EDITORIAL: Ah, Freedom Of Speech

IMG_6793.PNGAh, freedom of speech. The world wide web has given it the platform to flaunt itself, and to flourish. Netizens are enjoying the opportunity to say what they want to say and are out to test the limits of their freedom, if there are any.

The pros and the cons equally take to social media to make their case to praise as well as to condemn. They are feeling the power of their word or of their signature. Even a simple thumbs up or emoji gives them the satisfaction of having their thoughts and feelings made known to the world.

The legitimate news media are feeling threatened. Now, they are hardly the only source of news. At the same time, news takes on a different meaning, depending on its source. Fact-checking is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

In the Philippines, which has one of the world’s highest percentage of citizens connected to the Internet, we have seen a digital divide — not the original concept of who has or doesn’t have access to the web. Rather, it is a divide that separates one side of politics from the other.

One is either pro-Duterte or anti-Duterte, a “yellowtard” or a “Dutertard.” You either follow Mocha Uson or Raisa Robles, Cynthia Patag or Sass Rogando Sassot, Secretary Andanar or Senator Trillanes. Boxing fan or not, you are either pro or against Senator Manny Pacquiao.

Filipinos have learned to use online petitions to seek change or status quo.

Early on, pro-Aquino tour guide-turned-activist Carlos Celdran petitioned Rodrigo Roa Duterte to resign, even before he actually assumed the presidency. Celdran gathered some 5,000 signatures. Meanwhile, a counter-petition registered 8,000 supporters.

In another petition that failed to gain ground, Catholic Filipinos were asked to sign a demand for Duterte to resign or be impeached. It gained just about 300 signatures.

Mimicking Celdran’s Duterte resignation petition, a self-described Filipino American human rights lawyer residing in the San Francisco Bay Area just posted a call for Filipinos worldwide to demand that the president step down. Ted Laguatan’s petition has over a thousand signatures as of this writing.

But nothing has shown the digital divide more than the ongoing rift between Uson fans and her critics. A petition asking Facebook to shut down her political blog reached as many as 33,000 supporters. But then, a counter-petition authored by a Filipina living in Canada, generated 35,000 signatures.

In tweets and op-ed pieces published on Rappler, its CEO Maria Ressa made the case that it was “time to take back the Internet.”

But the question for Ressa is: “From whom?” From the pros or the cons? Because in either case, what will be taken away is precisely the freedom of speech that allowed her and her media organization to flourish in the online world.

In other online news, have you heard about the letter asking the Miss Universe Organization to cancel its planned beauty pageant in Manila this coming January? It was on the grounds that the atmosphere under the Duterte administration is not conducive to an international competition for women. Well, that too has divided the country, although we suspect, unequally — with the pro-beauty pageant  Filipinos having  the upper hand…

(The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of The Adobo Chronicles only.  Any similarity to actual opinions by others is purely coincidental.)

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