Today, Filipinos are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the first People Power revolution that ousted the Marcos dictatorship. Ironically, today President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also announced a State of Emergency which her government claims gives her the right to make warrantless arrests, take over public utility companies and prohibit all types of mass actions and protests. Indeed, all rally permits for today have been revoked, making all the commemorations illegal. Sociology Professor Randy David - a well-known political commentator - and several of his companions have already been arrested. It seems like the return of the hated martial law days.
The National Telecommunications Commission called a meeting of all media and communications companies announcing that the government can now sanction any of them. There are no clear guidelines as to what is allowed or not allowed, though.
Opposition Senator Aquilino Pimentel said in an interview that he has been trying to send text messages to other opposition senators to call for an emergency meeting but all his text messages seem to be blocked.
The question is whether communications companies have begun to take steps to curtail the freedom of communication.
This could be tested if and when the email campaigns against the current political situation begin. During the protests against past president Joseph Estrada - who was also ousted in the second People Power movement - email campaigns were used extensively and successfully to distribute information and gather more anti-Estrada support.
Arroyo’s current moves have immediately raised the ire of the people. The ranks of protesters are swelling and, I believe, will continue to rise not only in Metro Manila but also throughout the country.
So far, ABS-CBN - one of the major broadcasting companies - has been giving the protest actions full coverage. It remains to be seen how the government will react to this. Media people in Malacañang have already been told that they will be asked to leave the premises at 6 in the evening.
I believe Arroyo has made a major mistake. Curtailing the Filipino people’s civil liberties can only end in one way - her ousting. The Filipino people have always fought for their freedom at whatever cost. It looks like Arroyo is a poor student of her own people’s history.
As is it, Arroyo’s credibility has already been badly damaged by the “Hello Garci” scandal where a tape was released of her supposed conversation with the Commission of Elections commissioner Garcillano during the presidential elections. In the tape, Arroyo was heard following up on how her votes are being ensured. The scandal was, however, successfully blocked from further investigation by Arroyo’s majority bloc in the Congress.
But if Arroyo was able to get away with that, she will not be able to get away with her current declaration.
All forms of communication will surely be used by the people in asserting their rights. We will see how the communication companies will handle the situation.