By Chit Estella
May 6, 2007
IF RIZAL Yuyitung were alive today, what would he say about the death threats, the libel suits and the murders that seem to have become par for the course for journalists?
He would perhaps remember that early night of May 4, 1970, when he and his brother Quintin were nabbed just outside the Manila Overseas Press Club and shoved into a waiting vehicle that would take them to Basa Air Base. From there, a plane flew them to Taiwan where they were shown a deportation order signed by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
Perhaps Yuyitung, in recollection of those times, would sigh and say, “Ah, the good, old days!”
At least, they were shown a piece of paper that somehow explained the indignity done to them. At least, their acts were given names (ridiculous as they were) to justify their arrest—subversion and communism. And at least, they were allowed to live.
But even those consolations were not enough to placate their colleagues in media then. Outraged journalists demanded justice for the Yuyitung brothers whose case has come to be regarded as the symbol of media repression. That is, before journalists were threatened, sued, or killed wholesale in a “restored democracy.”
Still, it bears remembering what the Brothers Yuyitung and their father, the first Yu Yi Tung, had gone through to defend what is known then and now as freedom of the press. That is why we honor them and count them among the heroes of press freedom.
Remembering and counting are two activities that journalists seem to be doing a lot of these days. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, members of media here and abroad compared notes on the toll that repression has taken in their respective countries.
The picture can be quite grim, especially when one considers what an African head of state, Gambia’s Yahyah Jammeh, told the journalists in his country: “I don’t believe in killing people. I believe in locking you up for the rest of your life.” So, Filipino journalists, be warned: If you are leaving the Philippines, avoid Gambia.
But it would be wrong to think that, in the face of every terrible thing that has happened and continues to happen, nothing has changed. If initial reports regarding this year’s elections are any indication, something has happened. In places like Pampanga—in fact, in almost every place except Maguindanao—something big did happen.
People have begun taking their rights seriously. They’ve started to expect something from those who want to be their leaders and it’s not a song-and-dance number. Did media have anything to do with this? A look at the monitor done by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) might give some clues. This issue of PJR Reports contains the report for the third period that was monitored by CMFR. A forthcoming publication would contain more details about the monitors and some related studies such as the political ads that were shown during the campaign.
In the meantime, we wait and see what will happen in the next few weeks. Keeping a bottle of champagne (or beer) is a good idea, but getting those running shoes ready for a trip down EDSA might be a better one. One never knows.