It's amazing how we can easily tell the kind of freedom of the press we have right in this country just by listening to journalists argue about t-shirts. I have the queasy feeling that something must be terribly wrong in a democracy when journalists start talking about (and sometimes become afraid of) what to wear. "Is it safe to wear t-shirts like this one when we're on coverage?" Riza asked, pointing to the green shirt that Walter wore, bearing the text of Section four Article 3 of the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution, which assures that, "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression and of the press." Weng was in the midst of the discussion on "safety while on coverage" in the upcoming May elections, projected to be one of the bloodiest ever, what with all the journalist killings that have been going on for how long! "Of course, I wear this because we're here together," quipped Nelson, who was wearing the black version of Walter's shirt. "At least, I am with you and we understand each other. I also wear this when we're on the streets on press freedom day, or when we protest and demand for all the killings to stop, or on a funeral march when one of us has just gotten himself killed by who-knows-who (?) but I don't wear this on coverage."
"It's not advisable," agreed Q, vigorously shaking his head. "Afterall, it's election time. You could easily get killed."
"It's a no-no," said Walter. "Especially when you're in an area which is very dangerous."
"When you're in a conflict zone, maybe," said Weng. "But what's wrong about wearing that when you go to the Comelec office to follow up election results?"
"Isn't it election time?" asked Awi, "When people from all walks of life put forward all kinds of agenda in all forms of advertisements?" "I may not wear that in places where goons with guns freely roam," I can't help saying, "But perhaps, on ordinary days when we cover the news, why not take the chance?" (But I did not actually mean one hundred per cent of what I said because--when wearing something interferes with my getting the story I would rather change my clothes or go naked!) "But aren't we in a democracy here?" Che of davaotoday.com shot back from the booth at the back where all the t-shirts---printed with stop killing journalists---were displayed. "Why do we have this kind of argument about such a trivial thing as a T-shirt to wear when we're supposed to be free?!"
Everyone fell silent. I felt weird because after all, the Philippines has always been touted to have the freest press in Asia and yet, journalists seem to be thinking twice about wearing certain types of T-shirts while on coverage.
Covering the Elections