September 25, 2017, 1:32 am
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The death of dissent

READING news about Philippine politics nowadays is similar to watching Cersei Lannister of the HBO hit series Game of Thrones take down obstacles to her rule, specifically when she blew up the Great Sept of Baelor with wildfire, along with most of her enemies. To say that it was brash and unprecedented is an understatement, contrasted with her previous maneuvering against her opponents.

As in Westeros, the warring kings and queens constantly try to outwit each other to be the sole occupant of the Iron Throne, in perpetuity. While watching an episode of GOT can leave you on a high or cheering for your chosen king or queen, watching the news can have the opposite effect: it can leave you downright confused and bewildered about our current state of affairs.

Take for example the recent assault against the heads of different institutions. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes and Comelec Chair Andres Bautista were slapped with impeachment complaints within a month of each other, for different reasons allegedly related to undeclared wealth in their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. The chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, as well as Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary killings, and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales are frequent targets of President Duterte’s ire, often cussing them out in his speeches and interviews.

The fourth estate has not been spared from these verbal assaults, often getting called out for “unfair” reports regarding the administration. Mr. Duterte’s rabid fanatics have been singing the gospel of “biased” media whenever they encounter reports they perceive as unfavorable to their cause, to the extent of harassing journalists online. Thus, the rise of fake news sites that cater to one’s political inclinations, never mind that these sites wouldn’t recognize a fact if it hit them squarely in the face.

Vocal personalities online, politicians and non-politicians alike, have also been the subject of abuse for voicing contrary opinions, ranging from hateful private messages to fake news stories to malign. I’ve had long conversations with a number of people who can’t fathom how other people can fall for fake news, still in disbelief at the way friends and family have fallen for dubious sites, despite repeated warnings from credible and non-partisan groups.

I’ve also encountered those who feel strongly about certain issues like the vicious summary killings that happen every night, and those who worry that there will be nothing left of the West Philippine Sea once this administration is done. The level of exasperation does not match what is heard online, due to the current environment, but is certainly being discussed over dinner tables and get-togethers with friends. There seems to be a general reticence (to put it mildly) to opening these discussions beyond one’s circles for fear of being the subject of the lynching online that seems to be happening with alarming regularity. But make no mistake, these conversations are happening, especially in the wake of the outrage over the murder of Kian delos Santos, and more recently, the torture and murder of 19-year old Carl Arnaiz.

Which brings me to this question: are we witnessing the slow but systematic suppression of dissent? While those in the administration think that they can say with a straight face that it does not engage in censorship of free speech, the fact that its allies in and out of government have gone after those who dare question Mr. Duterte’s actions is proof enough of its intent. We need not look any further than the case of Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained since February on flimsy charges. On the word of convicted criminals, Senator De Lima was dragged through the mud, her personal liaisons made subject of congressional investigations, without a shred of credible proof that she had indeed colluded with drug lords to fund her campaign. To this day, stripped of her freedom and within the confines of her detention cell, she continues her criticism of this administration, penning her thoughts by hand, refusing to be silenced.

What then will become of the others who have doggedly spoken out against the current dispensation? Will they also be subject to the same tactics, facing the full force of the State in order to strip them of their offices? It’s interesting to see how Congress will deal with two impeachment cases, given the fact that impeachment proceedings tend to slow legislation down to a halt to give way to hearings, not to mention the political capital needed to ensure victory for the administration. In time, we will find out whether the administration will adopt the Lannister attitude against its enemies: “A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep,” or the ways of Arya Stark: “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe.”
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