JOURNALISM and Communication scholar Crispin Maslog urged Filipinos to rise against President Rodrigo Duterte’s “assaults” on democracy and to take sides on the issues that continue to divide the country.

Speaking at the 50th St. Thomas More Lecture at the Medicine Auditorium last March 22, Maslog said it was every Filipino’s duty to defend the country’s freedom and moral values amid the “attacks on democratic institutions” such as the impeachment of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and threats to close down news organizations Rappler, ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“At the rate our leader is assaulting decency and battering down the pillars of our democracy, the judiciary, legislative, the Church and the press […] I fear that the country is going down to the slippery slope of authoritarianism,” he said.

Maslog emphasized the importance of upholding due process in maintaining democracy under Duterte’s administration.

He cited St. Thomas More’s rejection of legal shortcuts, in a famous scene in the 1966 film “A Man for All Seasons,” which immortalized the English statesman and humanist martyred for his opposition to Henry VIII. More is the patron saint of statesmen and politicians, as well as the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

“St. Thomas More said: ‘When the last law is down and when the devil turns around on you, where would you hide, the laws all being gone? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast. And when you cut them all down, can you stand upright? Yes. I will give the devil the benefit of the doubt for my own safety’s sake.'”

“Even drug addicts and the chief justice of the Supreme Court deserve due process,” Maslog added.

Maslog, who finished journalism in UST in 1956, decried the proliferation of fake news under Duterte’s administration and trolls on social media who have “debased political discourse and silenced dissent.”

He said the administration’s attacks on press freedom through libel cases and cancellations of licenses of media institutions were “not conducive” to a democratic society.

“Journalism’s role is to report the news objectively and fearlessly and keep the government honest,” Maslog said.

Maslog, who holds a doctorate in journalism and communication from the University of Minnesota, is the founder of the Silliman University’s journalism school and a former editor at Agence France-Presse. He is the chairman of the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre.

Arts and Letters Dean Michael Anthony Vasco, in his welcome remarks, pointed out that “truth can be very political.”

Citing French philosopher Michel Foucault, he said: “The hegemonies of power and ideology can greatly influence our reception and understanding of truth. Political authority can in fact dictate what is truth.”

“Truth in society, specifically in democratic society, is also determined by personal and ideological interests. Even public opinion is no longer based on reasonable grounds or evidence, or even by common sense, but are shaped by advancing interests that are personal or ideological, making spurious truth claims that intend to confuse the public and divert public opinion from the truth and instead propagate half truths just to change the tide of public opinion to their favor,” he said.


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