22 September 2016
Keynote Address, Communication Research International Conference (CRIC) 2016, UP Film Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you today.
It is always good to be back home – here in UP – where the seeds of my political awakening were first sown and nurtured.
You see, I was a young probinsyana – a sophomore taking up economics living at the Molave Residence Hall next door – when news of Ninoy Aquino’s assasination gripped the whole nation.
I saw how photos of Ninoy’s lifeless body on the tarmac changed something within UP students. Instead of instilling fear, the senator’s death inspired and moved us into collective action.
The message we got was clear: we had to stand up against an oppressive regime. Our voices needed to be heard. The Marcos administration had gone on an aggressive information campaign to make it appear that the economy was doing all right and the country was progressing.
Our professors at the School of Economics released a white paper that bared the lies of the government. At a time when speaking against the administration could get you killed, that act of bravery in releasing the unfettered truth did something so fundamentally powerful to many of us UP students, who were then not much older than you are now.
Incidentally, the anniversary of Martial Law, when darkness fell on our nation, was just yesterday, September 21.
Clearly, there is power in information and communication. Without the white paper our Economics professors wrote, without the clandestine gatherings, the quiet discussions and late-night talks, without the alternative media that sprung up to protect our freedom, democracy would not have flourished again in our country.
If we remained mute, we could still have been ruled by a dictator.
Instead, UP became the youth’s revolutionary heartbeat. Many of the names we now revere for fighting oppression during Martial Law once walked your college’s very halls.
During the semester leading to EDSA, we also had the coolest teachers, who encouraged us to be politically active. Those of us who chose to join demonstrations instead of attending classes were allowed to do so.
Our classrooms then were EDSA and nuns and tanks, not blackboards, chalk and chairs. Those were some of the most defining years of my life.
Just before our college graduation, the Filipino nation had staged one of the most peaceful revolutions the world has ever seen.
The Philippines is Asia’s oldest democracy. That our media is freer than other nations in Asia is not a coincidence. Freedom of expression and the independence of the fourth estate are critical in protecting the spaces that surround democratic institutions.
When we contribute to the body of knowledge that allows us the freedom of our voices, our liberty will no longer be limited to newspapers, television stations, or even social media.
Protecting the right of our people to communicate as they see fit is about protecting our way of life, our ability to shape our society, our duty to remember our past, and our right to choose our future.
Democracy and good governance can be your gift to our country and the ASEAN community. As communication students and professionals, you are in a unique position to enlarge democratic spaces beyond our borders.
You must go beyond research into shaping cultures, protecting liberty, and freedom of information, so that every man, woman, and child, rich or poor, has equal opportunity to dream of a brighter future.
This task is getting more urgent and more critical. Freedom House, founded in 1941 as an independent international organization that analyzes challenges to freedom around the world, says in its 2016 report that more than a third of the globe’s population is not free.
It says global freedom is under pressure due to wavering democracies and anxious dictators. This is the 10th consecutive year, it said, when global freedom declined, specifically in the Middle East, North Africa, and Eurasia. The most significant reversals were felt in freedom of expression and the rule of law.
As ASEAN fully merges into one global community, you have the opportunity to export, so to speak, what the body of knowledge has to say about creating strong democratic institutions.
How did Filipinos build a free press that is very protective of its independence? How did very strong, expressive, and participative CSOs and public organizations emerge?
What happened when local government units and the national government kept their gates open and let each other in? When they started working together and sharing information, did we see better policies and growth in the economy? What did transparency and good governance do for us as a nation?
I urge you not just to provide the answers, but also to keep on asking the questions. The more we understand, the more we can ensure that the freedom we want for our children is completely theirs. The more research we do, the more we dig into the whys and the hows of building a better nation.
Our nation is evolving, and as communication professionals, the job of deepening the discourse will rest on your shoulders. Ask questions. Discuss to find answers. Speak out.
ASEAN is the perfect platform, if our message is to reach the world. McKinsey & Company says ASEAN is projected to be the 4th largest economy in the world by 2050.
It will have the third largest labor force in the world – totalling more or less 300 million professionals working in various fields, ranging from the business sector to skilled manual laborers.
It has nearly twice the population of the United States and more than the population of the European Union. The ASEAN has deep, significant socio-cultural, and even political implications on inter-state and diplomatic relations.
Media and communication can assume indispensable roles in pushing the Philippine experience of ‘good governance’ as a shining model of genuine democratic development in the region.
That’s because the capacity to communicate lies at the very heart of good governance. It is what establishes authority and legitimacy. It measures how responsive the government is to the people’s needs.
It evaluates programs, checks on processes, and gathers feedback from people on the ground. Communication is key if we are to introduce change and reform in our own communities.
As communicators, how can we enhance the state’s capability in reaching out to the people?
When we were serving in Congress, we sought measures to uphold the public’s constitutional right to access government information. We filed and fought for the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) – knowing that by giving our citizens access to all public records on government projects, expenditures, and initiatives – we ensure that they know how their taxes are being spent.
Setting up such a mechanism builds trust in the system and confidence in our leaders. It democratizes the public sphere, encouraging even ordinary people to be critical of long-held practices and remain vigilant at all times.
But listen. That information will be useless if nobody looks for it, analyzes it, and uses it to check on the government, or to acknowledge achievements where needed.
Such benefits that we get from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms could be used for building a better nation if the youth will use it to take advantage of freedom of information for good governance reforms.
With the right information, there is much that you can do beyond ranting. You know this. Instead of criticizing government merely for the sake of criticizing, use data, numbers, and figures to engage and understand.
Instead of merely complaining, use your research capabilities to understand the flaws in the current system and propose new ways to solve social ills. The government should listen, because there is no other way!
US President Barack Obama once said the most important position in government is that of the citizen. That’s why we, at the Office of the Vice President, will listen.
We schedule listening trips and community visits in far-flung villages every week. You are always welcome in our offices.
We must also continually re-assess the vital role that media and communication play in bridging the state with its citizens. Media has the power to influence the attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of its consumers.
It can induce hate for a certain politician or rally for support when it comes to public policy. How can we maximize the communicative tools that media employs to strengthen state legitimacy, maintain its credibility, and endorse its programs and advocacies?
As a watchdog that closely monitors the activities of the state, media serves as a potent vehicle for democratization. It can help in reducing mistrust and dissatisfaction with political systems by demanding more transparency and accountability from public officers.
It can effectively engage citizens in public discourse by urging them to actively take part in evaluating the performance of government agencies and institutions.
Academics, students, media practitioners and communication researchers – like you – can also serve as catalysts in evaluating policies and strengthening advocacies. That’s what happens when you study patterns of behavior, when you analyze the ordinary Filipino’s reception of and criticism to government communications.
We are now at a critical junction for regional media and communication. We must respond to the call of the ASEAN to contribute towards harmonizing the region into one strong, geo-political body.
How can our brand of good governance serve as a guide to other states, especially those who are still in the process of consolidating their democracies? You can contribute studies and recommendations in strengthening our policies and ties with other countries.
You can also help in identifying and addressing important issues that affect the region across many borders.
Remember that the responsibility of creating a well-informed regional citizenry falls on our shoulders.
Let us work together and use communication as a powerful binding force to lead ASEAN towards a new dawn, one of economic prosperity, solidarity, and political stability.
Maraming salamat po.