In her first opportunity to speak before the huge crowd present during “SONAgkaisa,” a protest event held at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, broadcast journalist Ces Oreña-Drilon explained the significance of press freedom for everyone.
Drilon spoke hours before President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27.
“Neri, nininerbyos ako (I am nervous),” she said as she opened her speech. Drilon was referring to a friend, Neri Colmenares, human rights lawyer and activist who was in the crowd.
She admitted that it was her first time to speak before a crowd of activists, which included retrenched fellow workers after ABS-CBN was denied of its franchise renewal by Congress in a 70-11 vote.
“Freedom of the press is an important foundation of our democracy,” Drilon declared. “Ang freedom of the press po ay isang haligi ng ating demokrasya. Ang freedom of the press po ay isang karapatan ng bawat isang Pilipino at hindi po ito isang pribilehiyo na sinasabi ng ating president.”
(Freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy. Freedom of the press is the right of every Filipino and it is not a privilege as what our President says.)
“Ito ay karapatan ng mga jeepney driver, tulad ni Mang Elmer, upang marinig ang kanilang mga hinaing ng nawalan ng hanap-buhay. Ito ay karapatan ng mga mangingisda tulad ni Mang Lusar na maiulat ang kanilang problema sa Chinese coastguard,” Drilon said.
(It is the right of jeepney drivers like Mang Elmer, so that people would hear their grievances when they lose their jobs. It is the right of fishermen like Mang Lusar for their problem with the Chinese coast guard to be reported.)
Drilon stated that freedom of the press is also the right of families of soldiers who were killed in Jolo, because it is their right to know what really happened.
“Ito ay karapatan ng mga nurse na araw-araw ay nasa alanganin ang buhay, na ngayon ay kumukuwestiyon, ‘nasaan ang mga PPE namin? Nasaan ang ipinangakong hazard pay? Saan napunta ang bilyon-bilyong budget para dito?” she added.
(It is the right of the nurses whose lives are on the line everyday, who are now asking, “Where are our PPEs? Where is the promised hazard pay? Where did the budget of billions of pesos for these go?”)
“Ang media po ay takbuhan ng mga tulad nina Mang Elmer at Mang Lusar. Kami ang nagbibigay boses sa mga walang boses, sa mga miyembro ng lipunan na walang poder,” she explained. “Mahalaga ito para may magbulatlat sa pagmamalabis ng mga nasa puwesto, upang may tagabantay, taga-ulat.”
(Media is the refuge of the likes of Mang Elmer and Mang Lusar. We [speak for] the voiceless, to the members of society who are powerless. This is important so that the excesses of those in power will be revealed, so that there would be someone on guard to report.)
Her speech then veered towards her beleaguered network, ABS-CBN, which was shut down on July 10.
“Ang lagi pong katwiran ng mga tagapagtanggol sa pagsasara ng ABS-CBN ay hindi naman nawala ang press freedom dahil patuloy ang paglabas ng ‘TV Patrol’ sa internet, sa cable, at patuloy naman ang ibang channel sa pagbo-broadcast,” she said. “Paano na po ang halos 17 million na mga Pilipino na umaasa lang sa radyo at telebisyon. Kami ay hindi na nila napapanood at naririnig. Kami po ay off the air.”
(Those in favor of the ABS-CBN shutdown always say that freedom of the press is not lost because “TV Patrol” continues to air on the internet and cable TV, and other channels continue to broadcast. But what about the 17 million Filipinos who only depend on radio and television? They can no longer watch and hear us. We’re off the air.)
Drilon thus feels that the ABS-CBN closure is a warning, that it can become a precedent for other networks.
“Meron pa bang mag-uulat kaya ng totoong nangyayari? Malamang ay matatakot na rin po silang mapasara,” Drilon pointed out. “Mensahe po ang nangyari sa amin, na mag-ulat kayo at baka kayo na ang sumunod.”
(Will there still be a network which will report what is really happening? They might also feel afraid now about getting closed. What happened to us is a message: that if you report, you might be the next one closed.)
Drilon reiterated that it was clear how ABS-CBN did not violate any law. Even government agencies like DOLE and BIR can attest to that, she said. For her, there was only one person who was against the network franchise renewal.
“Ayaw lang po ng isang tao ang pagbabalita at dahil dito ay hindi po kami nabigyan ng prangkisa,” she said. (There is just one guy who did not like our reporting, and because of that, we were denied the franchise.)
“Kaisa ko po sila na magsasabi dito na kami po ay biktima ng isang mapaniil na administrasyon,” she stated. (But I am one with them in saying that we are victims of a repressive administration.)
She also raised the fact of how people were mum when Rappler was under pressure, when Agusan salesman Reynaldo Orculio was arrested for calling the president “crazy”, and when DZMM too had been closed.
“Hindi tayo umimik. Katwiran mo, hindi naman ako emplyado ng ABS-CBN,” Drilon noted.
“‘Pag hinabol nila ang Inquirer, hindi pa ba tayo iimik? Kapag ikaw na ang kanilang habulin, sino na ang magsasalita at magtatanggol sa iyo?”
([People] were silent. The justification was: “We’re not employees of ABS-CBN.” When they go after Inquirer, will we still be silent? When they go after you, who will be left to speak and defend you?) JB