It was meant to happen, I tend to think, the President showing us all how little he thinks of lives lost to anything at all.
It was just a matter of time. He had kicked off his many conversations with OFWs by taking a jab at how everyone’s a critic in the Philippines. How everyone has become a critic since Typhoon Yolanda, and how he doesn’t care. Bahala na sa kanila si Lord, the President said, taking a jab at comedy as well.
Or not. Because there is nothing correct or proper about the way this President, and this government, handles criticism. And when I say this government, that includes Malacañang and the kids over at the communications office (I am unclear about which office they belong to in that three-headed monster).
Now the world is small, the world of writing and the academe even smaller. That should be reason to be more careful about what one does, especially when one is part of the most criticized government in recent years.
That is, do not send private messages when people post statuses or comments that are critical of you, the President, or the government you serve. I know for a fact that the kids at the communications office do this, and the list of names is growing. Your position of power should tell you that this only looks like you are bullying people into taking down what they’ve written; your position of power should tell you that engaging with people in private about their very public opinions looks every bit like censorship.
If you want to engage with criticism, if you want to tell us we are wrong, do so in the spaces where our opinions appear. Social media and Internet etiquette tells us all: do it in the comments section, tag us in your responses.
Even better? Keep quiet and do your work better. I’ve heard Malacañang say this countless times about criticism: people are just uninformed about the real work that the government does. And I ask the members of the communications office: then why are you not informing us better?
Now of course it’s entirely possible too that critics know what government is doing, and is judging this insufficient. That should not warrant a private message from any member at all of the communications staff. It should tell them that criticism is valid, and is not the death of us. It is in fact proof of a thinking citizenry, one that is churning out well-informed assessments of the national situation.
Ah, but that might be too much to ask. This communications staff after all seemed to be made of the same cloth as the President himself, who will take a jab at critics every chance he gets, calling them just negative and unhelpful—if not totally irrelevant—to government’s existence. Of course between the President and his Cabinet going all out on lambasting critics, and members of the Malacañang staff going all out on being social media censors, none of this bodes well for freedom of speech.
Which makes it even less surprising that the President, on this same visit to Japan, would respond to questions about the number of journalists killed under his Presidency by saying that it is no “national catastrophe.” As far as he is concerned, unless “somebody can say that there is some sort of an established policy to kill a journalist of this particular position, mentality” this cannot be considered a “national trend.”
But why? one is forced to ask. Because in fact there is every reason to be concerned that three journalists in Bukidnon, Surigao del Sur and Iloilo City were killed days from each other. In fact every journalist who is gunned down, who is killed with impunity, should be reason for alarm.
Too, there is this: the killing of journalists and media workers need not be declared “a national trend” because history is filled with these murders. And these murders are always about the repression of the right to free speech, these killings warn of what will happen to anyone at all who hits too low, or says too much, or asks the correct questions about those in power.
Of course the President’s got government investigators on his side, when they say that some of these journalists “had it coming” given the manner in which they conduct their brand of journalism. And yet this is the most dangerous thing to throw our way, where “conduct” is highly arguable and not clearly defined. It is dangerous because it allows for impunity to continue, it is dangerous because it echoes exactly the idea that people are doing criticism wrong, and that they deserve to be silenced.
To have the President say this is no national catastrophe justifies this silencing. To have him dismissing critics and saying bahala na sa kanila si Lord, is the most unfortunate connection he makes between criticism and the killing of journalists.
Now it all makes sense, the manner in which members of Malacañang’s communication staff think it proper to send private messages to government critics on Facebook, in effect bullying people to take down statuses and comments.
The freedom of speech is apparently not important to this matuwid na daan. Neither are the lives of those who dare speak. Now that can only be a national catastrophe. More importantly, now we are all warned.