By Atty. Jose Manuel I. Diokno*
Dean, De La Salle University-College of Law

Keynote address, AIESEC YouthSpeak Forum, 17 June 2018, Manila
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OUR WORLD is flooded with information. From the time we get up until we go to bed, we are inundated with information from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online newspapers, blogs, TV, radio, regular newspapers, friends, relatives, teachers, and people we meet on the street.

But not all of the information out there is true. There are forces competing for our attention, pushing us to believe in thing or another. There is, in fact, a hidden war going on beneath the surface of our lives. It’s a war between “living within the truth” and “living within the lies.”[1]

This hidden war is not so much between different groups of people as it is between the government and the people.

Our government tells us, for example, “there’s no such thing as EJKs”, when we see poor people being killed left and right in the name of the War on Drugs.

Our government tells us, “no one is invading our territory”, when we see China taking over our seas and appropriating our fishermen’s catch as their own.

Our government tells us, “our legal system is working”, when we see a different kind of justice supplanting it, blasting from the barrels of guns.

Our government tells us, “we have a right to speak freely”, when we see those who criticize the administration attacked by trolls, shut down, or put in jail.

Our government tell us, “it’s all right to slut-shame women and put them down”, when we know in our hearts that it isn’t right to do that.

Our government is not only telling us these lies, it’s forcing us to pretend along with them, “to live within their lies.” Even if we don’t believe their lies, it’s enough that we accept our life under their regime. Because by doing so, we not only confirm that regime, we fulfill it. And in so doing, we embrace the “world of appearances”[2] that our government is foisting on us.

The biggest challenge we face today is to pierce that veil of lies and see our world as it is. For it is only when we can see reality as it is that we can truly change it for the better. Because our government is “(a) captive of its own lies,”[3] it must falsify everything:

“It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present. It falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.”[4]

“Reality,” to borrow the words of Vaclac Havel, “no longer shapes governance.” Instead, it is “governance [that] shapes reality.”[5]

The challenge we face today is like no challenge you have faced before. It is a challenge to our humanity itself.

When government wields power not so we may realize ourselves as human beings but to make us “surrender our human identity in favor of the identity of the system,”[6] we are faced with a fundamental choice: to succumb to the system or stand up to it.

That is the challenge we face today.

When government forces its people to live within their lies, the only way to effectively oppose it is to live within the truth:

“So long as living within the lie is not confronted with living within the truth, it will never be exposed.”[7]

“Living within the truth” is a concept inspired by a rock and roll band–by you, the youth.

It was first articulated by Ivan Jirous, a poet and artistic director of the “Plastic People of the Universe”, a rock band formed in communist Czechoslovakia in the 1970’s.[8]

Jirous wrote about the emergence of a “second culture” outside the regime’s sphere of influence and described those who lived in it as “living in truth.”[9]

In 1976, Jirous was arrested together with members of the Plastic Universe and others who were active in the musical underground. Their trial as enemies of the State galvanized the people and led to the rise of a civil rights movement that became a major contributor to the collapse of the regime.[10]

That is the power of living within the truth.

When we live within the truth, we break through the façade of the system and unmask the real nature of its power.[11]

When we live within the truth, we expose the real problems that plague our society—problems that the regime has “hidden beneath a thick crust of lies”.[12]

When we live within the truth, we reveal reality as it is, and allow others to see it as well.

When we live within the truth, we reclaim our inherent human dignity and self-worth.

That is the “singular, explosive and incalculable power”[13]of living within the truth.

Some of us, despite the prevailing threats, fear, and violence, are already living within the truth:

• The young woman who stood, alone, in protest against the burial of a dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

• The fisherfolk who, despite the pressure, revealed what is really happening in the West Philippine Sea.

• The bloggers who, despite of the vicious attacks by trolls, continue to tell it like it is.

• The journalists, who, despite the fear and the threats, continue to publish real stories about real people.

• The teachers, scientists, historians, social scientists and students who, despite popular demand, practice independent scholarship and refuse to toe the government’s line.

• The human rights defenders and relatives of victims who, at the risk of being victims of EJK’s themselves, continue to expose the arbitrary executions being done in the name of the War on Drugs.

Living within the truth under the harshest conditions is what made national heroes of Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini and other courageous Filipinos.

When we live within the truth, we cast a powerful light that illuminates our surroundings and allows others to see the regime for what it really is.

This kind of illumination has “profound and incalculable consequences”[14]– which explains why our government and others like it “suppress the truth more severely than anything else.”[15]

To live within the truth is to say, with conviction –

I do not believe in a political system that requires that I sacrifice my human identity in its name.

