“Resistance is not futile, but vital to preserving democracy.”
By ADAM ANG
An international forum held in Manila Feb. 21 underscored how the Duterte administration uses the law to trample on press freedom.
In a special session tackling lawfare, or the use of the law as a tool to silence dissent, Rappler co-founder Glenda Gloria declared, “Under this presidency, we have seen both the law and all levels of bureaucracy being mobilized to harass the media.”
At least seven cases have been filed against Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa. The list includes tax cases, cyber libel, violation of Anti-Dummy Law and Securities Code, among others.
Recently, Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a quo warranto case seeking to revoke the franchise of media giant ABS-CBN.
Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and former senior editor John Nery explained the two patterns of President Duterte’s approach to the media: the pattern of utility, which underscores his use of the media, and the pattern of hostility, which is said to be evident when the press becomes critical to him.
“These two patterns explain why government lawyers like [Solicitor General] Calida are now using obscure, civil actions like quo warranto to put pressure on the media,” Nery said.
Duterte has repeatedly called out Rappler, ABS-CBN and Philippine Daily Inquirer allegedly for being “biased.”
Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, chairperson of Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), said, “This [lawfare] is really an effective weapon as far as putting critics in jail, removing them from office and silencing the press.”
The event coincided with the third year of Sen. Leila De Lima’s imprisonment.
Historicizing the case of lawfare in the Philippines, Diokno cited Marcos’ martial rule as the “best” example of the weaponization of law, replacing the “rule of reason” with the “rule of the rifle.”
Still, Diokno said the law can also be used to empower dissent, citing how human rights lawyers fought the Marcos dictatorship.
Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Jose Luis Gascon agreed with Diokno, saying the law can also be a “tool for empowerment.”
“We must continue to do all we can to bring their voices, the voices of those standing up for human rights, for freedom and democracy, to the larger population so that we can mobilize our fight because ultimately, we will need to use all tools available to us, particularly truth and the value of freedom,” Gascon said.
Duterte’s lawfare an ‘epic failure’
Meanwhile, ex-Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV claimed that the administration’s lawfare is an “epic failure.”
“The lawfare employed by Duterte, no matter how oppressive, has been an epic failure, in as far as silencing the people, is concerned,” Trillanes, who faces charges of conspiracy to commit sedition, said in his solidarity message.
Suggesting ways to push back against lawfare, Diokno emphasized the importance of resistance.