OPPOSITION figures seem to have been bitten by the travel bug, from Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, to Raissa Robles, to activists from Akbayan, to a group of authors of a book critical of President Duterte.
They are everywhere, from a political meeting between Trillanes and US Sen. Marco Rubio, to Robles’ talk at the University of California in Los Angeles, to an academic forum in Columbia University in New York, to a civil society forum at Thammasat University in Bangkok.
While on travel abroad, these Filipino nationals freely talk about their criticisms of President Duterte and his government.
Meanwhile, foreign journalists, politicians and civil society activists take advantage of our hospitality as they freely talk about their criticisms of the President right in our country, as if there is an exchange program.
Filipinos abroad and foreigners in the Philippines, all freely talking without fear of being arrested by a government and a President they paint as a tyrannical fascist who to their eyes is hell bent on controlling free speech.
And this is a luxury that is not enjoyed by nationals of many countries, including those from our immediate neighbors.
I know the story of a Singaporean academic who was on a scholarship in the US and who wrote an academic paper which was critical of his government. He was stripped of his scholarship and was never allowed to return to the US.
I remember this Malaysian who I sat with in a panel at a conference who was openly chastised by someone from the audience, who I learned was sent deliberately by the government to be its eyes and ears to ensure that Malaysian scholars always toe the line.
I also vividly remember my foreign students at UP who had to talk in whispers when they said something critical about their governments. This happened while they were in my class, in the Philippines, not in their countries. This is evidence of the imprint of censorship and the internalization of the repressive apparatus of the state that are already deeply embedded in their psyche.
Malaysia charges people speaking ill of the government with sedition. Singapore has its internal security act that it invokes to crack down on dissent.
Akbayan and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) co-sponsored a public forum on the war on drugs and the human rights situation in the Philippines held in Bangkok on October 5, 2017 with speakers from the Philippines. But months before, a noted academic from Chiang Mai University, professor Chayan Vaddhanaputhi, together with four other students and faculty, were charged by the government as organizers of the 13th International Thai Studies Conference held in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This was because it was reported that criticisms were raised during the conference about the presence of military officers in the venue.
It was indeed ironic that Filipinos freely spoke about human rights violations in the Philippines in Bangkok, even as Thai scholars in Chiang Mai were charged simply for running a conference where the Thai government was subjected to criticism.
Speaking ill of one’s country while abroad, or having a demeaning attitude towards the homeland, is a very elitist conduct that I have personally observed to be committed by some, not all, privileged graduate students studying abroad and white-collar immigrants. These are the people who look for every opportunity to renege on their contractual obligations of going back to the country, from getting an American spouse to obtaining post-graduate fellowships hoping they can get permanent resident status and eventually become citizens. These are people who see nothing good about the country, from our poor habits to our stinking airport toilets.
And then you juxtapose this with the OFWs who have every reason to feel abandoned and betrayed by their leaders who failed to provide them with economic opportunities that they had to leave their children behind to take care of the children of other countries. However, what you see are people that rarely speak ill of the country. The OFW communities, in fact, provide a strong base of support for the President.
The people who label the President as a tyrant and a dictator in meetings, forums and conferences abroad freely do so without fear of retribution or arrest.
Raissa Robles painted a negative image not only of the President but of the country to her UCLA audience, which thankfully was only a handful, without the fear of a mole sent by the Philippine Consulate to censor her. It took a Filipino graduate student, a pro-Duterte blogger who was there on her own volition, to challenge her misrepresentations.
The academics in the Columbia University forum freely articulated their analysis of the Duterte administration from their biased perspectives. They do not face the risk of retribution from the government of having their passports cancelled, or of being asked to report to the authorities upon their return to the country.
Trillanes openly admitted talking to Senator Rubio with the purpose of attacking the President in the guise of telling his own version of the truth. Armed with nothing, no official designation from the Senate, or from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trillanes took it upon himself to provide Rubio, a defeated presidential candidate who is the head of the foreign relations committee in the US Senate, a briefing about the state of affairs of our country. Rubio is the co-author of a bill to ban the sale of arms to the Philippine National Police in protest against the alleged extra-judicial killings in relation to the war on drugs.
And yet Senator Trillanes will never be punished for an act which, if we were in a state of war, would have already amounted to treason.
These people should be thankful that we are not what they paint us to be.