RSF wrong to call for media boycott


Reporters without Borders (RSF) is right to express outrage over President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks on the murders of Filipino journalists. Its call for Philippine media to boycott his press conferences is dead wrong. So is the suggestion to use the law on defamation (libel or slander in this country) against Mr. Duterte.

The international organization was reacting to this particular line of Mr. Duterte: If you’re not a bad journalist, you won’t get killed. That was a line repeated thrice in his rambling harangue, each time said with greater intensity.

Media did not misinterpret, Mr. Duterte, nor take him out of context.

Read: Lawyering for the killers of journalists

killings

Media groups, in their investigations into the 174 murders of journalists, have pointed out allegations of corruption against some of the victims and the unjust economic systems in media that make colleagues vulnerable to corruption.

There are laws that cover erring media practitioners. Murder is a crime; there is no excuse for it.

Most journalist victims died in the line of duty. It is not true that only the bad eggs are hunted.

Most victims were murdered for exposing corruption and actions threatening local communities, including human rights violations, the sale of narcotics, the proliferation of illegal gambling, illegal logging and abusive mining practices.

When state agents commit the crime – and majority of suspects in the killings of journalists are active or retired law enforces, and local officials and/or their henchmen – the situation grows worse.

Hundreds of human rights workers, judges, political activists and environmentalists have been slain for many of the same issues that journalists die for.

Defamation

There is no downplaying the gravity of Mr. Duterte’s statements.

But for RSF to suggest that Philippine media organizations bring defamation lawsuits against Mr. Duterte is mind-boggling.

“Duterte should nonetheless be pleased by the existence of these laws because without them he would also be exposed to violent repercussions, according to his own words. We urge organizations that represent the media to not overlook comments of this kind and to bring lawsuits. We also urge the media to boycott the Duterte administration’s news conferences until the media community gets a public apology.” — RSF

Hasn’t RSF kept track of our long campaign to decriminalize libel? Did it not monitor the threat represented by the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which increases the penalty for the crime?

I do not want this used on me, on citizen journalists, or the 40 million Filipinos on social media.Why would I use it against a critic, even if he happens to be the President-elect?

I am a member, formerly chairperson, of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), which campaigns to drop libel as a crime. Around the world, media groups are battling to decriminalize defamation. RSF should know that.

The late Jun Pala’s family, on the other hand, or other heirs of slain journalists, can choose this course.

Grounds for boycott?

A boycott by journalists is tantamount to a strike against both news sources and the people we serve.

A media boycott should be used only when our physical safety or ability to gather, process and disseminate the news, are in direct danger due to the actions of news sources.

The President-elect’s remarks present a general danger — especially if people with axes to grind see his views as a green light to go after journalists perceived as erring. These remarks do not yet represent a direct threat as, say, censorship does.

His catcalling and leering, however, are direct threats to well-being of women reporters — that is why there are laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mr Duterte MUST apologize with no excuses for that, and pledge not to display such behavior. GMA7 reporter Mariz Umali has enough grounds to file a legal complaint. RSF did not mention her case.

Mr. Duterte uses extremely colorful language. But other chiefs of state, including outgoing President Benigno Aquino III have used similar lines. That does not excuse the President-elect. And media groups have spoken up as they always have.

The Philippine media did not boycott former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when they directly attacked us.

The first pressured owners of one national daily into selling it to his political allies. Mr. Estrada also prodded business cronies to boycott a hard-hitting newspaper.

Mrs. Arroyo took on emergency powers, padlocking a newspaper and arresting outspoken critics. The Armed Forces and the police went around the country, providing schools and communities with a list of “enemies of the state” – which included the name media organizations, including the NUJP.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos closed down media, except for a few outfits owned by cronies.

Impunity’s throwback loop

Through all these years, Filipino journalists slugged it out with the powers-that-be. Even under the dictatorship, we put up underground press units and alternative media outfits.

