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An elegy for the death of democracy

Today, we celebrate the death of democracy. Please be guided accordingly.



We begin our lament by recounting the life of the deceased.

Democracy in the Philippines has already been dead for a while now; the rotting stench has always been there for anyone to notice. But it was not until this year that its death took a rapid nosedive, the decay eating it from the inside out.

When the Congress voted in favor of extending martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year last Saturday, July 22, many began announcing that “democracy is dead.” After all, it calls to mind a distant but vivid memory: Philippine democracy had already died once 44 years ago — when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos also declared martial law and led a 21-year authoritarian regime before he was overthrown by the masses in a peaceful protest.

Looking back on the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte, it seems that he is more than willing to follow the late dictator’s footsteps.

Giving Marcos a hero’s burial was his first step, and he backed it up with a bloodbath of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations, intensified military aggression, verbal assaults and discrediting of mainstream media, sexist remarks and rape jokes — he even announced plans of abolishing the Commission on Human Rights for meddling with his anti-drug campaign.

A large, blind crowd cheers for his jokes and populist image, but Duterte’s creeping authoritarianism and fascism is unmistakable.

Last Saturday’s events were enough to prove it: eight youth leaders, which included Lumad teachers, were detained for “public disturbance” after they protested against extending martial law during that Congress session.

Surely, somewhere, Archimedes Trajano stirred in his grave.

But to approximate just how far the decay of democracy has crept into the everyday Filipino, we can look no further than the four corners of the University of Santo Tomas.

Last Tuesday, July 24, in the middle of Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address, the Central Judiciary Board released their resolution junking the historic abstentions in last April’s Central Student Council (CSC) elections, favoring the petitions filed by Steven Grecia of Lakas Tomasino Coalition (LTC), along with Daniela Frigillana.

The resolution — the decision to intentionally disregard the votes of the Thomasian student body — is appalling.

What could be a better way to show just how far and how deep democracy is being killed from the inside than to violate the will of the electorate in a student council election?

Surely, both Grecia and Frigillana are within their rights to question the elections results. However, their actions and the intentions behind them — which are more or less politically motivated — also merit heavy questioning, scrutiny, and criticism from the students they claim to serve.

Since they willfully chose this path by filing the petition in the first place, they, as well as the officiating bodies involved, must now answer to each and every question and criticism hurled towards them.

Who were the members of this Central Judiciary Board? Is it any different from the CSC Central Board or the Commission on Elections? Were there any proceedings or meetings, and if so, where were the documents and minutes? Why are they being made public just now, when there is already a resolution?

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For the everyday student, the entire fiasco is decidedly hard to digest: there are far too many documents filled with legalese, too many exchanges, too many persons and parties involved, some of whom we may never even know.

The CSC, as an institution, is representative of the student body — and any case, petition or resolution involving it must be transparent and easily accessible to the student body.

The fact that some of the most important statements and documents were either painstakingly gathered by the press from underground connections, or were instead released weeks, if not, months after they were dated, is questionable in the part of the officiating bodies involved.

The entire case was seemingly kept under wraps with little to no hint of transparency and thus managed to rob the student body of any voice and position in the making of the resolution.

It does not come as a surprise, then, that the common reaction of the student body is backlash, disgust, and anger. The resolution was a decision decided for them — not by them.

The abstentions were not just a trend or a bandwagon, as some of LTC’s supporters claim: they were a clear wake-up call from the student body for competent, socially-aware, and progressive student leaders; a rejection of LTC’s trapo tactics and a demand for political parties with strong and student-centric ideologies; and lastly, for a CSC that will bravely protect and advance their rights since they, for the past years, have failed to do so.

But those in power — those working behind the scenes — continue to invalidate this by advancing their own interests.

Thus, any effort to uphold and implement the resolution should be rejected and protested. It is unjust, undemocratic, and a blatant violation of the rights of the student body. The candidates who will be given positions following the resolution must decline these positions and prove themselves as actual student leaders sensitive to the voices of the student body.

The burden of making sure that the remains of democracy in the University will live on lies with the Commission on Elections: they must now take into task the need to revise the election code on which they were crucified to make sure that this fiasco does not happen again.

