THE MANILA Peninsula incident last November 29 has exposed again not only the problematic state of Philippine constitutional democracy, but also the problematic relations between the state and the press.

The fact that Sen. Antonio Trillanes and Gen. Danilo Lim, both facing charges in connection with the Oakwood incident in 2003, were able to walk out of the court that was hearing the charges against them and march to the five-star hotel unchallenged should show that there might be some strong sympathy yet for military adventurism not only among soldiers and officers themselves but also among the civilian sector whose authority is exactly challenged and undermined by military messianism.

Public sympathy was what Trillanes was apparently luring when he called for the downfall of the “evil regime,” obviously referring to the the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He therefore capitalized on widespread disenchantment with the President, whose government has been rocked by one corruption scandal after another.

Arroyo’s legitimacy has been severely put in doubt since the infamous election rigging charges were made against her in 2005. The President has not faced the issues squarely, but instead, evaded impeachment and bought for herself time and relief by horse-trading with politicians and running afoul of the rules of transpareny. Since she has been playing the dubious game all along, she should not be surprised that a dark pallor has been more and more cast on her, and that dark forces, like military destabilization, are threatening to sweep her aside. She has nothing but herself to blame.

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But let there be no mistaking us here. The Varsitarian, like the rest of the nation, condemns any military adventurism that, in the final analysis, is a mockery of constitutional democracy. Trillanes et al are merely exploting the freedoms afforded by republican democracy in order to destroy civilian authority and take away those same freedoms once they succeed in their megalomaniac ends.

Which brings us to the controversy over the authorities’ arrest and handcuffing of members of the press who were found embedded with mutineers after the successful government assault to flush out Trillanes et al. While the authorities might have legitimate security concerns, their treatment of the press smacked of harassment and maltreatment. To be sure, the press were able to identify themselves and the arrest was not necessary as it was draconian. The Varsitarian concurs with the statement of the Philippine Center of the International PEN:

“‘PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in times of peace…’

“Therefore, based on the declaration of its Charter, the Philippine PEN condemns in the strongest terms the state’s manhandling and arrest of members of the press… urges state authorities and their instrumentalities to respect the constitutional right of the press to access, without obstruction, public information and to report it freely… (PEN) likewise exhorts state authorities to recognize the critical importance of the press and the pen to the society and to the world—that access to public information and its free dissemination by the press is crucial to the health and even survival of democracy and a regime of freedoms.

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“The Philippine PEN strongly urges the state to respect and observe the freedom of the press and the freedom of the pen.”

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