MANILA, Philippines – The world sees the Philippines as a "startling enigma" for its contradictions: a democracy with an authoritarian President, a fast-developing economy where more people are groaning from poverty – and what it needs is bold truth-tellers to combat the established power's ploys, said Vice President Leni Robredo in a forum of local and international journalists.
"History has shown that Philippine media has never bowed down to any strongman, and in fact grows stronger when democracy is threatened. On the other hand, heartless trolls for hire sit in cubicles spreading lies and disinformation, hide behind false identities, and enjoy absolutely no accountability. Your voice must be stronger than theirs," Robredo told reporters at the yearly Prospects forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines held in Makati City on Thursday, January 30.
Identifying with journalists as one who "speaks truth to power," Robredo recounted how she has been a target of disinformation, and how she was threatened with impeachment early into her term after she called out extrajudicial killings and other anomalies in President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs."
'So be it'
The Duterte administration has targeted certain journalists and news organizations like Rappler for their critical reporting on its policies, actions, and statements. The government under Duterte has widely clamped down on dissent and opposition – inherent facets of democratic societies.
"Do I regret speaking up? If harassment and bullying go with the job, then so be it. Those in power may refuse to listen, but for me to remain silent would be an unforgivable failure on my part," Robredo said.
She enumerated the achievements of her office's Angat Buhay program, which is funded through corporate and organizational partnerships to make up for the relatively small portion that the Office of the Vice President receives from the national budget.
Robredo highlighted her office's housing project for people displaced by the 2017 siege of Marawi City by the Maute terror group – and criticized the Duterte administration for failing to spend some P400 million in funds allocated for Marawi's recovery in 2018, which reverted to the national treasury.
"Information on things like the Marawi projects, the supply of drugs in the country, the real state of the economy, allow citizens to make better decisions, whether in politics or in business. An open government that allows the media, civil society, and any concerned citizen to speak out and call it out, ensures that the government remains accountable to the people it serves," said Robredo, who had served as the country's drug czar in late 2019, when Duterte offered her the job and then fired her after 18 days.
In the forum, Robredo asked journalists to "work together" with her by continuing to report the truth – especially on drug war killings – to dispel the misconceptions and misinformation that drive people into supporting authoritarian rule.
"I cannot overemphasize the crucial role that the media can play in this. You have the power to be truth-tellers. You are experienced and trained professionals who write your stories with fairness, truth, and urgency. You follow a code of ethics that preserve the very fabric of society," the Vice President said. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.