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Filipino artists, journalists take fight to Duterte

New alliance forms to challenge the president's alleged attacks on the press and freedom of expression

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Published: December 08, 2017 08:40 AM GMT

Updated: December 08, 2017 08:48 AM GMT

Filipino artists, journalists take fight to Duterte
Playwrights, directors, actors and journalists launch an alliance to fight assaults on freedom of expression in the Philippines (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Award-winning directors, playwrights and film and stage actors, as well as journalist organizations Dec. 8 launched a new alliance to fight attacks on free expression and human rights under President Rodrigo Duterte's government.

In a statement issued at its launch, Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), the artists and media alliance accused Duterte of using official and unofficial channels to attack critics and hide the truth about mounting rights violations and corruption. 

Assaults on freedom of expression, coupled with his deadly crackdown on narcotics and more than a hundred assassinations of leftist activists, were being carried out to orchestrate the return of dictatorship, the group added.

Duterte's supermajority in Congress is currently pushing for a joint resolution for charter change that would dismantle the legislative houses, the judiciary and constitutional commissions, and center all governance powers with the president.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales face impeachment. 

"The first year and a half of President Rodrigo Duterte's government has seen a flood of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression," the alliance said in the statement.

"Duterte himself has led the assault, aided by a well-oiled machinery of disinformation peddlers and digital stormtroopers." 

It noted that senator allies of the president are threatening lawsuits against bloggers, the renewal of radio franchises of the Catholic Church and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) are being opposed in Congress, and, Duterte's weekly rants against media organizations, rights and church groups.

Treb Monteras, the director of an award-winning hiphop film, likened the current situation to a game show where people are roped in whether they like it or not.

"The grand prize is death," the director said. "They now want to add a bonus round and we have to brace ourselves for it."

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Playwright Ricky Lee and stage and film directors, Bonifacio Ilagan and Joel Lamangan, said Duterte is copying the playbook of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country for two decades.

"Marcos is not just his idol. Marcos is his god," Ilagan said. 

Filipinos should now fall back on the main lesson of the Marcos years, he stressed. "To rebel is justified because there are a thousand and one reasons why people should resist repression," Ilagan said.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) secretary-general Dabet Castaneda said Duterte assumed power with "a campaign to undermine media, justifying attacks against journalists."

The journalist group joined the alliance "because we believe in the urgent need to fight for rights, not only for media."

"Free expression is for the people, of the people," Castaneda stressed.

The 2017 National Book Awards winner for journalism, Kenneth Guda, said the military is closing down avenues for reportage by blocking access to displaced indigenous peoples.

"Media and human rights workers face the same threats," he said, "in their duty to go to places where the government does not want the exposure of rights abuses."

Blogger and columnist Tonyo Cruz, who was called a terrorist by Duterte's daughter on Sept. 7, urged different groups in the arts and media to set aside rivalries and unite to safeguard democracy.

"This fight is bigger than ourselves," Cruz said, calling for a push back against Duterte’s social media army that has used free expression to unleash violent threats on journalists, artists and activists.

"These threats are not simple rants on social media," LODI stressed.


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