Crackdown amid lockdown: Duterte fast-tracks Marcosian delusions of fascist dictatorship with more attacks on press freedom

Ordering the shutdown of ABS-CBN in the middle of a pandemic is a blatant attack on press freedom that dangerously infringes on the people’s right to information, human rights watchdog Karapatan warned, as the group assailed the National Telecommunications Commission’s cease-and-desist order against the broadcasting network.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay condemned ABS-CBN’s closure, stating that “in the middle of a public health crisis where the free press plays a crucial role in keeping the public informed on relevant, verified, and life-saving information about the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte and his minions like Jose Calida are instead fast-tracking his Marcosian delusions of a fascist dictatorship and brazenly exploiting the pandemic to impose de facto martial law. They are also ruthlessly putting thousands of media workers at the risk of losing their jobs in the face of mass hunger and a looming socioeconomic crisis.”

“Duterte has shown time and time again his disdain for press freedom and critical voices in the media and civil society. He and his cabal of sycophants have repeatedly attacked Rappler, and he even threatened the Philippine Daily Inquirer that they were forced to sell the broadsheet to one of Duterte’s cronies. Alternative media outfits and community journalists also face red-tagging, harassment, death threats, and even assassinations from the military and other State forces,” Palabay continued.

She further said that “since the lockdown began, Duterte has used his emergency powers to suppress free speech and dissent,” citing the National Bureau of Investigation Cybercrime Division’s issuance of subpoenas against individuals allegedly spreading “false information,” the inciting to sedition charges against public school teacher Juliet Espinosa in General Santos City, the arrest of writer Maria Victoria Beltran in Cebu City, and the threats of deportation lodged against Taiwan-based migrant worker Linn Ordidor — “all for critical social media posts drawing attention to the government’s incompetence and inadequate response to the pandemic.”

“ABS-CBN is now the latest casualty in Duterte’s crackdown on press freedom and freedom of expression after facing relentless threats from the president himself. Amid the government’s militarist response to the pandemic, repeated threats of declaring martial law, the rapid shrinking of civic spaces in the country, and an intensified crackdown on dissent, the grave repercussions of the shutdown of the biggest broadcasting network in the country cannot be ignored or sidelined: it sends a chilling effect and a stern warning from the State that expressing dissent will mete out reprisals such as trumped-up charges, arrests, closure orders, and even death,” she averred.

The Karapatan official called on the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN independent human rights experts to look into “this recent attack on press freedom and other abuses of authority in their report to enable a full-blown independent investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines.”

“Karapatan stands in solidarity with journalists and freedom of expression advocates against this blatant attack on press freedom. We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand against the States attacks on press freedom and human rights, and to strongly resist and frustrate the Duterte administration’s nefarious tyrannical schemes to consolidate power for his fascist rule,” Palabay ended.