With election season just around the corner, knowledge, more than ever, is power. While, yes, voting is our right; making an informed choice is our responsibility. We cannot afford to see the current political plane through biased, colored lens. We have to see it for what it is — the good, the bad, the ugly — and make a decision after careful and purposeful deliberation.
Allow me to use Ressa’s arrest last week as an example. I had a meaningful discussion with a close relative about whether it was an attack on press freedom or not. To refresh our collective memory, here are some things to take note of: Ressa has been critical of some of the policies of Duterte. Such criticisms must have reached the ears of the President because his signature diatribe has targeted both Ressa and Rappler in the past. In fact, the President accused Rappler as being funded by the United States Central Intelligence Agency at one point. There were also instances when Rappler reporters and correspondents were barred from covering some presidential events.
Fast forward to Ressa’s arrest. Here were some of the questions I raised in relation to my relative’s belief that it was nothing but a private matter between the complainant and Rappler’s CEO:
- The supposed case that was used to file this current charge of online libel happened four months BEFORE the law against online libel was created. Given that the law is not retroactive in nature, was it right for a warrant of arrest to be issued because of a crime that did not exist at the time it was allegedly committed?
- According to Ressa’s camp, there was neither an attached information sheet (this specifies the charges lodged against her) nor the amount needed to post bail. If this assertion were true, why were these documents left out?
- Ressa also said that while online libel is a bailable offense, bail was rejected when her party initially attempted to post it the very night she was arrested. Why was her bail rejected if in fact this crime is bailable?
- It also turns out that the warrant was issued on February 12. Why the delay in serving it? Why wait for courts to close before arresting Ressa?
- Inquirer posed a valid question on their editorial published last Thursday, February 21. They asked, “If the libel charge that led to Ressa’s arrest is a private matter between Keng and Ressa, why are government resources being used to explain the arrest?” They raised this question after Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar informed the public that three members of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) traveled to Europe to “make the continent’s media understand the real nature of the recent arrest of Ressa.”
It is in having such a dialogue on issues that have reverberating consequences like this one that we get to clarify our views and help us make informed choices. On one hand, it is exemplary for our leaders to show care and malasakit. But on the other, we have to look at where they stand, what their principles are. Remember, principles direct policies. If we want progress, it is not enough to base our decision on who doles out the most freebies or attends the most number of birthdays and weddings. We have to have eyes that see, ears that listen, and minds that discern. University of Southern California Constitutional Law Professor succinctly put it when he penned an opinion article for LA Times. In it, he says, “An informed public is the greatest weapon of democracy.”