But until such time, we are left with a corpse: a solid proof that the blood of democracy had been spilled here in UST. We need not look further than UST as it breeds politicians who work not to serve but to keep their power and influence in place. Look no further than UST where basic rights and democratic principles such as poll results are discarded. Look no further than UST where the interests of the few are being favored — very much like how it happens outside the University.

Today, we celebrate the death of democracy. Please be guided accordingly.



Press freedom and the EDSA revolution

Press freedom does not belong merely to the people of the press, but to each and every member of the public the profession serves.



EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial is from the UP Journalism Club and the Philippine Collegian, with TomasinoWeb, Tug-ani, and the LaSallian.

Contrary to the status quo, the people, not the government, hold the power in a democracy. To wield this power and attain what is rightfully theirs, the public’s access to information should be a given—no bureaucratic red tape, no threats of death or harm to persons.

A genuinely free and independent press is vital in protecting the public’s right and capacity to make decisions regarding their own welfare; a democratic society is not itself without it. And so, press freedom does not belong merely to the people of the press, but to each and every member of the public the profession serves.

More often than not, however, the destruction of this basic freedom is the first step of despots and dictators bent on seizing political power—very much like the case with Rappler, libel suits and the continuing call for the criminalization of libel, defunding of student publications, and the harassment and murder of journalists.

The Duterte administration does not stop there. It employs equally effective means to obscure the truth and discredit the very role of journalism in consolidating its propagandists, bloggers, and purveyors of fake news to constantly bombard the people’s mindsets with outright distrust in the field of journalism.

Therefore, that the government, sworn to serve the public that voted it to power, is waging a war against press freedom is a strong indication of the extremely urgent need to rise up and engage in a larger fight against dictatorship.

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The media under attack today is that which is critical of the powerful, that which seeks to counter misinformation, lies and myth. In the martial law years, it was the critical disposition of the alternative press that constantly fed information to the public, no matter how subtle or bold the means. It was this sense of criticality that ousted the dictatorship and brought back democracy in our land.

It is now, more than ever, that the press must consciously, actively be on the side of truth. Today’s press must regain its role—never simply a passive, “neutral” reporter of the changing history, but a critical watchdog of the society, of the powers that be.

On the 32nd anniversary of the historic EDSA revolution, it would all serve us well to remember that power still very much remains in the people and no one can stand in their way anytime they decide to forcefully take back what is owed them. The Filipino people cannot afford to lose democracy again. All dissent is in danger. We need to stand together to protect press freedom.


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To repress the press is to oppress the people

Philippine media, once considered to be among the freest in Asia, is now under attack from an increasingly fascist regime. The case against Rappler is one of these attacks.



Animation by Justine Reyes/TomasinoWeb.

It is already more than apparent that the Philippines is rapidly nosediving towards a fascist dictatorship; and, like any dictatorship, the free press is public enemy number one.

In a move straight out of the playbook of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, President Rodrigo Duterte seems to be keeping his word on his threats against online news site Rappler: Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s registration for allegedly violating constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and control of mass media entities—a move which could effectively end Rappler’s operations.

This is a blatant attack on press freedom; but for Duterte’s staunch loyalists, the SEC ruling against Rappler seems like a glorious victory after months of war with the so-called “biased” and “yellow” media.

Notwithstanding the repeated harassment and disinformation of online trolls and pro-administration bloggers (some of whom now occupy government posts), Duterte has long openly targeted Rappler and other major media outlets that have been critical in their reportage of his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in a glaring effort to silence the press: The president himself blasted the online news site along with broadcasting giant ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer during his second State of the Nation Address last July.

Philippine media, once considered to be among the freest in Asia, is now under attack from an increasingly fascist regime; what used to be mere but nonetheless alarming microagressions against the media—such as cursing at journalists, catcalling of female reporters, and claiming without proof that journalists were being killed for being corrupt—have now escalated to all-out attacks on the press.

Duterte and his supporters are arguing for constitutionality in Rappler’s case, but for an administration that thrives on the violation of multiple constitutional safeguards on checks and balances and human rights, they are not fooling anyone: It is obvious enough that ordering Rappler’s closure is a politically motivated move meant to send a chilling effect to the media and his critics, in a way similar to how Marcos cemented his dictatorship 47 years ago.

Philippine journalism faces even greater threats and challenges in its line of duty of serving the truth and the people.

