SWS: 6 in 10 Filipinos feel free to speak up under Duterte administration

By Eimor Santos

More Filipinos believe there is freedom of speech in the country, according to results of a nationwide survey released Saturday.

The non-commissioned poll of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that six in 10 or 59 percent of Filipino respondents agreed with the statement, “I can say anything I want, openly and without fear, even if it is against the administration.”

Only 18 percent said otherwise, while 23 percent were undecided.

This yields a score of +41, which the SWS considers “very strong.” The latest survey, conducted June 22-26, also showed a leap in the number of Filipinos who feel free to voice their opinions under the Duterte administration. It is up by 18 percentage points from the moderate +23 score in December 2018.

The SWS noted that the June survey’s +41 net agreement score is the highest in five times when perception about freedom of speech was gauged since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016. The lowest was a moderate +23.

The poll also asked repondents to react to the statement, “It is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.” Fifty-one percent agreed, while 20 percent disagreed, yielding a “strong” net agreement of +31.

Meanwhile, the survey showed more Filipinos believing there is press freedom in the country. Sixty-seven percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Mass media in the Philippines have freedom of speech, of expression and of press.” A meager 10 percent disagreed with the statement, resulting in a “very strong” score of +57.

A total of 1,200 adults were interviewed for the survey, which has a margin of error of ±3 percent.

Duterte has been criticized for his attacks against critics and the media. In June, he threatened to jail anyone who will try to impeach him amid the uproar caused by his policy allowing Chinese fishing in the West Philippine Sea. Malacañang explained the President did not really mean to order the arrest of critics but was just expressing how “annoyed” he was that his critics do not appreciate what he has been doing for the country.

In April, the President said journalists were paid hacks, following the publication of an investigative report into his family’s wealth. He also warned of retaliation against media practitioners critical of him, saying he would “let out something against them.” Local and international human rights groups also see the numerous cases filed against Rappler as a move against media, a claim Malacañang has denied. The Palace stressed freedom of expression remains robust in the Philippines.

Palace ‘curious’ of survey results

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo welcomed the 67 percent agreement to the freedom of speech in mass media.

However, he questioned the 51 percent result when it came to publishing criticism against the administration.

“We are curious as to why this could be so. The President respects criticisms as long as the same is not baseless, unfounded or false. He even urges the people, including writers and reporters, to freely express whatever sentiments they have,” Panelo said in his second statement given Saturday.

His first statement was one of repudiation for an opinion piece by the New York Times critical of the number of deaths of environmental activists recorded in 2018.

Panelo said that dissent against the Duterte administration is not curtailed.

“There is no such prior restraint or subsequent punishment for those who practice the freedom to dissent in the Duterte presidency. As long as the speech or expression is within the ambit of the constitutional guarantees, it will not face any government interference,” Panelo said.

Panelo further claimed that a mere 3 percent of the Filipino population have expressed their disapproval of the President. He did not cite his source for this statistic.

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