We continued to cover Mr. Estrada and Mrs. Arroyo, not allowing their actions to cow us.

aquino

In 2014, on the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) came out with a report. I wrote a piece what perpetrates impunity in this country. I scoured files going back to the early 2000s. Here are excerpts from that article:

“It is 2014 and I’m looking at reports, articles, talks and papers from 2004. Few things have changed. Indeed, every incident of violence perpetrated against journalists and almost every official statement on the issue by the incumbent President hurl those working for press freedom into a never-ending #throwback loop….

Mr. Aquino has tried to downplay the 33 murders of journalists under his watch, insulting the victims while at it.

‘When we say ‘media killing,’ usually (we refer to) agents of the state suppressing the search for the truth . . . but many of them, we can say, were not in pursuit of the profession,’ said the President, citing love triangles and extortion as possible motives.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) notes the poor solution rate for the 33 murders under Aquino’s term, with arrests only for six of these cases. Yet here was the land’s highest official, who often presents his administration as righteous, providing an old, discredited spin to a long-festering problem.

Mrs. Arroyo and leaders of the Philippine National Police (PNP) then also repeatedly blamed media victims for the killings, hinting at “shady backgrounds,” corruption and messy personal lives.

Then and now: Top government officials refusing to acknowledge that murder has become a routine response by powerful individuals and groups who come under a harsh media spotlight.

Then and now: Top government officials ignoring the roots of the problem, instead, hinting that murders could decrease if journalists eased up on their duties as watchdogs of society.”

 

We owe the people

And now we face Mr. Duterte.

A boycott is not just between media and Mr Duterte. A boycott does not just affect the incomes of media workers or the profits of our employers.

A boycott would hurt most the people we serve. Our people, RSF.

digong alabangIn this day and age, Mr Duterte can take to the Internet and record daily ramblings for the people to watch. He could very well bypass media.

But that would not be real communication. It could become a one-way monologue or he could impose a controlled platform, where only supporters get to ask sacharine questions. Filipinos know about that; we saw that during the dictatoship.

RSF is wrong. Filipino journalists owe the people our coverage of Mr. Duterte. We owe them, his fans and critics, the duty of asking the tough questions.

We cannot criticize if we abandon the task of asking those hard questions. We cannot educate, nor explain, if we stop prodding and investigating contradictions between words and actions. And we won’t be able to give Filipinos the good news – and there are many positive pronouncements and actions from Mr. Duterte – if we ignore his existence.

This is not a playground brawl. This is a fight for press freedom and free expression; a fight against impunity. This is not just about journalists, because those two rights are intertwined with other basic rights due to all citizens of this republic.

Media is a reflection of the society it serves. Where we get killed, others, too, face the guns. And they struggle on, as we in media should.

Impunity rides high when society confers too much power on select individuals and groups and imposes too little accountability on them. The murders of journalists in the Philippines will go on so long as governments continue to confound calls for transparency, so long as the corrupt and abusive wield the silence of the graveyard in response to expressions of the people’s democratic aspirations.

Opaque systems and selective imposition of justice, not to mention a weak justice system that makes sitting ducks of whistleblowers and witnesses, fueled and continue to fuel conditions that constrict press freedom – and all other freedoms — in the Philippines.

We will slug it out. We will soldier on. And while at it, we will give credit to Mr. Duterte when he gets it right even as we stand our ground when he is wrong.

Panelo as spokesman: Bad signal for seekers of truth, justice


Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has appointed defense lawyer Salvador Panelo as his spokesman.

Presidential transition teams usually vet nominees. Maybe, Duterte, who got Panelo to represent him during the public lynching stage-managed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, feels he knows the lawyer well enough to forego of the vetting process.

Mr. Duterte chose wrong. Journalists and media groups are telling him so. As have the families of the media victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.

maguindanao-massacre

“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right),” said Mary Grace Morales on behalf of other families of our fallen colleagues.

“Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre, said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) quoted Morales as saying, “Kung sya (Panelo) na talaga, hindi na ako aasa na may mangyayari pa sa kaso na ito (If he is really appointed, I will no longer hope for progress in this case),” she added.

