Philippines: Break the culture of silence, violence and impunity

The following statement on the February 13 arrest of Filipino journalist Maria Ressa was issued by the Filipino human rights movement, iDefend.

iDefend condemns the arrest of Maria Ressa by the National Bureau of Investigation on February 13 on charges of cyber-libel.

Ressa’s arrest is the latest demonstration of how government critics are silenced in a manner which mirrors a familiar style of the late Marcos dictatorship.

For two years, Senator Leila de Lima remains incarcerated on unproven drug charges; former Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was removed from her post in a Quo Waranto process riddled with irregularities and improprieties; last December Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was arrested on libel charges; the SEC revoked the registration of online news group Rappler and its reporter Pia Ranada was barred from covering the president’s activities.

Repression of political opponents and of the press by the judicial and executive branches, enabled by the legislative branch, is a trademark of Marcos’ dictatorship.

Now, the same advances are President Duterte’s centrepiece objective of obliterating our democratic institutions, particularly independent media. Press freedom has always been the first target of a government that’s ushering in a despot.

Ressa’s case is both a retribution for Rappler’s undaunted reporting and a warning to the rest of the media. Her arrest is timed at the start of campaigns for a much anticipated national election which is seen as a public “vote of confidence” for the president.

What level of irregularities or electoral violence is afoot to warrant this sort of pre-emptive measure against the press?

Attacks against Maria Ressa highlight the attacks against human rights defenders all over the country who are working for real change. Not only are they confronted with debilitating economic depression as a result of the same catastrophic policies of past administrations, they are also prevented from actively seeking solutions to these ills because the solutions involve directly challenging the powers behind those policies.

Tyranny works only when the people cower in fear and breed fanaticism. It is defeated by courage and purpose — of the people in relentless protests, raised voices, collective action, claiming their human rights.

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