It is a preview of what is in store for Philippine media in an all-out fascist regime: Media outlets will be forced to apply for accreditation from the government; identified critical outlets will be slapped with overblown and questionable charges and will be forced to close down, putting journalists and media practitioners out of work, behind bars—or worse, dead—if they do not bend to the whims of the regime.

The numbers do not lie: The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism have recorded the killings of six journalists in the first 16 months of Duterte’s term, along with eight attempted murders and death threats, and six major cases of threats from local officials and pro-administration bloggers.

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In their year-end report, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders declared the Philippines the “deadliest country” in Asia for journalists after recording four journalist killings in 2017.

Even the campus press is not safe from the state’s fascist attacks: The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) have denounced last October the military and police surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and red-tagging of several member publications in Bicol, and several other campus journalists and activists, due to their affiliation with CEGP.

Perhaps, to accurately and faithfully quote the English novelist George Orwell, “Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being.”

As dissent grows among the public with every fascist attack, the government’s attempts to close Rappler is not just an attack on Rappler nor is it just an attack on the press: It is an attack on democracy, it is an attack on the right of free expression of every citizen, it is an attack on the people and the growing resistance against Duterte’s fascist regime, even if his paid army of online trolls try tell otherwise.

In this age of fake news and trolls where critics and the press are defamed as invariably biased or partisan, Philippine journalism faces even greater threats and challenges in its line of duty of serving the truth and the people.

In these trying times where the press becomes the watchdog of an increasingly fascist dictatorship, we will not be silenced. Every effort to repress the press is to oppress the people, and we will continue to resist every effort to suppress the freedom we have long fought for with both ink and blood.

The free press has proven time and time again that its power does not waver under a dictatorship; if anything, its voice only grows louder and more critical in arousing, organizing and mobilizing the masses to stand up to tyrants and depose them from power: We will not be afraid to do the same.

TomasinoWeb stands with Rappler, with every Filipino journalist, and with the struggle for a genuine free press—one that serves no political or commercial interest but only the truth and the people.

Rappler’s fight is our fight: We will hold the line.


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Resist Duterte’s terrorism

With his threats to crack down on activists, the return of police in drug operations, and the further extension of martial law in Mindanao, it is now more than clear that Duterte is setting the stage for a fascist dictatorship.



Cartoon by Jessica Lopez/TomasinoWeb

Dissent and resistance are vital signs of a living democracy — but for President Rodrigo Duterte and his lapdogs, dissent is destabilization; resistance is terrorism.

It is now more than clear that Duterte is setting the stage for a fascist dictatorship: He had openly admitted to being fascist last month — all in the midst of bringing back the police in the killing fields of drug operations, extending martial law in Mindanao for another year, and even threatening to criminalize organized dissent by arresting activists for supposedly conspiring with so-called terrorists.

It is ironic, to say the least: If anything, Duterte’s mass murder of the poor in his brutal anti-drug campaign, his threats to bomb the schools and communities of indigenous peoples, and his suggestions of declaring a “revolutionary” government in order to quell justified rebellion against his tyrannical regime had left the people terrorized more than those he eagerly maligned and vilified as enemies of the state.

Duterte must have forgotten to admit that he is also the country’s leading terrorist — and, in fully unveiling the rotting core his fascist regime, his terror attacks on the people have only intensified.

Despite the success of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in conducting 2,161 anti-drug operations almost without blood and violence, Duterte is hellbent on satisfying his maniacal bloodlust by taking the operations from PDEA and giving it back to the police.

Lest it be forgotten, brutal police operations took the lives of youth like Kian Loyd Delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz, among other victims and “collateral damages” of summary executions.

At the start of his term, Duterte promised to end illegal drug trade in the country within his first six months in office— or else, he said he would resign.

Already long overdue on his false promise of change, Duterte is yet to step down and is now frantically clinging to his bloody throne, now that the popularity he once enjoyed is diminishing.

Rightfully expecting strong backlash, Duterte is now taking desperate measures to silence dissent — and his schemes are blatantly transparent.

Duterte must have forgotten to admit that he is also the country’s leading terrorist — and, in fully unveiling the rotting core his fascist regime, his terror attacks on the people have only intensified.

One must look no further than his continuing undermining of checks and balances: The impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno continue along with threats to impeach Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, his tirades on the Commission on Human Rights, and his online troll army’s discrediting of the media.