I do not believe in a political system that has no respect for human life and no regard for human dignity.

I do not believe in a political system that stifles free expression and prevents human beings from developing to their full potential.

I do not believe in a political system that suppresses the truth and forces me to live within its lies.

All of us, at this very moment, can choose to live within the truth.

“Every free expression of life”[16]– in literature, film, music, science, sports, education, photography, dance, or whatever it is you do – is an act of living within the truth.

Every assertion of our inherent human dignity, our longing for peace and harmony, and our desire for solidarity with others, is an act of living within the truth.

Every action that springs from our “authentic inner conviction,”[17]our innermost being, and our self-worth, is an act of living within the truth.

Every time we affirm our unique human identity, make use of our unique talents for others, and act “in the spirit of our own hierarchy of values,”[18]we live within the truth.

Every time we lend a helping hand to those in need, to the weak, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, we live within the truth.

Every time we demand that justice be done and that the Constitution be respected, we live within the truth.

Living within the truth may not be easy. Living within the lies peddled by the government is much easier.

But which path will provide a lasting solution to our problems?

Which path will allow us to “live freely in dignity and partnership”?[19]
Which path will give us the space we need to bring our unique talents and abilities to full flower?

What is the truth about the society we live in? What do our people really need?

While we may disagree about many things, there is one thing we all agree on, and long for: a just society run by a just government whose officials are accountable to the people.

A society whose government officials are not corrupt and whose only interest is in serving the people.

A society whose government is capable of putting criminals behind bars and punishing them.

A society whose government respects human life and our inherent dignity as human beings, and which allows our people to bring their talents to full flower.

A society we can all be proud of.

That is a matter of vital importance that our government is trying desperately to suppress by ramming its lies down our throats.

That is a matter of crucial significance that our government is trying to conceal by using the barrel of the gun to dispense its version of “justice”.

That is a matter of paramount concern that we must embrace if we truly want to see freedom and justice reign in our land.

Maraming salamat po.

* Atty. Jose Manuel I. Diokno is also the national chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
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[1]”Living within the truth” and “living within the lie” are concepts articulated by the writer and statesman Vaclac Havel in his seminal essay entitled “The Power of the Powerless” (October 1987. Many of the ideas, words and phrases of Havel’s essay have been incorporated here. The full text of the essay is available at http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML.
[2]Id.
[3]Id. All the phrases in quotation marks in this and succeeding paragraphs are from Havel’s essay.
[4]Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, accessible at http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML
[5]Id.
[6]Id.
[7]Id.
[8] Ivan Jirous obituary by Paul Wilson, at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/nov/29/ivan-jirous
[9] Id.
[10]Id.
[11]Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, http://www.vaclavhavel.cz/showtrans.php?cat=eseje&val=2_aj_eseje.html&typ=HTML
[12]Id.
[13]Id.
[14]Id.
[15]Id.
[16]Id.
[17]Id.
[18]Id.
[19]Id.

By Manny Mogato*
Senior Correspondent, Reuters

THE STORIES are tragic. They are horrifying and shocking. They are too compelling for any journalist to ignore.

But, as the bodies started to pile up, the stories became more difficult to report to report. Government officials seem to want to bury the victims as mere statistics in President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.

Journalists have had to rely on data-driven journalism and lots of leg work, devote many hours talking to victims, their families, witnesses, and police investigators; and review investigation reports and other documents; and immersing in the commuunity. Over time, it became more difficult to obtain documents because of official restrictions.

As soon as Duterte assumed office in mid-2016, Reuters began looking into the bloody campaign against illegal drugs, reporting the tragic stories of victims, and putting names and faces to the statistics. But there are bigger stories to tell, such as finding out who are the people behind these killings?

This story and other “Voices from the Frontlines” dispatches form part of the state of press freedom report, “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check”, produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Philippine Press Institute, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

This is where good old journalism techniques matter. I have covered the police and military beats for a long time, starting as a graveyard shift crime/police reporter for People’s Journal Tonight in 1984 in one of the capital’s crime-prone cities.

Journalism skills are learned in the police beat, especially at night when you are on your own but is still expected to deliver stories. There are no officials and spokesmen available at night so journalists have to be resourceful and cultivate their own sources inside the police and outside with people who interact with the police.

Yet still, corruption is a big problem in Philippine society, including in the press. There is real danger or risk that the system would suck in journalists, and prevent them from doing their watchdog role to report public-interest issues, and expose irregularities in the police force.