Duterte campaigned on the promise to rid the Philippines of criminals and abusive government officials. Few clans are more abusive than the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Read: THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE: BECAUSE THEY COULD (IMPUNITY IN THE PHILIPPINES)

Ampatuan-621x446
Andal Ampatuan, Jr., a principal suspect in the Maguindanao Massacre. Photo from the AsianCorrespondent

Panelo was a defense lawyer for the Ampatuan massacre principals. He withdrew as counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. in December last year.

The NUJP expressed serious misgivings on his appointment as spokesman. It noted the “possible implications on the trial of those accused of what is acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press in history and one of the worst incidents of electoral violence in the country.”

I am a member of the NUJP, one of its former chairpersons. While the statement was right on most points, a tougher call is in order.

Mayor Duterte must rethink his appointment of Panelo

paneloDo you see this quote, sir?

 

More than 50 people died, most of them hapless journalists. It was a MASSACRE of civilians.

Unarmed civilians, many of them women, one of them a lawyer who worked with the poor. A massacre, sir. The single, most vicious attack on journalists ever, worldwide. And it happened in your beloved Mindanao.

ampatuan-massacre

One can be a defense lawyer and protect suspects’ rights.

It is another thing to peddle the lies of killers, the worst of murderers.

Panelo described the charges as fabricated.

F A B R I C A T E D.

That speaks of his affinity to truth — an ocean separates him and truth.

This is the man who will be your spokesman?

There are, what… 6,000 positions? Put him somewhere where his presence does not taint the search for justice.

Other media groups have also raised opposition to Panelo’s appointment.

Philippines Graphic editor in chief, Joel Pablo Salud said:

I can already see where the Ampatuan case will be going with your choice, Mr. President, of a spokesperson. While I believe and will fight for people’s rights to have their day in court, lies like this one do not help the cause of justice. I suggest you find someone else to stand as your voice to the people because by this statement alone, this man could endanger your presidency even before it starts.

National Press Club president Paul Gutierrez said it would be difficult for journalists to work with Panelo.

“Members of the press would find it hard to interact, and work with, a press secretary whose main client are the suspects in the wholesale murder of the members of the press that has outraged the entire world,” Gutierrez said.

“We understand certain debts owed during the election season need to be paid, but for a candidate who won overwhelmingly on a promise that change is coming, this is not the refreshing wind of change our clients sorely need now,” said Romel Regalado Bagares, Executive Director,Center for International Law.

“The choice is uninspired, to say the least. But it is clear it does not really understand the gravity of what happened on Nov. 23, 2009 on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Sadly, it is a choice that does attack not impunity decisively but rather, perpetuates it,” the lawyer and journalist said.

 

 

 

 

Track record over words: My left-handed choice for the vice presidency


 

Bongbong Marcos, the unrepentant son of the dictator, was never in the running for my vote. Nor was failed mutineer Antonio Trillanes ever considered. Nor Honasan.

Cayetano’s a competent lawmaker. And bless him for going hammer and tongs at Marcos. But his bigotry was in full display during the Mamasapano hearings and BBL-related events. I’ve seen up close and personal the results of such bigotry. For that reason, I’ve never considered Cayetano.

For some time, it has been a toss-up between Sen. Chiz Escudero and Rep. Leni Robredo.

Before delving into the pros and cons of both candidates, here are some issues and points that influenced my decision. These are mine; I am well aware others have theirs and have no intention of forcing these on anyone.

  • You are not your father or your spouse, whether they be demons or saints. (Had Bongbong showed repentance, had he cooperated with the country’s search for justice, he would not be the candidate I most revile.)
  • Human rights are non-negotiable. So is a justice system that gives the poor a fair shake.
  • Corruption is evil. Working for transparency and systemic changes that make it harder for the corrupt to operate earn big points.
  • My socio-economic views have always leaned to the left, for inclusive governance that goes beyond dole-outs.
  • #ScrapPork
  • I have never voted based on gender. What one does for gender equality is more important.
  • “Experience” is over-rated. What one has done is what matters.

 Leni Robredo

Leni is competent. An economics degree the University of the Philippines (UP) and law from the University of Nueva Caceres. She is a member of Saligan, a national alternative lawyers’ group helping farmers. She is a lawyer for the poor. And, yes, her lifestyle is simple.

