As President Rodrigo Duterte reaches the halfway mark of his regime, he does so within the context of a Philippines struggling to sustain its foothold on its identity as a free, democratic, and peace-loving country.
Within three years, the Duterte administration has managed to skew the population’s moral compass, by taking advantage of an undercurrent of frustration and anger that has seen the Filipino poor left behind amid elitist notions of development and progress.
The Duterte propaganda machine—oiled and maintained by his spokespersons and most misguided social media “influencers”—is its most potent and violent weapon. Masquerading as fake news, utilizing trolls, and calling for “civility” instead of justice, the propaganda machine echoes Duterte’s everyday vitriol: crass, toxic, and cumulatively desensitizing Filipinos to the horrors that his regime has wrought.
In this context, the Foundation for Media Alternatives calls on the President and his officials to respect and uphold the rights of all Filipinos, both offline and online.
Duterte’s state policies on protecting women ring empty and hollow. While he recently signed the Bawal Bastos Law, for example (passed largely due to the commendable efforts of women’s rights groups and Sen. Risa Hontiveros), Duterte holds himself immune from its repercussions, as when he openly admitted to sexual assault in his youth, or when he routinely makes rape jokes and catcalls women on national television. Yet the president is not exempt from the laws he endorses. He is not a “Poon,” or an all-knowing father, but an official of the government who holds office only by the power of the people he serves.
FMA highlights that in a regime as ruthless with profiling (via “matrices”) and red-tagging as the Duterte administration, a national ID system, passed with insufficient public consultation and with little opposition in Congress, will only serve to perpetuate more abuses if left unchecked. The administration’s lackluster response to data breaches in the past and its failure to hold responsible officers to account (e.g., the “Comeleak” data breach) do not bode well for the implementation of data protection practices for something as massive and data-intensive as the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys).
We maintain a similar reservation towards potentially invasive practices like data-driven policing, which Duterte proudly brandished as a benchmark of modernization during the SONA — thus the call to balance cybersecurity and data collection efforts with mechanisms to protect data privacy and uphold due process in data collection. We call on the government to ensure that Filipinos’ data are not used for unlawful surveillance or any other sinister purposes.
FMA is also one with the many media and human rights groups in calling to #DefendPressFreedom, both online and offline. We reiterate our demand to decriminalize libel; excise the Cybercrime Prevention Act of its redundant provisions on online libel and cybersex; and integrate rights-based provisions in rules implementing computer data collection.
In light of several website shutdowns brought by DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks against alternative media organizations, we also call upon government agencies to be more responsive to reports of attacks and to offer all aid possible to hold perpetrators of these attacks accountable, as to not impede on the freedom of the press.
It’s been three years since Duterte has forced Filipinos to accept his own singular perspective as a universal truth: that killing the poor is justifiable in the name of discipline; that women are lowlifes treated like pieces of meat; that dissent is synonymous to treason; that personal loyalty trumps allegiance to one’s country, among others. It’s time we stop being beholden to this perspective. The true state of the nation is in the margins; we must push for inclusive, multisectoral, and diverse perspectives coming from the grassroots.
Change is not the monopoly of one person; it is the power of collective efforts that will truly effect change. By listening and working with each other, perhaps we can see beyond the propaganda and discover the truth: that the drug war has been nothing more than an excuse to sow a culture of violence; that there is no such thing as fake news, only lies and propaganda; that speaking up, both offline and online, should not synonymous with political persecution; and that we, and not a single person in Malacanang, hold the key to fighting for our human rights and sovereignty.
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