By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times
THERE are people who claim that they fight for free speech, even of those who would endeavor to rise up in arms against established authority. These are the same people who would argue that even hardened criminals should be given due process, and that everyone should be entitled to a second chance.
They protest when the mighty hand of the State moves to curtail the freedoms of those who, in reality, are actually plotting to commit, or are in fact already involved in, political violence. When a student activist turned rebel dies in an armed encounter, there is always a blanket denial about the real political activities in that such a person is actually engaged. They appeal that everyone is free to participate in political activism; more so if it is against an abusive regime.
This space has always been consistent in calling out red-tagging and the labeling of communism as an evil word. I have always argued that unless actually engaged in a criminal activity, a person should be free to openly declare his or her adherence to the communist ideology. After all, if unacted on, it is simply a political belief the possession of which is protected by the Constitution.
I have always fought for people's right to speak up, even if their speech is totally unpalatable, even offensive. I have argued against censorship and the taking down of accounts, whether it is of Duterte loyalist Esther Margaux "Mocha" Uson or of Duterte critic Jover Laurio aka Pinoy Ako Blog. The biggest and most shameful hypocrisy is that of those whose politics is founded on the protections of rights, and yet would mobilize to report social media accounts whose content they fundamentally disagree with.
It is one thing to speak against or argue with an idea, or a person, or an institution. This is protected speech. But for people to actually mobilize to deny those they criticize a platform, by petitioning Facebook or Twitter to take down their accounts; or to campaign for people to boycott a particular product, brand or business enterprise; or to petition that people be fired from their jobs, these are pure forms of unadulterated hypocrisy when committed by people who claim to fight for the freedom to speak.
What is even more offensive is when these people rationalize their censorship and taking down of platforms, their campaign to silence and cancel, by making us believe that it is all about rectifying the lies and protecting the discursive landscape from being corrupted. In doing this, they elevate themselves as the guardians of morality and decency, and as keepers of the correct versions of history and the purity of political narratives.
This is most vivid in how people who are woke have criticized Toni Gonzaga for daring to interview former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. For them, Gonzaga has committed the unforgivable act of providing Marcos with a platform. It is not just about Marcos being provided the opportunity to peddle what for them are lies. It is also about providing him with a venue to deodorize the Marcos legacy. And for this, Gonzaga is now seen as complicit with what they perceive as a naked attempt to revise history, and to rehabilitate the Marcos name. She is accused of being an enabler of the Marcoses.
The last time I checked, we are a free country. And while there are narratives that are as problematic as painting Marcos' father as a hero, the better way to fight back is not to silence them but to take them down by using more compelling counter-narratives. Deliberative democracy is not about silencing the other voices but allowing debates and for competing discourses to battle it out in the public sphere. Lies should be fought with truth, and not by erasing them from public speech.
When anti-vaxxers peddle lies about vaccines, the best weapon is not to silence them but to match them with scientific counterarguments.
Gonzaga is just one voice. Let her be. Instead of silencing, demonizing, shaming and canceling her, the better way is to match whatever narrative she may have enabled in her platform with a better, more coherent argument. If her critics believe that their arguments are more compelling, then there should be no reason to silence her, or the Marcoses. Those who disagree should offer a counter-narrative that would speak truth to power and reveal the lies that are being told.
This is exactly the problem with the Marcos critics, and the political opposition in general. They are so used to talking down to ordinary people, those whose rights they claim to speak on behalf of, and fight for. They patronize the masses as ignorant, clueless, blinded and hopeless. They instead focus their energies on the youth, the budding intellectual class in school campuses, as their target audience. This is where they hold anti-Marcos symposiums, launch anti-martial law books, conduct lectures given by martial law victims, all designed to counter the narratives that they now accuse Gonzaga of enabling.
Meanwhile, they would just conveniently move to silence Gonzaga, and deny her the platform, in the same way they would move to cancel anyone they would see as threatening their preferred narratives. If the anti-Marcos, anti-Duterte political opposition can only develop its own cadre of social media enablers who are not elitist and too negatively bitter, and would not talk down to people as if they are unthinking drones that can easily be swayed by one Marcos interview by Gonzaga, perhaps they would have a fighting chance to convert the currently unconvinced.
Instead of focusing on silencing and diminishing Gonzaga, they should go beyond their elitist, exclusionary, sanctimonious bully pulpits and echo chambers. After all, the best weapon against lies is not to silence or cancel them. Lies should be fought with the truth, told through better stories by more relatable and credible people, delivered not only in preferred echo chambers and platforms, but in spaces that Gonzaga inhabits.