Even taking cues from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte had also resorted to declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist organizations” — effectively reducing the long-standing communist insurgency in the country to mere terrorism — in a bid to legalize his crackdown on detractors and activists, including militant youth and student formations, by the way of trumped-up charges, illegal arrests, and spurious accusations of conspiracy and terrorism.

Just as his crackdown on illegal drugs saw the deaths of thousands of alleged drug users and pushers based on mere suspicion, Duterte is now emboldening state forces and his vigilante loyalists to arrest — or worse, kill —dissenters by conveniently labeling them as “rebels” and “terrorists.”

The declaration is already reaping fatal results: The past week saw the killings of clergymen such as activist-priest Marcelito Paez, who was gunned down by still-unidentified assailants in Jaen, Nueva Ecija last Dec. 4, right after facilitating the release of a peasant leader arrested by the army’s 56th infantry battalion for allegedly being a member of the NPA.

Paez’s death followed that of pastor Lovelito Quiñones, who was killed by forces of the police regional mobile group in an encounter in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro last Dec. 3, with the army’s 203rd brigade claiming that Quiñones was an NPA guerrilla.

The wheels even seem to have started turning long before: Merely a week after formally terminating the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA, student-activists from the University of the Philippines and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines were killed in an encounter with the police and the Air Force 730th combat group in Nasugbu, Batangas last Nov. 28, where the military had been conducting aerial bombings and arrests of peasant leaders tagged as NPA members for the past months.

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Unsurprisingly, the military insisted that all 15 casualties in the Nasugbu encounter — including the student-activists — were full-time NPA guerrillas.

School-based formations — and even campus publications — which were already reporting the harassment, intimidation, and red-tagging of their leaders and members by police and suspected military agents for the past months are now receiving anonymous death threats and targeted harassment in the midst of the crackdown on activist groups.

A member of the UST chapter of militant student group League of Filipino Students, for example, received death threats via phone call last Dec. 4; the same number also sent threats to a member of poetry collective KM64.

The madman Duterte, however, does not seem to be satisfied with his bloodbath and totalitarian reign of terror.

Like a true Marcos fanboy, Duterte is now using the excuse of “communist terrorism” to make his rubber stamp Congress approve his bid to further extend martial law in Mindanao for another year and strengthen counterinsurgency operations in the region.

Lumad communities — which had been the usual targets of aerial bombings and military harassment for actively defending their ancestral domains from the land-grabbing of mining companies and transnational corporations — have decried the further extension of martial law as an avenue for the military to tag them as rebels and forcibly drive them out of their lands.

The same day as Quiñones’s death, Karapatan reported that a composite team of the army’s 27th and 33rd infantry battalions and the Marines killed eight Lumad farmers in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, among other Lumad killings linked to counterinsurgency operations.

Lumad families in the area have reclaimed 300 hectares of their domains from the land-grabbing of David M. Consunji Inc.; the military immediately branded them as members of the NPA.

Checkpoints of the 75th infantry battalion have also continued to block the entry of food and relief goods being sent to Lumad families displaced by counterinsurgency operations in evacuation centers in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

The military continues to deny the food blockade despite numerous reports from local media, non-government organizations and civil society groups.

Even more alarming, however, is that fact that the first extension of martial law in Mindanao is not even over and yet Duterte’s lapdogs in Congress are now pushing to put the entire country under martial law.

Coupled with his previous suggestions of declaring a “revolutionary” government, it does not seem far-fetched that the self-declared fascist will push through in declaring a nationwide martial law to finally seize and consolidate his power in a one-man rule.

Rightfully expecting strong backlash, Duterte is now taking desperate measures to silence dissent — and his schemes are blatantly transparent.

The country faces darker days ahead; the killings, violence, and the culture of impunity will only continue to worsen as the state paves the way for a fascist dictatorship — and no one is safe.

But if Duterte thinks the people’s struggle will be cowed by threats of arrests, abductions, torture — and even death — he is utterly mistaken: As if he had never read a history book, state oppression and violence only emboldens resistance, and their numbers are growing by the day.

The youth holds power in these trying times, and they must continue to stand and resist the imminent threat of another dictatorship and join the people’s struggle in their fight for genuine change — a change that will never come from the bloody fists of a self-declared fascist.

History has proven time and time again that the people’s struggle can topple down dictators — and Duterte and his reign of terror are not exceptions.


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