Inday Espina-Varona

Inday Espina-Varona

scaRRedcat Veteran, award-winning journalist, former chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Knight Intl Fellow at Stanford

Posted, July 18, 2020, 1 hr.

Good morning, friends. 

It’s heart-warming to see people standing up and speaking out, online and onground, in defense of press freedom and free expression. It took attacks against a giant, ABS-CBN, for many — artists and journalists included — to realize NO ONE IS SAFE from the depravities, the brutality, and the greed of the Duterte regime. 

This is NOT to undermine the newfound outrage and grit and courage. 

I would not slap down newcomers to protests. It is part of human nature to safeguard livelihood and security, sometimes by keeping silent despite troubling questions. It is what it is. 

I feel no rancour against those who once opted to keep mum, or even those who once believed in Duterte and voted for him — there is always context, and there are layers and layers to how people’s positions are formed in this country. I may have always been opposed to Duterte on the basis of basic human rights, but have also written (not just during the 2016 elections) about people taking the slippery slope on what, for me anyway, has always been the foundation of beliefs and actions.

There is silence and there is collusion. I know the lines separating both. 

At the same time, there are different weights to one’s silence, depending on life conditions and the privileges and powers one has. My parents always said, judgment will be according to the light you embrace — or shun. The more you have, the greater your responsibilities. And so Angel Locsin is spot on with her criticism, because there is always that line on the sand, and there is always a time when your position slides from helpless observer to one complicit with injustice. 

There is a reason for the bill of rights — it reflects not only the state’s DUTIES to citizens but also lists down our BIRTHRIGHT as human beings. ALL of us, not just people who share 100% your beliefs, not just people you like and respect.

There is a reason why freedom of expression and freedom of the press are high in the bill of rights. The exercise of these represents the best odds that all other rights are given due respect. 

Around the world, peoples and their oppressors know that. In this country, we had two martial law decades of graphic examples, and the aftermath of ignorance and warped values in and out of government, to show for this. 

A huge, black blanket full of serrated edges, and thorns across the surface, looms above us. 

State terrorism hasn’t just started — it has always been with us — but its institutional exercise has officially launched. 

Once, we may have cowered. Today, we fight. And let us not limit this fight only to singular displays of expression. 

We must fight daily, fight hour after hour, becoming witnesses to the evils of government abuse, as well as that of the powers that benefit from patronage. 

Social media gives us powers. It is also, as we all know, a double-edged sword. 

I ask all those who believe in the defense and the exercise of rights to use social media. 

But also understand that emphasis in personal posts and those of friends, to the exclusion of journalism articles, news and op-eds and analysis, plays to the regime’s strenghts, including the access to funds in the gaming of social media. 

It should be part of resistance to share from news sites — ABS-CBN, Inquirer, Rappler, GMAnews, Philippine Star, Altermidya, VERA Files and LiCASNews and others — adding your personal takes or following up with your personal or organisational positions.

It should be a backbone of the fight against disinformation.

News organizations VET and sift through your posts, whether organisational or personal. News organizations care about your positions and amplify the reach.

But it should not be one-way. I am happy to see that in the last two years citizens are realising that and appreciating journalism. 

As we all come under fire, let us be more cognisant of this symbiotic relationship. 

Media alone will never win a fight against dictators. History has shown that people’s movements also need courageous journalists and news organizations. 

Let us work together.