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What should movement-media solidarity look like?

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This piece comes out in the wake of two major international observations — International Labor Day (on May 1) and World Press Freedom Day (May 3). The proximity of these two commemorations in May, serendipitous or intentional, invites much reflection on the state of political and social engagement in the Philippines in the post-EDSA period.

Much-weaved into the storyline of Philippine history and society (partly for being the Catholic feast day of St. Joseph the Worker and a decades-long observance of the labor movement in the Philippines), Mayo Uno — May 1 — has been a perennial day of observance for workers’ rights activists, labor unions, and human rights advocates. The relationship between the Philippine Catholic Church and the workers’ movements was never readily apparent — what with the ideological clashes the Catholic Church internationally has had with the specter of communist discourse (of which global workers’ movements are unabashed heirs to).

Even in the 2000s and 2010s, the largely secular workers’ movements can and have been at odds with the Philippine Church when it comes to women’s rights and gender development policies (the Reproductive Health Law being just one of many). Nevertheless, these policy differences can and have been superseded by a shared commitment to human rights and the provisions of the 1987 Constitution. This became existential in the hostile relationship former president Rodrigo Duterte had with Philippine civil society, and the benign-yet- insidious attempts of the incumbent Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. government on charter change.

This is likely behind the symbolic choice of the groups Simbahan at Komunidad Laban sa Charter Change (SIKLAB) and the National Wage Coalition (comprised of the major Philippine trade union blocs) to march from Quiapo Church to their traditional grounds in Mendiola last Mayo Uno, Wednesday. This reaffirms the need for a more united front across different sections of civil society if it is to remain an effective counterbalance to state propaganda and clientelist economic management. This brings us, in turn, to the much-contentious position of mass media and journalism in Philippine politics.

There are enough arguments that the Philippines owes its existence to mass media as much as revolutionary wars: Philippine nationalism was jumpstarted by the literary and journalistic efforts of the Propaganda Movement, after all. Indeed, what kinds of political engagement continue to populate the collective imagination of the Filipino public is as much the decision of organizations mounting their activities as it is the editorial choice of the mass media sector portraying them. Are they are seen as steadfast practitioners of our bill of rights, or perennial rabble-rousers that inconvenience the increasingly gentrifying generations of Filipinos traversing our urban centers and sub-urban spaces? It is almost always a question of which media platform molds which Filipino viewer’s minds, values, and prejudices.

Yet the Philippine media sector, by virtue of its major organs operating under corporate and private ownership, has always struggled with the challenge of living up to its professional and ethical standards. They are further challenged in maintaining their credibility to a population whose reading, watching, and viewing patterns have drastically shifted away from existing market models. They are already prey to (if not actively hooked into) the disinformation networks that bloomed unabated under Duterte and Marcos Jr.

Investigative journalism and editorial/commentary traditions, in turn, have always bumped on the glass ceiling of either operational profitability, funder political alignments, or the ever-present threat of a hostile state apparatus (which may or may not include military/police harassment). This is further problematized when newly established media outfits themselves are either enlisted or built specifically to be the mouthpieces of political interests — witness our reckoning with the SMNI channel of the evangelical Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC).

The understanding of the social sciences that the mass media sector and civil society sector are “referees” between competing political factions is currently being upended. Can such sectors really remain “impartial” when they are faced with governments and political coalitions (almost always conservative or right-wing this 21st century) hell-bent on either suborning them to their control, or just flat-out eliminating and suppressing them? Furthermore, how can they bridge connections with the current generations of Filipinos (Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha) whose experience and relationship with them is largely institutional — and thus likely laced with disappointment, disillusionment, and suspicion?

The answers, perhaps, are already staring us in the face. We benefit from our exposure to global forms of resistance, advocacy, and journalism. Younger generations of every country are actively forging links between media distribution and civil society advocacy. Social media, while actively the breeding ground of negative political stories, is precisely seen as the space of resistance — the seedbed and sandbox of new solidarities that will be brought offline. The ready parallels younger generations see between the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US-backed genocide of Palestinians by Israel, and China’s bullying of its Asia-Pacific neighbors are difficult to contend with — something older activists shaped by their Cold War-era ideological and geographical loyalties may be blinded by.

Cross-generational solidarity is shown to be possible, but it needs to operate on the forward-looking aspiration of securing a future. This is the very thing younger generations of Filipinos are despairing over as they do not have or are being actively distracted from. Our youth must be reared as direct partners and even immediate leaders of any possible cross-sectoral push for a democratic correction course. They cannot and must not be treated as mere “heirs” to old slogans, tired dreams, and perhaps even falsified aspirations. It is their future, their battle to fight, and therefore their voices that should be at front and center.

When the Philippines is roasting under a harsh summer that is as much about climate change as it is about corporate and politico-driven destruction of our natural resources, there is everything to fight for. These questions are likely going to be the very same dilemmas that will determine the results of the next election cycle in May 2025.

Hansley A. Juliano serves as a lecturer to the Department of Political Science, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University. In addition to finishing his doctoral research at the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, he also serves as a fellow of the LEARN Research Institute.

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