Close relationships and too much familiarity with news sources can be a problem when journalists choose to close their eyes on corruption and other wrongdoings.

But, keeping a professional distance from news sources, and guarding one’s dignity and integrity will help build a reputation that can define a journalist’s character.

Relationships anchored on trust and news sources will trust journalists who they think are fair, honest, and professional. That was what I realized when Reuters was doing the sensitive stories of uncovering the truth behind the drug war killings.

Reuters found sources inside the police who trusted journalists with information about the mechanics of the drug war, the rewards list and the staged encounters. These sources freely showed to Reuters journalists their mobile phones where text messages from senior regional officials ordering them to do things related to the drugs war.

These are courageous police officers who shared sensitive information to journalists who they believe can be trusted.

Philippine journalism is not perfect. It has many problems but if journalists would remain professional, fair, and not biased, and continue to uphold the truth, democracy will not die in this country. — PCIJ, May 2018
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* Filipino journalist Manny Mogato and Reuters colleagues Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in April 2018 for “relentless reporting that exposed the brutal killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.”

Reflections of a TV correspondent

I HAVE BEEN covering conflicts for over 20 years both here and abroad. I thought i’ve seen it all.

Then came the battle for Marawi.

At first it was just like the all-out war versus the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in Maguindanao in 2000 or the series of military operations to rescue Abu Sayyaf hostages in Sulu and Basilan from 2000 to 2009.

While the stories from the battlefront and the evacuation centers in Marawi were reminiscent of conflicts past, covering the five-month battle for Marawi was a whole new experience for many of us.

It was a paradoxical mix of having easy access to tons of information, video, and images but it was such a pain to verify, counter check, and corroborate with independent sources and reliable data and information.

As with any other conflicts, the line between propaganda and factual information are almost always hard to distinguish. But in the battle of Marawi, it was cranked up to the highest level.

This story and other “Voices from the Frontlines” dispatches form part of the state of press freedom report, “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check”, produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Philippine Press Institute, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

Access to independent information and to the actual main battle area was tightly controlled by the military, and for good reason.

At the same time, though, the proliferation of smart phones with high-resolution cameras made it possible for journalists to take an unfiltered peek at what was happening on the ground. It was a matter of looking for the right source.

And then there’s social media.

Unlike the coverages of old when we would trek to the terrorists’ lair and interview them and their hostages, in Marawi, that was not a choice at all.

But with their own socmed teams taking full advantage of the power of social media, the terrorists managed to get their messages across. It was a matter of making sure we were not being used to spread their propaganda.

However helpful social media was, it also became a bane for journalists.
Before Marawi, the military trusted members of the media with sensitive information and even operational security matters, not necesarilly for publication but more importantly for journalists to get a better grasp and context of what was happening.

In a complicated story such as Marawi, background and context are essential in crafting an accurate story.

This changed during the Marawi coverage.

Off-the-record banters with military officials stopped. Access to primary sources of information such as released hostages and junior officers was restricted. At some point, we were asked not to film military planes dropping bombs not because of operational security issues but for fear that these images might be used as propaganda against the military on social media.

I must admit, these became a distraction for some of us in pursuing the more important stories and issues in the battle that destroyed a crucial part of a historic city, a bitter but important lesson we hope to learn.– PCIJ, May 2018

By Vino Lucero
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

RIGHT BEFORE the inaugural as president of Rodrigo R. Duterte and the launch of his so-called war on drugs, I got an interview with a police general about a homegrown information system of the Philippine National Police (PNP). For the most part, it went on smoothly, except for a not-so-subtle threat of retribution from the general if I should, in any way, “misquote” him.

Days later, the general got a promotion under the new administration. Little did I realize that that quick hostile moment with a police source would just be a preview of an extended narrative of an inimical relationship I would have with the police, especially when it comes to accessing information on Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.

This story and other “Voices from the Frontlines” dispatches form part of the state of press freedom report, “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check”, produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Philippine Press Institute, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

As months passed, and even after Mr. Duterte had issued a Freedom of Information executive order, the PNP responded to dozens of letters I sent to secure more information in ways more and more opaque.
In the early months, I could still access regional breakdowns of police data on the drug war and set interviews directly with police sources.

In time, the police started to enforce stricter rules on media-related requests, a policy that it strictly enforced soon after. All requests would now have to be coursed through the PNP National Headquarters’ Public Information Office. Additional waiting time and more rules have put access requests in peril.

The previous waiting time of two weeks to two months, stretched on for much longer. In cases when the response I received did not fully cover the specified data I had requested, I needed to write separate letters again, and wait for the process to start and end again, across more weeks or months.

