By Carlos H. Conde

MANILA — I was sitting as a panelist at a forum called “Who’s Afraid of Media Freedom?” yesterday at the Ateneo law school in Rockwell when my cellphone went berserk with text messages warning of an impending police raid of the offices of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. I was stunned. Literally, I felt a chill crawling down my spine. Having no experience with media repression on the scale that my elder colleagues went through during the martial law years, I was actually afraid. Is this it? I asked myself silently. Are they really going to arrest Sheila Coronel et. al.? After them, who was going to be next? (Read Sheila’s account of what happened yesterday.)

I was going to speak after ABS-CBN’s Luchi Cruz-Valdez. While listening to her recount her experience covering the first Edsa, a thought crossed mind: Should I deliver my speech? What if the Arroyo regime would think it is subversive or that it might incite people to rebel?

Former vice president Tito Guingona was seated right next to me. A few minutes earlier, he exhorted the audience to “fight on!” Suddenly, I felt deeply ashamed. Here was this old civil libertarian, still at it, raising hell and battling water cannons — and there I was, actually anxious about the possible consequences of what I was going to say.

In end, I decided I was not going to give this regime the pleasure of intimidating me. So I raised a little hell myself.

Following is my short presentation. (You can listen to it here. Incidentally, Conrado de Quiros discussed the subject of my speech in his column today. You can also listen to the brilliant presentation by veteran journalist Vergel Santos of BusinessWorld and the Center for Media Freedom and Resonsibility.)

With great power

By Carlos H. Conde

I find it extremely ironic that this administration, which exploited the sins of the press to justify a campaign of harassment and intimidation against its members, itself committed what would amount to a journalistic infraction: it misquoted the uncle of Spider-Man.

We hear them much too often these days, all the presidents men pontificating on television, on the radio and in print about how we, Filipinos, particularly journalists, should exercise more responsibility given the tremendous freedom we have.

Freedom of the press is not absolute, says the always smug secretary of justice. It comes with it a great amount of responsibility, chimes in Arroyos chief of staff, he who is so young and so

But Uncle Ben never said, With great freedom comes great responsibility. What he told Spider-Man was: With great POWER comes great responsibility.

Please ponder for a moment this difference in the quotes. And while you do that, let me tell you a thing or two about my opinion of freedom.

I think there is no such thing as a partial freedom. Either you have it or you dont. In an ideal world, people should be free to do whatever they want. It goes without saying that they know the consequences of that freedom.

In the context of the press, journalists expect unbridled freedom. If they abuse this freedom, freedom itself in this case, the freedom by consumers to switch channels or subscribe to another paper — will check them. Freedom has a way, you see, of punishing those who abuse it.

I am willing to concede, however, that the State may be justified in its desire to sometimes attempt to curtail our freedoms. We see that in countries in which contending forces, if not checked, could end up destroying themselves, their people and their nation.

But for this regime to invoke the importance of responsibility vis--vis freedom in order to supposedly keep the peace is an arrogant and self-righteous notion. Self-serving, too, because, as we all know, this regimes motives in declaring a state of national emergency was not the protection of the State. It was for the protection of its president.

This brings us to Uncle Bens quote about responsibility being a corollary of great power. Guess who acted irresponsibly in using its great power?

Guess who, according to various testimonies and allegations, used great power to subvert the results of the 2004 elections?

Guess who used great power to compromise the armed forces, which today is more politicized than ever before?

Guess who used great power to promote the same military officials implicated in the 2004 election cheating, thus assuring that nothing would come out of whatever investigation that was going to happen?

Guess who used great power to sow discontent within the military?

Guess who used great power to quash the ideals and dreams of these young men and women in the service?

Guess who used great power to arrest constitutionally elected members of the House of Representatives?

Guess who used great power to murder dozens of activists and journalists, constrict the democratic space and stifle dissent?

Guess who used great power to send troops storming the office of a puny but noisy newspaper?

Guess who used great power to intimidate and harass the press, threatening media companies of actual takeovers if they dont toe the regimes line?

This regime has had great, great power, and never had any compunction to use it irresponsibly, if needed — in order to survive. #

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