A case of censorship?

Published August 20, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


Dr. Florangel Rosario-Braid

I do hope that the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF) reverses its decision regarding the five books, the publication and distribution of which it had stopped.

As its memorandum signed by Carmelita C. Abdurahman, KWF’s commissioner for Programs and Projects, and Benjamin M. Mendillo, commissioner for Finance and Administration, noted, the books appeared to contain “anti-government” texts that could be “inciting to commit terrorism, a violation of Article 9 of the Anti-Terrorism law. The books are Teatro Political Dos by Malou Jacob; Kalatas: Mga Kwentong Bayan at Kwentong Buhay by Rommel B. Rodriguez; Tawid-diwa sa Pananagisag ni Bienvenido Lumbera: Ang Bayan, ang Manunulat at ang Magasing Sagisag sa Imahinatibong Yugto ng Batas Militar 1975-79 by Dexter B. Cayanes; May Hadlang ang Umaga by Don Pagusara; and Labas: Mga Palabas ng Sentro by Reuel M. Aguila.

As the implementing rules and regulations of the anti-terror law states, dissent is protected if creative, artistic and cultural expressions or other expressions of civil and political rights do not intend to cause death or serious physical harm or endanger a person’s life and create a serious risk to public safety. Context must be considered as well as the position of status of the speaker or actor in society.

It appears that none of these publications intended to cause physical harm or to create a serious risk to public safety. The authors mentioned are scholars, well respected and law-abiding citizens. The late Dr. Lumbera is a National Artist, and the others are well-known and highly regarded writers.

Thus, it is not surprising when the KWF memo was received with much surprise and exasperation. A former KWF commissioner expressed frustration and alarm over the red-tagging. Others say it is a form of censorship, one that goes against the government mandate of promoting free speech and thought.

Writer and former chairperson of the Book Development Board, Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz noted that the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) consisting of award-winning writers “denounces the false accusation of subversion and government action against the five books and the order of suspension of these books from media outlets, libraries, and schools. MCC condemns red-tagging insinuations against Lumbera and scholar Alice Guillermo. “Let truth prevail as it shall set writers and intellectuals free,” she added.

I sounded the alarm bells over the rising wave of disinformation and misinformation which is especially prevalent in the mass media. These two practices involve misleading the public with fake news. The difference is that misinformation does not intend to deceive while disinformation purposefully sends out false news which intend to deceive.

Censorship is an act by a higher authority – the government, which imposes limits and violates freedom of expression. It is intended to control public awareness, silence the opposition and is perceived as a grave threat to democracy.

We would like to remind everyone about the safeguards to freedom of speech and expression in several articles of the 1987 Constitution. In fact, this protection is not only found in the Declaration of Principles but in the Bill of Rights and General Provisions.

Section 4 of the Bill of Rights states: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.”

And Section 7 of the Bill of Rights further notes “the right of people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.”

Section 10 of General Provisions reiterates the above principles of freedom but adding the importance of attributes such as a policy environment, needs and aspirations of people, and balance in flow in the following: “The State shall provide the policy environment for the full development of Filipino capability, and the emergence of communication structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation, and the balanced flow of information into, out of, and across the country, in accordance with the policy that respects the freedom of speech and of the press.”

The above constitutional provisions protect mass media as well as books and publications which are “niche” media.

Mass media freedom throughout the world is endangered because independent journalism is in peril with continuing crackdown on press freedom polarizations or divisions within countries as well as between countries likewise exist.

The Philippines has fallen to No. 147 out of 180 countries in global press freedom.
In summary, this is the state of media freedom today according to Freedom House”

• It has deteriorated over the past decade.
• In some influential democracies, populist leaders have made concerted attempts to throttle media’s independence.
• What makes these threats dangerous, is their impact on democracy.
• Finally, the good news: Media freedom can rebound from repression when given the opportunity.

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