In 2010, then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law Republic Act 10121 or the law on disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) to prepare and equip local government units (LGUs) against natural and man-made calamities, like typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

More than a decade after it was passed, politicians have discovered a little provision in the law that could be used to promote and advance their own selfish political careers, weaponizing the law to spread propaganda and disinformation against potential opponents.

Dozens of city and municipal governments across the archipelago have started putting up small radio stations for the purpose of disseminating public information and warnings during times of natural calamities.

These broadcast stations have small transmitters than can only reach a limited area in the city or town but they can be powerful tools for lies, fabrications and propaganda for the government and its state agents, like the police and military.

In this digital age where disinformation is easily spread, these small radio stations, which do not have legislative franchises, could become the next potential threat to journalism.

Local politicians could use these radio stations as virtual mouthpieces to promote their own agenda and attack political opponents, including nosy journalists who could criticize wrongdoings and questionable policies and programs.

Through these small radio stations, politicians could bypass legacy media and talk directly to their constituents, just like what former president Rodrigo Duterte did during the coronavirus pandemic when he had weekly “Talk to the People” broadcasts.

These weekly monologues lacked interaction with journalists, deliberately hijacking the narratives without clearly explaining the consequences of the government’s actions to deal with the pandemic.

It has become a one-way street where journalists could not challenge the statements made by the president, which are obviously propaganda and disinformation to favor his own narrative.

Local officials have learned a lot from Duterte during the pandemic. They shunned journalists and would rather go directly to the people through their own pulpits – the DRRM radio stations.

During times of disasters, these radio stations, which could be put up through small investments, play crucial roles as an early warning device and as a public information tool.

They became very useful and important after the demise of the country’s largest and most effective broadcast network, ABS-CBN, in 2000 when Congress denied the Lopez family-owned company a legislative franchise to operate a network of radio and television stations.

Thus, when smaller community-based radio stations operated by local government units (LGUs) started to mushroom in the countryside, a new channel of information was opened.

However, it was not free, independent, and free from potential bias. It became a tool for political interests and for the military and police to red-tag community organizers, activists, journalists, and human rights defenders and advocates.

There would be no problem if these LGU-operated radio stations stick to purely public service, entertainment, and development-oriented programs, including schools-on-air dedicated to students, farmers, and fishermen. It should leave out partisan politics as well as the counter-insurgency campaigns.

There are fears these LGU-operated radio stations would be politicized as the 2025 midterm elections draw near, giving incumbent politicians undue advantage over challengers and opponents as they have their own media network.

In the last May 2022 national elections, some mayors in remote towns did take advantage of these radio stations to promote their candidacies and discredit their opponents.

National politicians also benefited from their close association with local politicians who controlled the local media through commercial, private and public media organizations, including the small DRRM radio stations.

Based on these experiences, local politicians will likely put up DRRM radio stations and exploit them for political advantage. People in the rural areas could not discern news coming from unbiased legacy media and public information and probably, propaganda, from the government.

The proliferation of DRRM radio stations could become journalism’s biggest threat as these LGU-operated broadcast networks further erode people’s trust on legacy media.

The legacy media has suffered during the two-year pandemic and the rise of disinformation in 2016. A Reuters Institute survey showed public trust on the Philippine media sank to 27 percent in 2020, lower than the global average of 42 percent.

Although there has been an improvement to 37 percent in 2022 because of the Filipinos’ thirst for reliable and accurate information about the pandemic, they still do not trust the legacy media when it comes to political news.

Thus, there’s real danger the polarization in the Philippines would divide the country in the 2025 midterm elections. And the DRRM radio stations could be a big factor in this deep divide.