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Star Wars and the Philippine political scene

Celebrating May the 4th is not just about having a Star Wars movie marathon, but also living out the series’ moral principles. May the force be with you!

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Photo by Agnieszka Kowalczyk on Unsplash

Star Wars has greatly influenced pop culture, being referenced in renowned films and television series. With such a remarkable influence, it is expected that Star Wars fans from all over the world will be dedicating a specific day in celebration of this saga. Since 2011, Star Wars Day has been celebrated annually on May 4, gaining punny wordplay on the movie’s famous line ‘may the force be with you.’. No pun intended.

It has been more than 40 years since the audience was first taken aboard the Millennium Falcon and dove into an intergalactic journey that is Star Wars. The original trilogy primarily revolves around the story of Luke Skywalker, along with other members of the rebellion, in a mission to take down the Galactic Empire led by the evil Emperor and Darth Vader, while the prequel trilogy focuses on how the Empire and Darth Vader came to be. 

Star Wars is not just about Luke using the Force to fight the dark side, but also about fighting for democracy in a galaxy far, far away. The series is highly relevant in Philippine politics right now, especially amidst the crisis the country is facing. We all know how Star Wars turned out — the Republic, running on democracy, has been turned into the Galactic Empire, taken over by Palpatine, whose goal is to use the dark side of the Force to take control over the state’s politics and military forces — an exhibition of authoritarian rule. Through an analysis of the Star Wars saga, one can notice the parallelisms between the movies’ storyline and the present Philippine political scene. 

In the prequel trilogy, Palpatine serves as the chancellor of the Republic. Eventually, we learn of his ulterior motive — to have absolute control over the entire galaxy by governing in a fascist-esque dominion. In a scene in Episode II: The Clone Wars, it was announced that in order to deflect the increasing threats of separatists, emergency powers need to be given to chancellor Palpatine, whose first act was to create a grand army. This can be compared to the time when our own Senate has granted emergency powers to the president, and subsequently, numerous complaints regarding President Duterte’s misuse of emergency powers have raised concern among the public. 

In a remarkable scene from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker gave into Palpatine’s temptation and killed Count Dooku during a duel and immediately regretted it, saying he shouldn’t have killed him because ‘he was unarmed, this is not the Jedi way.’ This scene is similar to the recent issue regarding the killing of an ex-soldier, who witnesses say was unarmed and not a threat to the law enforcers, and despite passers-by pleading the policemen not to shoot, they did it anyway. What’s worse is unlike Count Dooku, the man they shot was innocent. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, extrajudicial killings have been looming over the current administration’s war against drugs, at the expense of innocent lives.

Initially, the grand army consisting of stormtroopers was intended to serve and protect the Republic. Eventually, the stormtroopers were accessories to Palpatine’s grand scheme of taking over the galaxy. They were used at the Empire’s disposal, bound to quell the resistance’s fight for freedom. This is similar to the time when our president has ordered the military to shoot to kill the leftists, a directive which was evidently prone to abuse, leading to multiple cases of violation of human rights. It also reflects our president’s failure to accept critique from his citizens regarding his governance, which is certainly Palpatine-esque. 

Interestingly, some military personnel manning checkpoints were dressed as stormtroopers in Cebu. A promotional post about this has surfaced Facebook, and the closing remark was ‘For the Empire!’ This is quite inappropriate since factually, stormtroopers are tools to a fascist rule, and the Empire is literally an authoritarian government. 

Throughout the prequel trilogy, Senator Padmé Amidala is vocal in standing up against hostile actions towards those who refuse to succumb to authoritarian rule. She believes that showing them violence will only give them violence in return, possibly putting countless innocent lives on the line. Anakin Skywalker, opposing Padmé’s political philosophy, believes that since not everybody agrees to what politicians say, they should be forced to, insinuating he favors using aggression to govern effectively. Padmé mirrors activists and those who demur at the Duterte administration in fighting for what is morally correct. Anakin, on the other hand, is similar to our own head of state in terms of choosing hostile ways to address crises.

With the current issues we face, we should remember Obi-Wan Kenobi’s political philosophy — our fealty should lie on the republic and democracy, not on its leader. Celebrating May the 4th is not just about having a Star Wars movie marathon, but also living out the series’ moral principles. May the force be with you!

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Pride Month Playlist: The Welcome Party

You’re invited to The Welcome Party.

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Playlist artwork by Patricia Jardin

This 2020, we won’t be able to attend the iconic Metro Manila Pride March because of the pandemic. Soon, we’ll be able to step out of the door to see and hug the people that makes us who we are. We’ll celebrate our identity and our triumphs and I’m sure, it’ll be a wild party. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the party in our homes as we welcome the newest members of the community and to commemorate the month of Pride.

