On 20 August 2020, FMA organized an online discussion titled What’s Next for the FOE Advocacy? The discussion was livestreamed to the public via Facebook Live and featured speakers from various sectors, namely, Rep. Carlos Zarate from Bayan Muna Party-List, Ms. Judy Pasimio from In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND), Atty. Gilbert Andres from the Center for International Law, and Mr. Raymund Villanueva from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
The speakers kicked off the discussion by talking about the challenges their groups are facing in advocating for freedom of expression, especially in the time of COVID-19 and after the passage of the controversial Anti-Terror Law. Pasimio shared that the digital divide has become more palpable during the lockdown, and as online platforms have become the new battleground, they have also come to reflect new inequalities, such as inequality in internet access.
Rep. Zarate assured the audience that while defending human rights in the current Congress is challenging, progressive legislators are determined to keep opposing bills that aim to stifle free speech, such as the Anti-Fake News Bill. He also stressed the importance of decriminalizing libel, which has been proposed several times in Congress.
Atty. Andres elaborated on the dangers of the Anti-Terror Law, particularly on how blatantly it abuses Constitutional rights and how it practically suspends the privilege of habeas corpus. CenterLaw is one of the numerous groups that assailed the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror Law before the Supreme Court.
This current legal landscape is particularly harmful to journalists, who have long been targets of harassment and political violence. Villanueva, coming from one of the biggest journalist groups in the country, shared that the ABS-CBN shutdown and the conviction of Maria Ressa were two of the biggest blows to press freedom in the country. He also shared his own experience as a victim of red-baiting by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Despite all these challenges, however, the speakers remain hopeful for the human rights advocacy. Pasimio raised the need for creative and innovative ways to provide platforms for marginalized voices, especially in the current context of the pandemic and the ABS-CBN shutdown. One of the ways by which human rights groups like LILAK (or the Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) are doing this is through “mass-texting,” or sending SMS blasts about current events and pressing issues to indigenous communities that used to rely on ABS-CBN as a source of information.
The speakers closed the session by encouraging all Filipinos to rise above the state of fear and impunity and take up the cudgels to protect our Constitutional right to free speech. Above all, viewers of the discussion were invited to continue hoping; as hope, Pasimio says, “is something that fascists and murderers cannot kill.”
A recorded version of the discussion is available for viewing in FMA’s offficial Youtube channel.