each rallied for their demands and causes.

READ: Walking in unity for this year’s #SONAgkaisa

7. The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases

Photo courtesy of the Manila Bulletin

On July 1, the Department of Health recorded a total of 38,511 infections, with deaths at 554 and recoveries at 5,131. As the month comes to a close, the country stands at a record-high number of 83,873 cases, 1,947 deaths, and 26,617 recoveries.

This month also saw the highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths with 2,539 infections on July 8 and 162 deaths on July 13. Private hospitals St. Luke’s Medical Center and Makati Medical Center also reported that their COVID-19 bed allocation and workforce had reached full capacity, which meant that they could no longer accept critically ill patients.

As the alarming rise in infections continued to strain the healthcare system, the public threw a question to the government: “Ano ba talaga ang plano?”

8. Getting close to a cure

Photo from Gilead Sciences via Reuters

In his annual address, President Duterte asserted that a vaccine is around the corner and had sought the help of President Xi Jinping to prioritize the country in any case that one becomes available. Realistically speaking, how far along are we towards a cure?

Of the 140 candidates, six vaccines from six different companies and research institutes, namely Moderna (US), BioNTech (Germany/US), AstraZeneca (Sweden/UK), Sinopharm (China), Sinovac (China), and Murdoch (Australia), are currently in phase 3 of clinical trials. In this final stage, the vaccine would be administered to thousands of people to test its safety and effectiveness.

Once proven to be safe and effective, it will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval, and only then can the approved vaccine be cleared for mass production and public use. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health reminded the public to be “cautiously optimistic” as phase 3 trials will take months.

The rain continues to pour, but it’s safe to say that this month created the perfect storm of fear, disappointment, confusion, and frustration. The pandemic may have masked our mouths; it certainly did not silence our voices. At a time where critical matters are being neglected, it is high time for us to continue exercising our right to free speech and wield it to overcome the fear and intimidation that the powerful use to hold us from upholding the truth. With enough magnitude and force, perhaps we can make them listen.

As we move forward to more days grappling with the pandemic, our actions should also be as strong as our voices. Behind the curtain, healthcare workers and scientists work around the clock to save lives while risking theirs. Our part in abiding by health protocols and quarantine guidelines is our most significant contribution in breaking the chain and easing their burdens.

These challenging times for all of us, but hope should never be lost. In unity, we will prevail against our enemies: both the invisible and visible.

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10 tweets summing-up this year’s SONA

A brief scroll through #SONA2020 and #SONAgKAISA will show you how most Filipinos are yearning for better governance.

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Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines

The State of the Nation Address is one of the annual traditions where we get to hear our president update the citizens of the country’s progress, or lack thereof, in handling different problems in our country, as well as the administration’s vision for the year ahead of us. 

At the beginning of the speech, the president addressed the pandemic looming over us and immediately proceeded to call out people who he deemed were ‘taking advantage of a pre-occupied government,’ followed by his disapproval of oligarchs, specifically the Lopezes. Aside from that, what is a President Duterte speech without commending Senator Bong Go?

In terms of accomplishments, Pres. Duterte commended the ‘committed’ members of the congress that made the success of the 30th SEA Games possible. He also said that they have coordinated with different sports commissions to be able to assist student-athletes so that they can excel still in their chosen fields. For the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, he didn’t delve much into the details because he says that he doesn’t want to bore his audience. 

For his future goals, he wants to end the discrimination of people based on age, gender identity & expression, ethnicity, and disabilities by launching a national program that aims to eradicate these types of segregation. Children’s rights are also aimed to be amplified to hopefully end unethical violations of child labor, and many more.

We went on Twitter to see what netizens had to say about #SONA2020.

1. Shame, shame, shame!

Thomasian Central Student Council President Robert Dominic Gonzales (@robertkaaatz) said in a tweet that the president is a shame to all of those who fought for our country’s sovereignty and independence.

2. Clap! I said clap!

Internet personality @macoydubs1 made fun of the congress for clapping after the president called them out for not applauding after he talked about legislating the death penalty.

3. SONA’s main takeaway

Twitter user @bagongpinay tweeted what she deems as the most important takeaway from the speech.

4. Redefining the state of the nation address

Twitter user @heroangel17 gave a new meaning for the acronym SONA.

5. Together we say, “sana all”.

UST Medicine alumnus Jose Mari Garcia (@itsJayEMD) vented out about front liners having limited access to COVID test kits, while SONA attendees have mandatory testing.

6. Poet, just didn’t know it

CNN tweets live updates about the SONA, and Twitter user @zhoumara_622 wittily commented on one of the president’s statements.

7. A treat for cinephiles

Twitter user @kaisipangabitan compared the SONA to one of Ruffa Mae Quinto’s comedy movies.

8. The timeless Bea meme

As the President asks the nation to just trust the government, Twitter user @markgeronimo_ utilized the Bea Saw meme from PBB as a response to this.

9. Cosplaying to express nationalism

We may have come across Mae Paner’s Debold Sinas costume that she wore during the Grand Mañanita and during a rally on the day of the SONA, she dressed up as Harry Roque swimming with dolphins.

10. Girl, same.

It’s pretty much self-explanatory.

A brief scroll through #SONA2020 and #SONAgKAISA will show you how most Filipinos are yearning for better governance. A lot of Filipinos don’t think that the government’s actions are adequate to address different societal problems along with the pandemic we are all trying to get through. Based on the time allotted between addressing the health crisis, along with countless problems that come with it, and expressing contempt over oligarchs, what does this administration truly prioritize? Patricia Santos

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