A warning

Katrina Stuart Santiago

Katrina Stuart Santiago

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.

Manhandling criticism
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.

Silencing criticism
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.


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  1. Richard Macaraeg on

    True. The “Holy Kids” at the communications center’s (they got no names) main job is to scroll down on all Social Media sites particularly FB and Twitter searching for negative comments. The way things are going, I think this is how it goes inside that communications department. They check the page, the creator and the followers. Next they check the weight of the post and the volume or length of the thread created. Then the frequency of the posting and the reactions of netizens. They weigh all these and decide if the the page has to be monitored on a daily basis. Pages and creators deemed dangerous to the current administration are then included on a monitoring folder. Like other netizens, I, too, is a member of e-groups and community pages on FB and twice, an alarming message appeared on my message box… “Lay low bro”… “magkape ka muna ‘dre.” Kids language,,, but it made me think twice.

  2. I like the “the kids” from communication office…but of course they are part of this student council right? and to think they don’t like being criticized as if they have graduated from being student council…

  3. For government representatives to say that inquiring journalists “had it coming” is the height of arrogance and callousness. True journalists report the facts and inform the general public so that they know what is going on. If they ruffle some feathers of those in power, then they are doing their job in informing the citizens.

  4. Right on…this is everyone’s experience having posted any anti-Aquino comments anywhere…you will be swamped with derogatory and insulting rebuffs…

    I just don;t read them…

  5. florentino maddara on

    Sincerity, common sense, hard work, doing one’s homework and love of people should be the ingredient the gov should have employed before and after any crisis this country is beset of. Look at what India has done before and after the recent similar cyclone that landed in their homeland this year, their central gov spearheaded the mass evacuations of people living in the path of the storm, immediate relief efforts were done and the result very minimal casualties. Their gov did not deal in any blame game after that. What about the impending spike in power rates, did the DOE did their homework? 100% No! Kawawa talaga ang mga pinoy eversince up to now.

  6. Now tell me, if you want me to ask you in this column: isn’t it that Gloria and her Malacanang Press were doing the same thing? Yun bang inis na inis sa mga criticism… Who is worse between GMA and BSA3? Answer me.

    • what does Gloria have to do with it? its irrelevant to this discussion. The topic is about crtiticism of the Pnoy gov’t. Not Gloria’s.

    • Asker ,

      Here is your answer from me… : During Gloria’s time, the Press was free to say anything about her. That maybe the reason why she was thoroughly demonized and the Filipino people was completely brainwashed against her. The television networks (especially ABS-CBN ), the newspapers (esp. Inquirer), and radio stations are owned by PGMA’s enemies. And my answer to your question who is worse between GMA and BS111 is BS 111 hands down, of course…

    • Ask yourself: So what if GMA was like that? She had her own issues and critics. How she handles/answers her critics is a totally different outcome.

    • To tell you honestly? This admin is the worst so far. Maybe in history… got you?
      1. Chaos in handling of hostages I luneta
      2. Slow or almost none exist in handling of monstrous Yolanda
      3 look at now how much agony of our country men when meralco announce the huge increase of your electricity bill. Did the student government did anything? You bet….

    • Why did you even GMA into this? We are talking about BSA and his very, very, very poor reaction to criticisms. Criticisms comes with leadership job thus cannot be avoided. A true democracy always has criticisms justified or not.

  7. It clearly shows the ‘mama boys’ complex in all his actions. He has no wife & no kids. How could he symphatize with the common Filipino family who must grind everyday just to exist for the day? He’s an Aquino indeed. Meet the sis Kris…it runs in the family. A bunch of spoiled Aquino kids. What a bloody shame.