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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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TUBAW’s Kalinow: The Soundtrack of a Revolution

No emotion is more intense than the pain that the masses feel amidst the numerous challenges in our country. The TUBAW Music Collective aims to capture the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the masses through their music. 

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Album artwork grabbed from TUBAW Music Collective's Facebook page

They say that art is at its best when driven by intense emotions. No emotion is more intense than the pain that the masses feel amidst the numerous challenges in our country. The TUBAW Music Collective aims to capture the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the masses through their music. 

Being a citizen of our country is a challenge in itself. From the persistent traffic, mind-boggling taxes, poor healthcare, and high living costs, the “Filipino Dream” is bleaker than its foreign counterpart. Life has it worse for indigenous communities in our country with capitalism exploiting their non-conformity to the urban lifestyle, taking away homes, education, and livelihood from these communities. The cherry on top of this burdensome cake is the continued dominance of officials who offer scraps in their term after promising the world during their campaign periods.

These struggles are what the TUBAW Music Collective aspires to shed light on with their music. TUBAW or Tubong Mindanaw, Tulong Mindanao Music Collective are a group of musicians who produce and perform songs dedicated to the working class since 2016. In their Artist’s Bio, it states that it is their goal to inspire the younger generation “to take part in achieving just and lasting peace.” They have notably shown support for the causes of saving Lumad schools with their album PARAGAS: Mga Awit ng Pag-ibig, Pakikibaka, at Pagsulong. Their music can be heard on streaming services such as Spotify with their 2nd album Kalinow available on the platform.

Kalinow can also be downloaded for free by visiting their Facebook page here. The album features 12 tracks that communicate their advocacy and ignites the passion to seek for change.

Kapayapaan

Opening the album, this song immediately captures the vibe of its namesake. Using instrumentals that bring you back to the peaceful beaches, it conveys the message of finding the root of war and resolving it to achieve peace. It directly calls out aspects that ails our current society, such as the dependence on foreign aid and disrespect towards human rights. 

Misyonero

Following the first song, this song gets the ball rolling with its introductory lines. It calls for the masses to take part in the lifestyle of the communities in the mountains and stand by them to fight for their land. It takes the energy from the first song and takes it up a notch to get its message across. 

Bayani

Taking a more somber tone, this track is a departure from the rather direct message from the previous two tracks. The song gives thanks to a hero/heroes and proclaims the inspiration that they have provided. Once again, it focuses on one central message: fighting for peace in the entire country.

Tuloy Ang Laban

Picking up the energy once again, this song aims to serve as a battle cry. It places emphasis on the current issues today, particularly with promised changes that have done little to ease the real problems of the country. As the title suggests, there is power behind each lyric that is meant to rile up the listeners.

Paasa

The next track takes humorous instrumentals with melancholic lyrics. Keeping with the central message of the album, the persistence of killings and the absence of actual help. As the title suggests, it pertains mainly to false promises of change and how injustices keep the masses down.

Tala

This song is an ode to the working class in our country. It carries an uplifting tone meant to encourage and brighten their advocacies. This song echoes the same vibe as Bayani where it serves as a tribute more than anything else.

Ngayong Gabi

A departure from the nationalistic themes of the prior tracks, this aims to tell a love story. This could be considered the “pop anthem” track of this album, showcasing simple elements to place emphasis on the lyrics and the vocals of the singers. It’s a beautiful song that brings hope and love in its lyrics.

Alab

Another departure from the usual style of previous tracks, deviating from the instruments and musical theme that the prior songs took on. Nonetheless, this track makes its statement clear: igniting the passion for justice, truth, and peace. 

Paper Tiger

Concluding the album, this song from its introductory instrumentals sends a message of calm defiance. The only song in English in the entire album, this song sends a particular message of defiance towards the killings in broad daylight. It sends a message of defiance towards the robbery of land and the arson of properties such as schools and homes. The closing track for Kalinow is brooding, passionate towards achieving justice and peace for the entire country.

Kalinow does not only send messages through its tracks, but the entire album itself paints a narrative. It calls for defiance against injustices and empowers the voice of those who shed light on these injustices. The strong and powerful message is clear from the first track to the album and reiterates it again on the last. Tubaw remains consistent with the core message of their group while also showcasing their talent as a collective.

The musical styles of this album highlights the strong suit of the group. Vocals were never the sole highlight but rather the entire song as a whole. The arrangements make each song appropriate for a soundtrack of an equally strong revolution-themed film or play. They tell a narrative through their music and whether it serves as an accompaniment to a bigger form of media or standing on its own as an album, it inspires vigilance and deflates conformity.

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