The irrational tirades against Mrs. Celia Veloso
Jurgen Habermas (b. 1929), a German sociologist, one of the surviving members of the famous Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, diagnosed the eighteenth century birth of public sphere as both an idea and ideology. As an idea the public sphere is supposed to be a space where people voluntarily come together to discuss the social issues with the use of unconstrained reason independent of the government and economy. As an ideology however, it was restricted to people who have the economic means to communicate. Today, our public sphere has developed beyond the traditional media. Its frontiers have extended into cyberspace. Ironically, rather than becoming more democratic and transparent, our public sphere has become more ideological. It resembles a market that is saturated with netizens who indiscriminately make quick posts and counter-posts that are bereft of informed reflection. The untrammelled intelligent debate is now reduced to the number of likes that a post on social media generates. Our extended public sphere, rather than transforming itself as a democratic arena for rational deliberation, has turned into an unregulated market where obnoxious and distorted discourses are allowed to proliferate without benefits of sufficient reflection. I am referring to the avalanche of derogatory remarks being allowed in the dominant media that demonizes the Velosos while absolving our President of any responsibility!
It is only expected that when the mother of Mary Jane Veloso, Mrs. Celia Veloso denounced the Aquino government for not doing enough, and that her family will make the government accountable for the incompetence in saving Mary Jane, some people will not be cheery. But the flurry of scornful remarks of netizens on the social media and dominant media against the Velosos are way beyond the ethical limits of public sphere. And the way some dominant media allowed themselves to be the receptacle for this irresponsible outburst of exchanges merely reflects the level of our political maturity. Freedom of speech does not come cheap. It is supposed to generate the truth, rather than to obfuscate. But when the public sphere, through mass media, becomes the forum for imprudent opinions of blinkered people, then, I cannot help but conclude it has become the mouth piece of the ruling ideology!
I am dismayed by how our people identified with Pope Francis’ slogan of “Mercy and Compassion”, yet are now wickedly demanding for the death Mary Jane just because the Velosos expressed infuriation over the way our government handled the case. It seems to me that our people are more compassionate for our government—who had not even released a clear public statement on Mary Jane, who did not even come out to disclose the full story, our President who (as expected) did not even visit the Velosos to provide assistance, moral support to say the least, who did not apply strong state pressure on Indonesia like Australia, France and Brazil, who refused to disclose other Filipinos in death rows worldwide—than the Velosos, who, in the last hours of their daughter in the death row, were at a loss as to how their daughter ended up in such an abject, abandoned condition!
The public must be told that it is not true that the Philippine embassy provided assistance to Mary Jane from the start. It was only during the appeal that the Embassy hired private lawyers. It is not also true that it is the idea of the government to arrest Mary Jane’s recruiter. It was already asked by Rudyantho & Partners (R&P) a year ago. It was the NUPL lawyers that filed a complaint against Maria Kristina Sergio, Mary Jane’s recruiter to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), PDEA and Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT). It must also be known that the Embassy gave the translation of Mary Jane’s official translation of her first and second verdict to R&E.
What is more deplorable is when Mary Jane’s sister, Maritess, revealed an instance when she went to the DFA: “Sinabihan ako ng isang nagpakilalang attorney daw ng DFA.” She adds, “Tapos tumatawag kami [DFA], tawag kami ng tawag walang sumasagot. Kumilos lang sila noong huli na ang lahat.”
There are more truths to be uncovered that the public should know. All accountable individuals, bureaucrats or not, should be meted with just punishment. No one can deny that Mary Jane is just one among the countless Filipino mothers who would take risks working abroad rather than endure slow and grinding poverty in our country. The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 mandates the government, “While recognizing the significant contribution of Filipino migrant workers to the national economy through their foreign exchange remittances, the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development. The existence of the overseas employment program rests solely on the assurance that the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens shall not, at any time, be compromised or violated. The State, therefore, shall continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development.”
Instead of bellowing against the Velosos, it is time we ask ourselves and our government these hard questions: Has our state turned itself into the ‘greatest pimp” for selling 6,092 workers daily to the highest foreign bidders to achieve 7.5 growth rate? Has our government ensured the rights, dignity and welfare of our OFWs who remitted Php 1.07 trillion in 2014? Whatever happened to the Legal Assistance Funds vetoed by Pres. Aquino in 2015 budget? Is our government creating “decent” jobs and employment when 11.8 million individuals are unemployed? Is our government creating jobs to ensure equitable distribution of wealth when only 100 families of 17 million Filipino families control and rule the country’s politics and economy; worse, 10 families own 60 percent of the P10-trillion combined capitalization of some 300 business companies in the country?
For whom should we be cheering? Our enemy is not the fuming, tired, sleepless, Mrs. Celia Veloso. Our main enemy is our government and the system it has spawned, that created the Velosos! And when the dominant media irresponsibly allow the reign of irresponsible news and comments against the Velosos’, I cannot help but conclude –freedom of the press is only freedom for the unthinking public and imprudent media outfits.
Gerry Lanuza is a professor of sociology in UP Diliman.