Conundrum
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - June 29, 2020 - 12:00am

When I read the news about Maria Ressa’s conviction of cyber libel last week, I remembered my late father’s conviction on the infamous libel case filed by the late President Cory Aquino against him.

Talk about press freedom. Even after martial law when the Philippines thought she earned democracy by ending martial law and chasing Marcos away from the country, democracy continued to be an illusion.

Well, as a teenager during the Cory Aquino administration, I personally did not think press freedom was alive and kicking. I knew my father, the late Maximo V. Soliven was on his second run as a journalist after being incarcerated by the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Yes, he was silenced and banned from writing political commentaries. He was jailed (in the same cell as Ninoy Aquino), then released on probation after three months, banned from leaving the country and from writing for seven years. From 1972 to 1987 he was under the martial law rule. When Ninoy died in 1983, he started to write underground.

Of course, history reminds us that during martial law press freedom was curtailed. Marcos was very much aware of media’s role in the society. So, to silence public criticism and control the information that the people had access to, he issued Letter of Instruction 1, five days after the declaration of Martial Law, authorizing the military to take over the assets of major media outlets including ABS-CBN and Channel 5, and other radio stations across the country.

Marcos’ next move was to issue Presidential Decree 36, canceling the franchise and permits of all media facilities allegedly trying to topple his government. The PD created the Mass Media Council which has the power to grant certificates of authority to newspapers, radio, and television. And the struggle of journalists continued during the regime and sadly years after that even to the present day.

After the triumph of the People Power revolution, my dad was back in full swing. As the late Nelson Navarro put it, “Max would burst out of his long captivity as a defiant but emasculated journalist into a leading voice for the peaceful overthrow of the dictatorship and the restoration of the democratic government.” But when Cory rose into power, she wasn’t ready for hard-hitting journalists. At some point of her presidency, she could not handle too much press freedom.

In one of my father’s “By the way” columns which he wrote six times a week in this newspaper, he entitled a column describing President Cory’s leadership-style, “Don’t look for praise releases”. He wrote: Someone whose fanaticism for Cory lies on that delicate borderline between the sublime and the ridiculous ways was incensed by yesterday’s column… Anyway, this avowed Cory-worshipper sternly warned me that nobody would continue to buy a newspaper that had the temerity to criticize Cory Aquino. “If you persist, your Philippine Star will fail miserably,” he categorically predicted. I was plunged, immediately, into gloom – since I am not the sort of martyr-type who enjoys failure.

He continued, I replied that Cory, as a person, was indubitably beyond reproach. But as a president, it was the duty of every citizen to examine her every statement and every deed (even to the point of absurdum, every twitch of the presidential eyebrow) for these manifestations tend to affect, to marrow, the lives of 55 million Filipinos.

Many people credit former President Cory Aquino as the president who restored democracy. Well, honestly, I don’t think so. It was the fighting journalists during that time like my dad, Art Borjal, Louie Beltran, and the likes who fought for democracy and freedom of the press. While other newspapers after the Marcos era became “Corista’s” (avid supporters of Cory) others chose to have no favorites and just tell things as they see them. This didn’t make Cory happy. She seemed to have had a vindictive attitude toward journalists who wrote against her.

When Louie Beltran wrote about Cory hiding under the bed during the August 1987 coup (led by Honasan), Cory was not happy about it. She was furious. She made both Beltran and my dad the arch enemies of her regime. She personally filed a libel case at the Manila Prosecutor’s Office against Louie Beltran who wrote the column (despite his apologies) and my dad who was the Publisher.

I can never forget the day both Uncle Louie and my dad were found guilty of criminal libel by Judge Makasiar. They were ordered imprisonment for up to two years and to pay $76,000 in damages to Aquino. I could not understand how my dad became the chosen one. Why not the editor- in- chief or the other people in the Star? This was the painful truth I had to accept. She was the President. She was in power. She did what she wanted.

Three years later, in 1995 and after the death of Louie Beltran the case was cleared by the Court of Appeals. Judge Jose dela Rama reversed the ruling of Makasiar’s decision in a 54-page ruling. The prosecution failed to prove malice was intended.

Which is why, I am writing this today. Presidents will be presidents and they will use their power to do what they want. Even if in the eyes of others their actions may be wrong, harsh, and unimaginable.

Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo knew how to handle the press. They were very diplomatic. Duterte like Marcos and Cory seems to be more sensitive. So, now ABS-CBN and Maria Ressa are in the hot seat. Many think that the President is behind their purges. Pana-panahon … Abangan!

*      *      *

What happened to Cebu? The national government reverted the city to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from general community quarantine (GCQ). Why do they now have more Covid-19 cases than other parts of the country?

President Duterte said that overconfidence and complacency led to the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in Cebu. As of June 24, Cebu has a total of 5,088 confirmed Covid-19 cases. I am sure the Cebuanos will work things out. They are a determined lot. A painful lesson but soon a swift recovery. Abangan!

*      *      *

The government wants the number of tests conducted in the country to reach one million next month. According to Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the national policy on Covid-19 and our testing czar, the country is now at 600,000 tests. He said that we have exceeded our goal of increasing the testing capacity to 50,000 a day. But who are tested? Are they the ones tested by private companies, government entities or barangays? What is the plan? To date, there are many businesses who have allowed their staff to start working without requiring a test. Without the test how will we know where the enemy lies? Let’s be clear and get this going!

CORY AQUINO MARIA RESSA
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