Press freedom: on the Third Anniversary of Palawan News

Harassment of the press is an old story in this country; the current attacks on Rappler are nothing new in principle. Former President Marcos actually started tightening the noose around the press long before the declaration of Martial Law – and then with the declaration, the military simply stepped in and closed down both newspapers and broadcast media. One side story in the later days of Martial Law was that of Radio Veritas, broadcasting from a secret location and moving whenever that seemed like a good idea. The People Power Revolution of 1986 was broadcast live in the streets as government troops hunted for the station: it was THE most reliable source of information available!

People need to know. And they need to have some confidence that they are getting the truth from their news sources. This usually means, oddly, that we seek sources other than government sources. We look for sources which are paying the cost for telling the truth – journalists who are risking their lives, companies which will lose everything if they are shut down.

In the Philippines, there have always been people willing to step in to undertake this task. Eugenia Apostol stepped in to publish Mr and Ms. in the darker days of Martial Law, and later the Philippine Daily Inquirer (which has recently been harassed by the Duterte government but now has undergone a government-friendly buy-out.)

And as soon as schools were back in session after the Declaration of Martial Law, “subversive” news sheets began appearing regularly in schools, through unofficial distribution channels, and with no acknowledged publisher. I remember in Ateneo as students filed into the cafeteria, suddenly there would appear a pile of Xeroxed pages on a desk chair or table, and students would just pick them up as they entered. But within minutes one of the school maintenance men would remove the remaining sheets. But they would reappear another day, another place, another story.

People simply need newspapers. And as Duterte continues to bully journalists and try to close down Rappler, that becomes more and more apparent to us. Twitter recently carried a very stark interview with 8 or 9 different journalists on the subject of threats, bullying, etc. The journalists for the most part simply said Yes – or No – to a set of questions: Have you been threatened? Have you been threatened with rape? With violence? With death? Have you been threatened with violence against family members?

Yes, yes, yes, and more yes.

Has your silence been bought?


What will it take to make you stop?

My life.

I would like to wish Joy Tabuada and the PalawaNews a very happy Third Anniversary and a productive Future. Thank you for being here.



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