“Perhaps, if the CPP/NPA gives up the armed component of their struggle to take over the reins of government and wage the fight only thru the ballot, maybe an agreement can be reached with the government”
Former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon received a lot of flak for his efforts to block the websites of 28 media outlets the government suspects of being affiliated with the CPP/NPA like Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
The Human Rights Watch said the National Telecommunication Commission action is a curtailment of the right of free speech and press freedom.
Even the Integrated Bar of the Philippines weighed in by saying that the NTC has no authority to block the websites.
Bulatlat consequently filed a case in court to nullify NTC’s order, insisting it is a legitimate news outlet.
Under ideal circumstances, this issue would be an open and shot case considering that the Philippine Constitution does guarantee press freedom and the right to free speech.
But as we know, the situation in the country is anything but normal.
We have many certifiable terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and Maute group and an active communist insurgency.
Abu Sayyaf is one of the smallest, but strongest of the Philippine Islamist separatist groups. Some Abu Sayyaf members studied or worked in Saudi Arabia and developed ties to mujahadeen, while fighting and training in the war against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Maute group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, was a radical Islamist group composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas and foreign fighters led by Omar Maute, the alleged founder of a Dawlah Islamiya, or Islamic state, based in Lanao del Sur.
Furthermore, the right to free speech in this country as we also know is not absolute.
As our courts have decided in several cases there is a limit to what one can say or print.
The solution is striking a balance in such a way that free speech can be maintained while allowing the government some leeway to defend itself when there is a serious threat to national security from internal sources.
The Anti- Terrorism Law was supposed to do that. But the effort seems to have failed. The law is precisely what is being attacked for allowing the government to silence legitimate dissent and free speech.
What the media organizations suspected by the government to be allied with the CPP/NPA want is that there should be a free market of ideas in the regular and social media which is now the more preferred news outlet by the public to be open and unrestricted.
In other words, the CPP/NPA and allies want to have their cake and eat it too.
They want to maintain their above ground instrumentalities in Congress while continuing to wage a brutal revolutionary war to overthrow the duly constituted government.
The fact that this ongoing conflict between the government and the CPP/NPA has spilled over to social media is simply a continuation of the war between the two by other means as von Clausewitz said.
Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist who stressed the “moral” and political aspects of war, was a professional combat soldier who was involved in numerous military campaigns, but he is famous primarily as a military theorist interested in the examination of war, utilizing the campaigns of Frederick the Great and Napoleon as frames of reference for his work
Attempts between the two – the government and the anti-government side – to resolve the conflict thru peace talks have been done many times but failed.
The latest was by the Duterte administration, which ended when President Duterte himself gave it up which was a missed opportunity.
By the looks of it, the new administration is not inclined either to hold any dialogue with the CPP/NPA even if Joma Sison broached the idea.
Even before taking office, the new National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos dismissed the suggestion of a dialogue, saying that the government is done talking.
We should therefore, expect to see the conflict to continue and escalate further in the arena of social media.
As demonstrated by what the NTC did, the government resorted to the Anti-Terrorism Law to deny the CPP/NPA space in what it believes is a clever recruitment effort.
Government must, however, not only rely on its regulatory powers but see to it that it is ready, prepared and able to slug it out on social media.
Right now, social media is a medium wherein controls and limitations are not universally defined and uniformly accepted.
Different countries have different mechanisms. Whatever action that the government intends to do, it is crucial that this is interpreted as a legitimate step to protect itself.
The government must strive to be on the moral high ground to be credible.
In the fight on who is right and who is wrong, credibility and perceptions are quite important.
This is because there are many local and international non-government organizations that are always questioning government motives.
Being credible makes half the battle won.
The court challenge filed by Bulatlat is therefore a test case whether what the NTC did will be upheld by the courts and provide the government with an effective tool in negating what it believes to be recruiting efforts of the CPP/NPA.
Going forward, it is hard to see any clear-cut resolution of this issue any time soon.
Perhaps, if the CPP/NPA gives up the armed component of their struggle to take over the reins of government and wage the fight only thru the ballot, maybe an agreement can be reached with the government.
But that is wishful thinking.
This 53-year insurgency which has taken thousands of Filipino lives will unfortunately continue much longer unless we can find a way to end it once and for all for the sake of the country.