Now it can be said. We were right all along.

This regime, the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is THE enemy not only of press freedom but, it now appears, all the freedoms and rights enshrined in our Constitution.

Former Philippine ambassador to the US Albert del Rosario, in a personal account published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Thursday, August 13, confirms that the state of national emergency Arroyo declared on February 24, 2006 – ironically as the country was commemorating the 20th anniversary of the uprising that restored democratic space – was meant to muzzle media.

As Del Rosario recalls it, then speaker Jose de Venecia informed him the reason for the state of emergency was because “the government was preparing to take a forceful stand against the intransigent media.”

If true, and the events then – the raid on the Tribune, the troops sent to the major broadcast networks, the barefaced warnings of government taking over media outfits that did not follow its “standards, including one hurled by then Cabinet secretary Ricardo Saludo against a network even as he was being interviewed live in that network’s studios – leave us no reason to doubt, it appears the regime’s claims that it was defending itself from an alleged “Left-Right” power grab was nothing but a badly laid down smokescreen.

Never since the dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut down the Philippine media, replacing it with his crony-owned mouthpieces, has an administration attempted a wholesale muzzling of the press.

Until this regime, one that ironically owes its existence to a popular uprising similar to that which toppled Marcos came along.

Then again, it is axiomatic that the first thing tyrants do is control the free flow of information and stifle free expression.

So, it seems former defense secretary Avelino Cruz Jr. and De Venecia himself, now at odds with the regime, were telling nothing but the truth when they disclosed that Arroyo and her minions, in fact, planned to declare martial law.

Indeed, De Venecia said the plan was most recently dusted off during the November 2007 takeover of the Manila Peninsula Hotel by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and his band of mutineers.

This begs the question of whether the mass arrest of our colleagues who covered that incident was, in fact, part of that plan.

And, come to think of it, whether this regime’s inaction and apathy towards the continued murder of journalists does not, in fact, fit into this plan, sending a signal that it could not care less about the fate befalling members of the “intransigent media” even as select officials, including those supposedly tasked with the dispensation of justice, actually try to justify such killings by blithely invoking the personal sins of the victims.

Even before the state of emergency, at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal, Del Rosario said De Venecia had also called him up to ask if the embassy in Washington could defend the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which allows the arrest and detention of persons even without charges, “to be used against certain members of the political opposition.”

Again, the shadow of Marcos looms large over the current Palace resident with this revelation.

And what are we to make of the continued extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances and torture of the regime’s critics?

The reactions of Palace sycophants and even Arroyo’s private lawyer to the reports of the infamous $20,000 Le Cirque dinner, a clear case of shooting the messenger for what their principal had done, clearly show that this regime continues to consider a free and independent press anathema and that the danger it poses to freedom of the press and of expression remains a reality.

That the Philippine media remain independent is a tribute not to this regime’s “adherence to democratic principles,” to quote from then US vice president George H. Bush’s infamous toast to the dictator, but to the fierce determination of Filipino journalists and media workers to exercise and protect their rights, and to the Filipino people’s refusal to allow another regime to wrest away the freedoms we have all fought so hard to win back.

It would be comforting to think that this regime will be coming to a close next year, except for the observation of Cruz and De Venecia that Marcos declared martial law as his second, and putatively last, term was about to end and preceded these by creating a scenario of chaos, not dissimilar to the rash of bombings we have seen recently.

And yes, we still have a year to go of this regime that, by the admission of its own former allies, has been actively plotting to subvert the very democratic space it owes its existence to.

Thus, now, more than ever, is the time to be vigilant and to rally around each other to ensure that no threats to our rights and liberties succeed.

Now, more than ever, is the time to say, “Never again!”

Nestor P Burgos, Jr


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