I started receiving replies on requests for regional-level drug war data that offered no real action but plain denials. I was told that the police units could not grant access to the requested data as “they are considered classified matters and disclosure of such information may compromise the effectiveness of the conducted activities in relation to the abovementioned project.”

Early last year, intelligence officers from the Quezon City Police District twice visited the office looking for me. This happened after I filed with them a request for drug war data. The visits were made to allegedly confirm my identity, even as I had actually furnished them earlier with a scanned copy of my Media ID and a certificate of employment from PCIJ. The PCIJ admin called the police district to demand an explanation and to issue a firm reminder that the information the police said they wanted had precisely been submitted to them earlier.

Ironically, these visits happened after I had already filed more than a hundred requests for documents and data with the PNP National Headquarters, its regional offices, and its Metro Manila districts. I even personally interviewed the QCPD District Director at the time just a few weeks prior.

And despite the visits, the requests I filed with the QCPD yielded just two results: full denial of the request and copies of mere aggregate data — far from what were specified in the requests.

The PNP has set up all sorts of hoops and obstacles for the media to be able to access and secure information on the drug war. One is wont to ask: What are the police trying to hide?

History and the rise and fall of despots have proved the persistence and resilience of Filipino journalists. It is only a matter of time before we all find out what secrets the police want to keep. Stay tuned. — PCIJ, May 2018

By Aie Balagtas
Reporter, Philippine Daily Inquirer

MY COVERAGE of the war on drugs began on July 3, 2016. It was President Rodrigo Duterte’s third day in office. What a bloody Sunday it was!

That day particularly struck me because of the sheer number of dead bodies that piled up in a matter of hours. Eight men were killed in the city of Manila alone.

An Inquirer headline the next day called it “Bloody Sunday”.

For supporters of the drug war, it was a good day.

Seven years ago, a report I wrote was also headlined “Bloody Sunday.” It was about two men who were killed separately in fights that broke out in their families in two cities in Metro Manila.

A day that saw two killings in two cities was already considered a “bloody” day then.

Since my drug war coverage began, I had reported eight dead in one 24-hour period, 14 in another, and a high of 26. Other journalists had reported 32 killed in a “one time, big time” police operation.?
And where did we find the dead? In the slums, of course.

This story and other “Voices from the Frontlines” dispatches form part of the state of press freedom report, “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check”, produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Philippine Press Institute, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

July 3, 2016 began for me interviewing Farida Bonifacio, a teenaged widow whose husband Bonabelle was one of the men killed in a police operation that morning. Bonabelle was unarmed.

The police said Bonabelle was the target of a “follow-up” anti-drug operation. That should have meant that the anti-drug operatives were supposed to know who he was. But long after the smoke had cleared, Manila cops still listed him as “unidentified.”

This pattern of “unidentified” fatalities in police anti-drug operations would eventually emerge. Some of the targets of undercover operations were identified only after they had been killed.
Other patterns could be seen in the police spot reports, which were practically all the same as if written in accordance with one script.

A spot report about a “buy-bust” operation always starts with undercover cops buying “shabu” (crystal meth) from alleged drug dealers, who eventually realize that it is a sting operation. It ends with a shootout that leaves the bad guys dead.

While talking to Farida at the headquarters, a smiling officer passed us by. Minutes later, this cop, PO1 Vincent Paul Solares, shattered picture frames hanging from the walls. Then, he fired at cops who responded to the commotion. A gunfight ensued.

Elite cops tried but failed to “neutralize” Solares. But in the end, policemen were only able to arrest Solares after he surrendered.

It is worth keeping this incident in mind as relatives of suspected drug offenders have accused the Philippine police of killing their quarries who were asleep or were begging for their lives. The police have defended themselves, saying they just acted in self-defense because their targets fought back — “nanlaban.”

Under custody, Solares appeared agitated, restless, and anxious. Accusations that he went berserk because he had used drugs were quickly hurled at him without any evidence.

Some officers yelled at him: “You’re a drug addict, right? Your eyes are so red!” they said.

Others said Solares was “lucky” his life was spared because, the police said, “he’s one of us.”

As it turned out, Solares never used drugs. Instead, he snapped from the bullying of fellow policemen from his precinct.

That day was the first clear picture of how someone could easily brand another a drug user just from that person’s physical appearance, and how police officers could decide, just like that, to spare or take the life of another human being. — PCIJ, May 2018
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[Disclaimer: A longer version of this story was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s December 9, 2017 issue]

By The Nightcrawlers*

THOUSANDS have been killed in the government’s brutal crusade against drugs. They call it a war. It is, instead, a violent campaign against the poorest and most vulnerable.

