Executive Director, CMFR


Media Times recalls 2022 as two halves of a whole: the last six months under Rodrigo Roa Duterte (RRD) and the first six months of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos (BBM).  The tendency to compare and contrast is inevitable. But pointing to differences between the two, one sees similarities, the continuity from past to present. After all, the two Presidents are joined at the hip, having helped one another to become President of the country. The Marcos family was among the first to give their support to Duterte’s campaign. BBM could not have won without Duterte’s votes. 

Continuity can assure a measure of stability. But stability, while necessary, will not in itself address the conditions of our meta-crisis. The national situation calls for a dramatically different course of action from the previous regime. So far, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has shown little to indicate he has what it takes to lead the country out of crisis. The handling of the pandemic in its earliest stages showed up the fundamental lack of capacity to define and address urgent needs. The purchase of vaccines, the distribution of “ayuda” to the poor were all poorly implemented. There was hardly any attention given to maintain supply chains of crops, with farmers depending on private efforts to get their harvests to the markets. 

Surveys now show the greater levels of hunger among the population. Filipinos do not have to be very poor to experience food deprivation. Employment opportunities remain low; and much needed workers in various fields are driven to seek jobs abroad. Economic recovery, food sufficiency, public health, and education are blighted by issues that require strategic action. 

Sadly, an even deeper crisis casts a shadow over all areas of endeavor. The six-year term of RRD shattered the foundations of the country’s democratic institutions in a way that Filipinos have yet to completely comprehend. Before we can consider moving forward, Filipinos have to clarify their commitment to retain democracy as a system of government and as a way of life — not just the electoral exercise, but the active engagement of citizens in their own governance, so they can check their leaders’ performance and holding them accountable for their failures.  

We must consider why surveys showed high levels of approval of Duterte’s autocratic ways to the end of his term, with his tough talk, his use of obscenities, his dismissal of democratic principles.  The public seemed comforted by the knowledge that a strong and willful leader was in charge, the kind of person who was ready to do anything to achieve his objectives. If polls are to be believed, this seems to be what people really want.

Duterte dismissed the limitations imposed on state power when he launched the “drug war” which left some 26,000 persons killed in the course of police operations or by vigilante teams working with police. So far, only in one case, the murder of the youth, Kian de los Santos, have police officers been accused, prosecuted, and pronounced guilty. Duterte issued the command. He did say he would protect officers, in effect promising impunity for killings.  

With his political allies in full control of Congress, Duterte marshalled political forces to take control of the Supreme Court, doing away with the separation of powers in government and the system of check and balance. At the end of his term, his level of popularity indicated how Filipinos had come to accept Duterte’s autocratic persona. 

Duterte also mobilized the power of social media to demonize mainstream media. The President’s supporters and government-sponsored troll armies harassed journalists who dared to criticize government actions. Government propaganda attacked and threatened activists, journalists, and human rights defenders — vital sectors to Philippine democracy.

There is hardly anything said these days about the last six years and the country’s democratic decline. The public has yet to realize how media’s capacity to serve as a watchdog of power has been diminished, effectively tamed by pressures exerted on their owners. Journalists who report critically make up a small exception, their facts drowned out by the lies peddled by official propaganda and all kinds of lies on social media. 

Marcos Jr’s style is dramatically different from Duterte’s. He reads his scripts to the end. He does not lace his statements with crude obscenities. But apart from his grand gesture to restore PH-US relations, there are no signs that he will depart from Duterte’s dubious policies toward drugs or dissent. 

Duterte himself admitted that he failed to eliminate illegal drugs in the country. The drug agencies and police continue to fight the war and killings have continued. Human rights organizations have counted a total of 92 fatalities in the first six months of Marcos Jr’s term. 

Duterte created the Task Force to End Communist Armed Conflict (NTC-ELCAC) which launched a campaign of red-tagging, causing the arrest and imprisonment of activists and media members. Congress voted to cut down its budget, but Marcos Jr.’s closest lieutenants in the House, his cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez and son, Senior Deputy Sandro Marcos ordered these restored. Dominated by uniformed officers, the Task Force has recklessly violated citizens’ human rights in pursuit of its objective. 

The two administrations also rely on state-funded propaganda as an instrument of control. Marcos’ style may differ; but he still relies on the press to legitimize wholesale deception. Media coverage has played a role in promoting an image of a more polished President, but has done little to point to the lack of action, the inefficiency, the failure to respond promptly to crises.

Duterte and Marcos both represent dynastic politics in full action and in control of government, having used elections as a way to sustain themselves, their families and allies in power. Media Times traced the appointments made by BBM in his Cabinet, identifying connections by blood, political bonds as well as previous government positions. The graphs show that up to the present, Duterte continues to hold power in Marcos Jr.’s administration. 

Media Times 2022 looks back at the year which confirmed the political turn signified by Duterte’s rise to power in 2016. There may have been cheating, manipulation, and lack of independence in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) — but none of these valid issues can disprove the fact that a huge majority has voiced a preference for authoritarian and autocratic rule. The vote in May upheld the legacy of “Dutertismo.”

But there remains 19 million constituting citizens who voted for Leni Robredo, a candidate who won her bid for Vice President in 2016, and was left marginalized, starved for a budget, and denied a Cabinet Portfolio. The number is impressive enough to form a constituency, not necessarily for any candidate, but for democracy. 

Democracy is strengthened by a strong opposition as democracy does not deny representation of those in the minority. Politicians in the minority retain the benefits for the constituencies they represent. It is a principle our Presidents need to learn.  

If Filipinos can find the platforms, set the mechanics, the minority can enforce democracy simply by raising their voices and by being heard. 

As a pillar of democracy, the press must see this as an urgent mission: to make the minority view visible and vibrant because democracy should work for everyone. It is the lesson of democracy that the journalists of this period must take to heart and put to practice. It could yet save them and the news media as an institution from becoming completely irrelevant.