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The good, the bad, and Duterte: Student leaders, journalists call for change in DLSU-D Green FM’s roundtable discussion

Evaluating the fear-stricken war on drugs campaign and the state of  press freedom under the Duterte administration, student leaders and campus journalists from DLSU-D voiced their desire for change in a student-led roundtable discussion on September 17 via Zoom Meetings. Dubbed as Sa Luntiang Lente: A Roundtable Discussion, the event featured student panelists from the University Student Government (USG), The HERALDO FILIPINO (HF), and DLSU-D Green FM who led an assessment of President Rodrigo Duterte’s legacy in his five years in office. 

The bloody iron fist

Looking back on the infamous drug war of the Duterte  government, student panelists tackled how this sparked a “bloody” change for many Filipinos in the country. HF Editor-in-Chief Lean Jane Pantorilla recalled the dark days of the war on drugs campaign, describing the government effort as “blood-stained” considering the number of innocent victims it killed in recent years.

“It leaves a trail of innocent blood that has no business in his dirty administration. So these are strong words, but they have basis kasi even now we see these traces,” Pantorilla stated.

Duterte’s drug war has been heavily criticized by many progressive groups from here and abroad, which they believe further deteriorated the human rights situation in the country. As of 2021, the recorded death toll of the war on drugs operation reached 6,165, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) probed an investigation into the violence riddled campaign as international human rights groups believe that this number is far higher due to the extrajudicial killings.

With the influx of cases associated with brutality since Duterte took office, student panelists also stretched the discussion to the culture of violence and impunity in the Philippines and how it is perpetuated under the current administration. 

“He (Duterte) is ordering policemen, our police forces, he is enabling them to kill people. And when you receive orders like that on national television, it imposes the culture of fear and it perpetuates the culture of impunity,” HF Associate Editor Lance Mejico elaborated on the dangerous result of shoot-to-kill orders. 

Within the rising counts of impunity, data shows that the majority of its victims come  from poor and marginalized communities, and the killings are covered up by falsified reports. According to  ICC, many similar cases continue to be swept under the rug or are altered by other officials in order to protect themselves. 

The chilling attacks against press freedom 

Apart from evaluating Duterte’s drug war and cases of impunity, student leaders and journalists also went on about the status of the press in the country— another critical issue under Duterte’s term. 

Centering the discussion on the widely contested shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN in May 2020,  student panelists emphasized that the closure of the network sends a chilling effect to press freedom. 

“If the largest broadcasting network has been shut down, what about other small media companies? The percentage of threats will be much bigger for them,” DLSU-D Green FM Director for Programming and Internal Affairs Xander Cipriano asserted. 

As Duterte repeatedly threatened the media giant in his public addresses since his presidency in 2016, he truly lived up to his constant promise of taking down the network, DLSU-D Green FM Director for Programming and External Affairs Zeus Legaspi expressed. 

Aside from ABS-CBN, Duterte has publicly attacked several media outlets in his public speeches, especially those who are critical of his administration. With this, the panelists have reiterated the role of the press in one’s society, contradicting the common expectations of people regarding media coverage.

“We do not exist to make the state look better, we are here to say what’s happening right here and right now. So I think if a leader understands that, kung naiintindihan niya kung bakit may mga taong nagsasalita nang gan’to, bakit ka papatayin?,” Pantorilla said.

In the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Philippines ranked 138th out of 180 countries, facing “a worse state of press freedom”. Reporters Without Borders also classified the Philippines as having a grim environment for journalism, rooting from Duterte’s attacks against Inquirer, Rappler, and ABS-CBN.  

Raising the bar higher for the next leaders

After thoroughly assessing the Duterte government’s revolting legacy, the panelists have reiterated their stance in bringing change for the upcoming 2022 elections as a final call to the participants of the discussion. 

Mejico drew the line in the concept of taking change to the extremes, emphasizing the importance of voting for a leader who could amplify the voices of its citizens and knows how to be accountable for their actions.

“Duterte’s concept of change is killing, but you don’t have to kill in order to change a thing,” Mejico stated.  He also encouraged the participants to vote for leaders who could restore decent changes in the country. 

On the other hand, Pantorilla stressed the significance of voting for a leader who will respect the media, especially when they cover sensitive socio-political issues. 

Gamitin natin ang karapatan nating ito dahil ayaw naman natin na ang bansang imamana sa atin ay sira. At ayaw naman natin na ang ipapamana nating bansa sa mga susunod na henerasyon ay sira,” Green FM’s Cipriano added as a final reminder to students. 

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As the panelists rated the performance of the Duterte administration “poor,” the roundtable discussion emphasized the power we hold in shaping the future of our country. The nearing 2022 national elections are only the beginning even now, we can continue striving for a progressive future that upholds the rights of the Filipino people, while bringing a kind of change that does not forsake its own countrymen.

GRFX Slider from DLSU-D Green FM.

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