Philippines is a free country. It is so free that what I am about to write will be more heavily debated among Filipinos of all political viewpoints that most articles I write about other countries. Nevertheless, the United Nations Human Rights Commission has gone out of its way to condemn Manila due to the forthcoming investigation into the funding of the news media outlet Rappler.
Rappler stands accused of violating a law stating that all major news media outlets in Philippines must not receive any foreign sources of funding. Rappler admits to having foreign investors but claims that because these investors do not have controlling equity in the company and do not shape Rappler’s editorial policy, the operation is acting in a legal manner. Ultimately judges will have to make a ruling based on an examination of the evidence. But for the UN Human Rights Commission, the judgement has already been made.
A UN report states, “We are gravely concerned that the government is moving to revoke Rappler’s licence”, and goes on to say, “We are especially concerned that this move against Rappler comes at a time of rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country”.
First of all, it is not the job of the UN nor any other international body to make defamatory blanket statements about the perceived nature of a country’s free speech laws. Free speech in Philippines remains healthier than ever, not least because President Rodrigo Duterte has injected a new vigour and passion into the wider public debate while not imposing any new laws which curtail the right of people to speak and publish freely in the country. Secondly, in meddling in an issue which is best left to Constitutional and legal experts, the UN is exposing an astonishing level of hypocrisy which reveals what President Duterte would likely call “the colonial mentality”.
In the United States, the authorities and business elites have waged a campaign of social, corporate and legal intimidation against the broadcaster and digital publisher RT. While RT does not stand accused of breaking any American law, Washington has forced all RT employees in the US to register as “agents of a foreign government” even though foreign media outlets are legally allowed to operate in the US. The law that everyone from the cameramen to reports from RT must register under was initially designed to expose agents of the German Nazi regime in the 1930s.
While the US authorities have not gone after British state run BBC, Qatari state run al Jazeera, or French state run France 24, they have gone after RT, in a move which clearly violates America’s own Constitution–a document which both guarantees freedom of speech and does not make any statements about the foreign ownership of any media outlet.
But when it comes to the American harassment of RT, the UN Human Rights Commission has said nothing. This is the same UN that allowed Saudi Arabia to have a role on its Human Rights Commission, even though Saudi Arabia is universally regarded as having the worst record on women’s rights of any country on earth.
What this boils down to is the fact that the UN refuses to condemn actual politically motivated attempts at censorship in the United States, while the UN is happy to condemn Philippines in the most offensive manner possible over something that amounts to a legal technicality. At no time has anyone in the Presidential administration of Philippines stated that Rappler’s content is illegal. It is merely a question of financial control of a media outlet as it relates to elements of law in Philippines dating to the post-Marcos Constitution of 1987.
While the Preamble of the United Nations remains one of the most noble documents of the modern age, the daily workings of the UN leave much to be desired. There is a clear institutional bias whereby the UN gives the United States a pass when it violates its own laws, but criticises Philippines when it tries to enforce its own very moderate and ordinary laws.
The reason behind this phenomenon is simple. The US is the most powerful country in the world and Philippines is a sovereign state that many in the US (which has a substantial influence at the UN) still perversely view as a colony. This reality makes it all the more clear why Rodrigo Duterte retains such a high percentage of support among Filipinos everywhere.
Duterte realises that in the 21st century, all countries must be treated with respect and dignity and beyond this, due to his substantial reforms and newly formed international partnerships, Philippines is well on its way to becoming one of the leading dynamic economies of Asia. In 5 to 10 years time, it will be Americans who are envious of the lifestyle that Filipinos will enjoy and this is almost entirely due to the domestic reforms and foreign policy positions of Duterte.
While the US steadily loses its economic might, Philippines is both moving forward economically, socially and geopolitically. The statement from the UN indicates a lack of contact with reality, while Rodrigo Duterte remains a grounded, humble, honest and deeply honourable leader. This is why his popularity has eclipsed that of Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush in the United States. Many Americans know they are being fooled, while most Filipinos refused to be fooled again.