Press Freedom at the Time of Fascism: Writing for National Liberation and People’s Democracy

THE weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force, but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” — Karl Marx

In a society in which the power of argument is prevailed upon by the argument of power, the suffering Filipino people should learn the pedagogy of the oppressed — the truth — that tyrants are not gods, for the extent of their power is determined precisely by the consent of the people. The role of the campus press is to quell the manipulative propaganda, now called “fake news”, used by the state to render the people docile and obfuscate contrasting ideologies so that people will be roused and mobilized to close their ranks and fight that which oppresses them.

State Fascism

The fascist character of the Duterte administration lies in its Manichean ideology of dualism that divides the Filipino people into two camps: ‘drug abusers/dealers’ and ‘clean individuals’. What makes this ideology even more terrifying is the power of the state to relate all its enemies to the former — rendering them more vulnerable to suppression and hence the justification of state violence.

Carrying out this brutal war against the state’s perceived enemies under the banner of ‘war on drugs campaign’ is the state’s ‘repressive apparatus’ represented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). As the death toll of ‘war on drugs’ continues to rise, the state desperately hides its culture of impunity by using its propagandists and fake news mongers (hired social media trolls, and allied corporate-controlled media) to manipulate the facts, while distracting and bombarding the Filipino masses with false information — aspiring to eventually normalize and justify extrajudicial killings. The recently absurd claim of the PNP that the war on drugs claimed no extrajudicial killing victim, in contrast to the fact that the death toll has reached over 13,000, is a stark manifestation of the creeping fascism of the state in which its institutions are assumed to have a perfect moral and ethical judgment free from any scrutiny. Anyone criticizing the state’s action, especially the media and other co-equal branches of government, are pressured and threatened by the Duterte administration, as it is quick to dismiss these criticisms as “biased” and fabricated by “presstitutes” to vilify its impossible war on drugs.

Perceived enemies of the state including alternative media and progressive student publications are suppressed by the state by linking them with drugs or affiliating them with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which is supposed to be plotting with the “yellowtards.” As the state exchanged tirades with the ‘Left’ over the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao, the cancellation of peace talks, the bombing of Moro and indigenous communities, the appointment of despotic generals in the government bureaucracy, it created a bogeyman out of the image of a communist to be deemed as a greater common enemy of the Filipino people with which it will relate other perceived enemies of the state so that they could be subjugated easier.

Intensifying Assaults on Press Freedom

The two-pronged assault of the state on press freedom is manifested on its use of ideological and repressive state apparatus to suppress progressive journalists and media practitioners who seek to uphold the truth and the democratic interests of the people by dauntlessly expressing their condemnation of the atrocities of the state. As of 2016, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) has recorded over 800 cases of campus press freedom violations. The number of cases continue to rise as press freedom sinks further into a quagmire created by the intensifying fascism of the state.

Under the ideological state apparatus (ISA), the state utilizes its institutions to carry out its interests and repress any opposing forces in the local level mainly through black propaganda and ‘institutionalized violence’. In the case of progressive student publications, they are repressed by the school administration through withholding or looting of funds, censorship, administrative intervention, meddling by the adviser, and non-mandatory collection of publication funds. One notable recent case is the underhanded move of the administration of Lyceum of the Philippines University-Manila (LPU-Manila) to subjugate its student publication, the LPU Independent Sentinel, through “reorganization” by completely removing its publication funds and hindering the renewal of its editorial board. Of the many forms of campus press repression, withholding of publication funds remains one of the most alarming, as it cuts off the financial resources needed by the publication to produce its newspapers.

Repressive state apparatus (RSA), on the other hand, represented by the PNP and AFP, is utilized by the state to surveil, harass, and intimidate members of progressive student publications. Some cases involve ‘red-tagging’ of student publications — affiliating them with the CPP in order to be discredited and vilified. As the CEGP holds Lunduyan 2017, its Luzon-wide student press convention, The Pillars of Ateneo de Naga University, The Nexus of Baao Community College, and officers of CEGP-Bicol were surveilled by fascist forces — visiting their offices to interrogate them regarding CEGP-held activities and discourage them from participating. In a more recent report, four student publications in Bicol are included in the AFP’s “watch list” and are now facing alleged military surveillance. The four publications are as follows: The Pillars Publication, Ateneo de Naga University; The Seafarers’ Gazette, Mariners’ Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Canaman Campus; The Stateans Publication, Central Bicol State University of Agriculture — Main Campus; and The Spark Publication, Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges.

The government, meanwhile, has also attempted to shut down news organization Rappler when the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked its license to operate. A few days after, 30 local radio stations in the Davao region faced threats to closure by the National Telecommunications Commission. Notwithstanding that under the current regime, six journalists have been killed in the line of their duty. This all happens while the government is pushing for its own media — a recalibration of their own state machinery, of pseudo-journalists and trolls, in the perpetration of fake news across the country.

When the state fails to manipulate the public opinion and inculcate its interests to the public consciousness through its ISA, it then forces its way to control the bourgeois public sphere through various forms of state violence hand in hand with the dissemination of fake news. The primary role of the alternative press therefore is to defend the bourgeois public sphere from the iron grasp of fascist forces that aim to suppress the voices and the democratic interests of the oppressed masses.

Upholding Truth and Freedom

Freedom has always been ‘class-based’, for the freedom of the state to advance its interests means the suppression of the freedom of the Filipino masses to pursue its democratic interests.
The irreconcilable interests between the state and the oppressed Filipino masses force the former to use violence and manipulation of the media to compel the people to submit themselves before its doctrine. Bearing a ‘collective guilt’ in which all are guilty and therefore no one is — unconscious of their own blood-stained hands — the tyrannical Duterte administration yearns to further divide the people under its fascist ideology and subjugate its enemies through brute force.

In response, the alternative media acts as the bulwark of the people against state-sponsored fake news that try to manufacture consent from and dumb down the masses. Together with other patriotic organizations striving for real social change and carrying the democratic interests of the masses, the alternative media including progressive student publications shall reclaim the public sphere from the ownership of the fascist state and its allied corporations that enable them to twist the reality to suit their interests.

One must remember that the pen is mightier than the sword only when its holder wields the courage to fight. To succumb to the intensifying repression of the state without an inch of resistance is to give full consent to the heinous fascist crimes and suppression of freedom done by the unchallenged power of the state.

Writing may only be a weapon of criticism, but once it has successfully roused and rallied the oppressed against their oppressors, it will become a revolutionary weapon which is no different from a bullet that can rip the oppressive system apart.

Press freedom, therefore, is not for ruling class to use for the advancement of its class interest, but for the use of the oppressed to liberate themselves from the very oppressive system.

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