It’s fitting that a day before social media star Mocha Uson was to have her first column published in The Philippine Star, President Rodrigo Duterte gave assurance that he would uphold freedom of the press in the country.
Speaking to newly-elected officers National Press Club (NPC) led by its president Paul Gutierrez, Duterte likened press freedom in the Philippines to that in the United States where there is “no pressure” — at least from government. ”Here in our country, press freedom is thriving, it’s working,” he said.
Indeed, no matter how much you dislike (or maybe even hate) Duterte, the one thing you cannot say about him is that he does not respect press/media freedom. Davao City reporters know this: in the 20-plus years he was mayor, he has never once tried to suppress free expression.
If anything, Duterte has been the media’s champion. When then-President Gloria Arroyo imposed Proclamation No. 1017 on February 24, 2006 placing the entire country under a state of emergency following an alleged coup attempt, Duterte refused to implement a provision to revoke licenses and permits to hold demonstrations and protests. Because of this, dozens of journalists in Davao City (including me) were able to hold a rally and march against Proclamation 1017 on March 3, 2006.
In spite of this, there is a misimpression that Duterte is some kind of dictator who does not suffer the writings of journalists and who would stifle media freedom at the flimsiest pretext. What gives people that idea I don’t know, but it’s there.
And that brings us back to Mocha. It’s interesting that while people rile against Duterte’s supposed dictatorial tendencies, they themselves practice it by protesting against her inclusion into the roster of the Philippine Star’s list of columnists.
(You can read her column here.)
We already know that Regina Belmonte, daughter of that paper’s president Miguel Belmonte, went ballistic when she learned the news. She called Mocha a “reprehensible piece of garbage” who was nevertheless being given “another platform to spread her lies and propaganda.” She said to allow her into the Philippine Star is “a disgrace to See-See’s memory,” referring to her grandmother, the late Betty Go-Belmonte, who founded the newspaper.
Regina herself has conceded that neither she nor her family can do anything about the situation (having sold 51% stake to Manny V. Pangilinan), but in saying so she also revealed that if it had been in her power, she would cancel Mocha’s contract with the paper. Sadly, this is also how a lot of people feel. They cannot comprehend how a former sexy dancer, one who has appeared nude many many times in the past, is now writing a column for a respectable newspaper.
These “decent” people want to enjoy freedom of speech but deprive others of it. In other words, if they had it their way, Mocha would be stripped of more than just her clothing.