Many stories have been published. Thousands of images have been captured. We are told we are yellow and biased, presstitutes and destabilizers, the paid operatives of drug lords and foreign imperialists.

Our work has been reduced into a supposed product of staging and manipulation.

The President himself has publicly called our reports fake news. News groups have been targeted. We have been insulted, harassed, and threatened with rape and death on and offline.

We will continue reporting. We will stay on in the field with the bodies and the witnesses.

For us, it’s not about political color. We believe in human rights, and the humanity of every citizen, regardless of class or background. We strive for balance and seek accountability.

We are biased for facts, and we hope to honor the tradition of a free and fearless press. — PCIJ, May 2018

This story and other “Voices from the Frontlines” dispatches form part of the state of press freedom report, “Speak Truth to Power, Keep Power in Check”, produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and Philippine Press Institute, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018.

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* “The Nightcrawlers” is an informal group of photojournalists working with various Philippine and foreign media agencies who prowl the streets of Metro Manila night after night to document drug war killings. The group members have produced the most riveting images of the war on drugs.

(1)-3-May-2018_Per-Region

RODRIGO R. Duterte’s presidency has altered and controlled the public discourse so radically in its favor in ways rude and bold. One tragic result: it has restricted and narrowed the celebrated freedom of the Philippine press and the people’s cherished right to know.

In his first 22 months in power, Mr. Duterte has earned the dubious honor of logging 85 various cases of attacks and threats on these dual values that the Constitution upholds as inalienable rights of the citizens. The number far exceeds those recorded under four presidents before him.

Separately and together, these 85 cases have made the practice of journalism an even more dangerous endeavor under Duterte.

From June 30, 2016 to May 1, 2018, these cases include the killing of 9 journalists, 16 libel cases, 14 cases of online harassment, 11 death threats, 6 slay attempts, 6 cases of harassment, 5 cases of intimidation, 4 cases of website attack, revoked registration or denied franchise renewal, verbal abuse, strafing, and police surveillance of journalists and media agencies.

These cases project the force of presidential power dominating the political sphere, with zealous support from Duterte allies and appointees, and their sponsored misinformation army online and off. They have hurled at members of the press insults and unfair labels, and allegations of corruption and misconduct without firm basis in fact or in law.

These cases linger amid effete efforts at solution by state agencies, and in the context of the hostile and vicious discourse against the administration’s critics and the critical media.

The President, Cabinet members, and the House of Representatives have imposed and proposed unprecedented restrictions on journalist access to official news events. Congress and executive agencies have denied or delayed the corporate registration or franchises required for operation of media companies.

Some journalists and media groups have also reported police surveillance of their movement and their places of work.

WPFD. 3-May-2018_Media-Murders
Attacks on press freedom diminish not just the news media. These weaken the capacity of the news media to sustain the people’s unfettered exchange of ideas about public issues. Presidential intolerance of criticism is now a well-established aspect of Duterte’s leadership. While he is not the only chief executive who has become sensitive to press criticism, Duterte has made sure that everyone understands that misfortunes could hound and befall his critics.

And yet Duterte had promised change; his government should thus tell the people when and where change has come to fruition, and whether it has triggered better or worse results. By keeping citizens and voters fully informed about what and how those they have raised to power are doing right or wrong, a free press sustains and strengthens democracy.

That is not quite the situation under Duterte as yet. Intimidated, restrained, and threatened with consequences, the news media have been significantly constrained to report well and fully on the war on drugs, the siege of Marawi, cases of alleged corruption in high office, questions about the wealth of the Duterte family, the public debate on Charter change and federalism, the shutdown of Boracay, and not the least significant, the incursions of China in the West Philippine Sea.

Rodrigo R. Duterte has brandished the power of fear. His threats and attacks bear the full weight of his office, the highest in the land. No need to test constitutional limits. All he seems to want to do is to make enough journalists understand that they should be very afraid.

But, like fear, courage could be contagious. And unlike fear that disempowers, courage built on the power of truth and the unity of all in media is a force that empowers.

To stand firm and to stand united for press freedom and democracy, to speak truth to power and to keep power in check — this much the press owes the people. And whoever is president, the paramount duty of a free press in a democracy is to defend and uphold the people’s right to know, with unqualified courage and unity.

Pooled editorial of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Philippine media agencies, in observance of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2018