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Law

Under a vindictive government, even the most benign law or legal process can be turned into a weapon. Law becomes mere politics. It distorts legal norms designed for societal and institutional flourishing, to advance narrow political interests. Its consequences to free expression and media pluralism – to an open society founded on free and open deliberation of matters that concern the common weal – are dire, as seen in the impunity with which former president Rodrigo Duterte and his political allies persecuted its perceived political enemies.

Less than a month before being sworn into office as President of the Philippines after a bitterly-fought elections in May 2016, former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte gave a warning:  “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a s-n of a b-tch.”  The statement – given at a press conference where he was asked how he would solve the country’s high murder rate –   would prove ominous. If at all, it revealed in chilling detail his attitude towards an institution long taken for granted as a pillar of democracy.

What followed were six years of a wrecking ball operation against key societal institutions, from the Roman Catholic Church, to the legislature, law enforcement agencies, courts, civil society, and of course, the Philippine media. It was an unprecedented abuse of state power not seen since Martial law days. But it rode on deep dissatisfaction among the Filipino masses that  the promises of  the democratic institutions restored from the clutches of strongman rule in the bloodless EDSA 1986 revolution had utterly failed to make life better for them.  

In May 2022, Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Romualdez Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr, won a landslide victory in the presidential elections, thanks to a carefully orchestrated campaign began many years ago; it is one anchored on historical revisionism and misinformation easily distributed through social media channels.   

Marcos’ team up with Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte, was also a huge factor in his winning the presidency.  Dubbed as   the “Uniteam,” the formidable alliance is breaking up barely two years after and is triggering surprising political realignments and consequences, notably in the media.

This paper continues the Media Ownership Monitor’s assessment of media pluralism in the Philippines began in 2016. The primary focus of this assessment are two matters that are iconic of the difficult challenges faced by Philippine media during the Duterte administration, namely, in Part I, what is yet the biggest blow to the cause of media pluralism in the Philippines, the closure of the country’s largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN Corp., and in Part II,  the all-out persecution of the online media company Rappler. Part III tackles concerted efforts on the part of the Duterte administration to suppress political dissent through a new anti-terror law, while Parts IV and V looks at the political shifts that have since taken place under the Marcos administration and their impact on free expression and media pluralism. 

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