Collective wisdom cannot be distilled from individual ignorance. The people must know – Bernard Shaw
The Philippine press is considered as the independent fourth estate that is there to “keep the government from becoming enemy of the people instead of its protector”. The press’s function is to inform and expose, to lay the ills of the society so that somehow it can be given attention if not cured.
To practice journalism in our country is considered to be risky. Why? The present social and political system in our country is decadent, corrupt, and repressive. From the top and even to the local governments’ corruption is rampant, officials are engaged in illegal activities, and the government clings to its militarist policies to quell the unrest instead of knowing the roots of the conflict, that are poverty, social inequality, and puppetry to foreign dictates.
Even the government is using the media to fool the people to propagate lies and deceits to blur the sorry state of the economic, political, and social degradation that the masses experienced. However, there are still journalists that have spilled their blood and will take the risk so that the truth shall be heard. While some are blinded and have lost their voices because of the envelopmental journalism and sheer opportunism they espoused.
To tackle the issues that aim to expose the ills and somehow present an alternative to the problems contrary to what the government and other influential people think, are expected to receive lukewarm attention and the worst resort to repression to silence their critics in their further expose of the issue. And that is no wonder, many media practitioners face the threat of libel, abduction, torture, bribery, and killed.
We can clearly see the logic of this repression. If there is nothing to hide and the system is working, then why is it that there is systematic persecution going on?
Three decades have passed since the horrors of Martial Law, yet human rights abuses not only to the journalist but to the common tao remain at their worst. Ironically, the government vaunted that this is a democratic nation, yet, state-abetted and perpetrated violations of civil rights and human rights are worsening. The fascist stance of the Macapagal-Arroyo at present brings us back to the specter of the dreaded Martial Law.
Amidst the terrorism hysteria, and the regime’s Strong Republic which is reminiscent of Marcos New Society, Arroyo labels her critics “communist” and “terrorist-lovers”. Not only GMA uses name-calling but also through direct human rights abuses. From January 2001 to July 2002, 37, 164 persons were victims of human rights abuses in 1,334 recorded cases. Also, people who are suspected to be the supporter or members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were summarily executed and murdered by the AFP, PNP, CAFGU, and the continuous harassment of other paramilitary groups like RPA-ABB and RHB.
The country’s jail is also full of languishing political prisoners. As of June 2002, there are 197 political prisoners scattered in 63 prisons nationwide, that are accompanied by maltreatment or torture.
If the ordinary and progressive people are being killed and persecuted how about the media people? The present status of the freedom of the press is blatantly destroyed. The latest statistic gathered by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines showed that already 86 media practitioners have been murdered since 1986 and these numbers are still growing and are remain unsolved as in the case of the RMN broadcaster Roland Ureta here in Aklan.
This figure clearly shows the rampant killing, harassment of the Philippine press to silence them in exposing the truth and the ills of the society.
The trend of increasing political repression instigated by the state coincides with the country’s worsening economic situation. The government is die-hard to implement globalization which brings about worsening poverty to the majority of the populace, and the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. In reaction to this, those who oppose and struggle against these anti-people policies receive the cost of the persecution of their civil liberties.
Political and economic struggles are intertwined. The absence of economic power also means the loss of their political and civil rights.
Civil liberties are also known as political rights, which include the rights against torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention, involuntary disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and massacre. The government should protect and promote civil liberties since they are ensconced in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
But in a system of elite democracy, the government is an instrument of the ruling class (the landlords and bureaucrat capitalist) to advance their economic and political interests. And in the capitalist mode of production, economic and political power are only in the hands of the ruling few.
So, we cannot expect that the state at the expense of its ruling cliques will give way to the just demands of the majority of the people including their civil liberties. Amidst the political turmoil and economic and social inequality, the state perpetrated grave abuses on civil and human rights to protect the interest of the oligarchs and the status quo that is the source of such unrest. The pushing of anti-terrorism bills, national ID system, charter change, and other anti-people laws are the clear manifestation of this repression.
It is gruesome to think that by killing the very journalist who is trekking the road unlikely traveled by many press people, they are faced with such barbaric acts just to keep the open secret corruption and barbarous acts of the individuals in power and influence. And it is also very sad to think that until now such ferocity to our fellow media men is just being taken for granted by the government.
No wonder, the perpetrators are very influential and untouchables, because they are the very people that hold the highest position in our government. So we cannot expect that they will persecute their kind. What a really sad reality!
Mainstream media fails to lend the voice to the voiceless and the presentation of the truth to enlighten and liberate the minds of those who are ignorant. As a journalist once wrote — mainstream media is being elitist. It only answers the questions that matter to those who own the media which is the elite and the state and becoming blinded by the very lies that it has been heaping on the people.
We can only see a handful of media practitioners that dared to write and speak in accordance with the truth and not on what the paper owner and the government want them to say. Mainstream media clings to corporate and government policies and standards on what news and features should be broadcasted and printed.
Under the present structure of our society, a mainstream media that serves and protects the interest of the poor is a foolish dream. Because of the dictates of corporate interests, journalists are afflicted with distorting the truth, and instead writes and report lies to the people. The objectivity that should be the ground for responsible journalism is overshadowed by what is saleable and profitable. And we cannot expect that the voices and situations of the less fortunate will be given attention.
In a society that becoming more and more brutal and unjust, journalists have the responsibility not only to report but also to take a stand for the interest of the majority of the oppressed Filipinos. The elites and technocrats enjoy the commercialized journalism; while ordinary Juan Dela Cruz was prevented a true and real information.
Instead, we are bombarded with the bickering of the politicians, actors, and actresses’ quarrels and the hype of the soap operas, where the murder of a journalist serves as the pastime news. Even some documentaries are shown in big television networks that tackle the unconventional type of reporting especially tackling poverty, social injustices, corruption, and the side of the rebels fighting the government experienced extreme scrutiny and screening before it can be shown.
Media is very important to the lives of every Filipino as a source of facts and ideas that help us in adding our knowledge that will be useful to us. We can make and unmake stories but we should think of showing the truth and stand for it, no matter what.
Despite many restrictions, especially in big media companies that eventually kill any report and analysis on complicated issues that touch very sensitive topics that question the prevailing order, a journalist should never be daunted to be objective. To write is already to choose, and to choose what stand are we for is clear.
Journalism cannot be liberated until the whole social order is overhauled. While many journalists have given their lives in the name of press freedom, millions more Filipinos are being persecuted because of the unequal distribution of wealth, social injustice, and commodification. However, they continue to struggle for their upliftment and will never stop until genuine democracy is achieved. And as a part of society, we have to take a stand. Depending on your choice, will you stand for a free and progressive society or you will be left out in the quagmires of decadence and ignorance. It’s your choice.
As a fellow journalist once said, “As journalists, as chroniclers of the struggle of the masses for genuine freedom, nothing less is expected of you”.
February 26, 2004.