By Ian Gabriel Trinidad

“A dictatorship is looming.”

Sen. Leila de Lima on Monday, March 22 urged Filipinos  to “get involved in social causes, defend the victims of injustice and stand up always for human rights.”

The statement came after the release of a Social Weather Stations survey on March 19, which found that 65 percent of adult Filipinos agreed it was “dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.”

In a statement, De Lima said that Filipinos should continue to “speak up for the truth” due to the “rampant human rights abuses” continuing despite the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We cannot let this government to continue abusing its power, disregarding people’s rights and repressing the vulnerable,” she said.

The senator said the shutdown of TV network ABS-CBN, as well as threats against the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler, contributed to the fear of people criticizing the government.

“Nagbabadya itong diktadurya, kung saan may namamayaning takot at pag-aalinlangan sa pag-uulat at paglalathala na magbubunyag ng totoo at kabulastugan sa gobyerno,” De Lima said.

On May 5, 2020, a day after its franchise expired, ABS-CBN went off-air after a cease-and-desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission. President Rodrigo Duterte said in February that he would not let the network run even with a franchise. 

The Inquirer also became the subject of the president’s tirades as he warned the newspaper that he would “make an exposé” regarding its incorrect tax payments.

Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa were slapped with cases of alleged violation of foreign ownership rules, tax evasion and cyberlibel. Rappler reporters were banned from covering Malacañang in 2018.

In 2020, the Philippines ranked 136 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. The country’s ranking fell two places from 134 in 2019.