What has she done in her single term in Congress? I’ll quote Yoly Ong’s article in Rappler:

“Leni has pushed for the bills that benefit not only her constituents but the entire country such as the charter extension of the Philippine National Railway. She filed for the Full Disclosure Bill that will require all elected officials and government agencies to fully disclose any transactions, documents, and budgets of public interest. She is a champion for the Freedom of Information bill (FOI).”

Leni also backed President Aquino’s Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL.) I will give her full credit for taking on Marcos. She supports reforming the law on annulment. (No contender for the top two posts has come out for divorce.) She’s an opponent of the death penalty.

The FOI bill DIED in the House of Representatives. There were champions, yes. I think they tiptoed too much around Mr. Aquino’s aversion to FOI – even when they had accommodated Malacanang’s numerous suggestions. The timidity helped kill the FOI. The unwillingness to confront stalling House leaders helped ensure the bill would lie there and die there.

“Support for the BBL” is a phrase that doesn’t impress me. I followed proceedings. The BBL was WATERED DOWN by Mr. Aquino’s allies, Robredo among them. What it looked like after they got through with it was something the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vowed to reject.

I won’t invoke the sainted Jesse’s fight against illegal gambling. But Leni praising the governor of Pampanga (the wife of one of the country’s biggest alleged illegal gambling lords) puts into question her commitment to fight corruption.

To invoke good governance as a reason for getting cozy with Mrs. Pineda (who represented her husband in Senate probes) totally flies before known facts:

1) Pineda was a name that surfaced during the Estrada impeachment trial – those sacks of money delivered to San Juan;

2) A falling out over the spoils of jueteng made the family embrace Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo;

3) Coming out bigger post EDSA 2, Pineda’s name once more during accounts of electoral fraud by the former President; he was allegedly among those who underwrote fraud.

 

Leni may spout anti-corruption lines. She may from time to time seem independent from this administration. But she sure hasn’t shown that independence when it comes to the heavy-handed use of government services – paid for by taxpayers – for her campaign.

Chiz Escudero

My problems with Chiz:

He’s too soft on President Aquino; they are good friends.

He justified the Iglesia ni Cristo’s shameless, extra-legal pressure to block a legitimate criminal case.

He did not come after Bongbong Marcos.

He did not banish that rapist Jalosjos from the slate’s campaign sorties. (A pardon does not change my mind about Jalosjos.)

He’s hasn’t given up on the idea of pork. (Robredo has her own DAP problems.)

He is a critic of the BBL.

Problems other people cite that I don’t buy:

Noy-Bi: Chiz was never LP; he owed Mar no allegiance. The President’s own sisters were Noy-Bi and so was the man he appointed executive secretary. There could have been no Noy-Bi without the Noy. (Don’t say, ‘didn’t he know Binay was corrupt?’ I’ll point you to PNOY and family.)

Alleged closeness to Danding — The old man is not fond of Chiz, whom he considers defiant and rebellious.

Blocking the coco levy bill — DHe’s not the only one who has serious concerns about HOW that particular bill aims to give justice to coco farmers.

Corruption — What? Where? When? How? There have never been clear facts on that. And that Napoles claim fizzled out fast.

So, yeah, never expect fire and brimstone from Escudero. He has never pretended to be an “alternative” politician. If you call him “trapo,” he’ll probably smile and and give you that silly wave.

Where it counts, however, Chiz DELIVERED on my priority issues.

He will not bash Marcos. But he was the main author in the Senate of RA 10368 – the reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime; RA 10353 – defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance; and RA 9745 – penalizing torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Aside from laws that added many courtrooms nationwide, he authored laws that seek systemic reforms in the justice system, reforms that better the odds for those without money or ‘connections’:

RA 10389 – institutionalizing recognizance as a mode of granting the release of an indigent person in custody as an accused in a criminal case;

RA 10158 – decriminalizing vagrancy;

RA 10071 – strengthening and rationalizing the National Prosecution Service (increasing salaries of public attorneys, among other changes);

RA 9999 – providing a mechanism for Free Legal Assistance;

RA 9995 – defining and penalizing the crime of photo and video voyeurism (critical in this digital age);

RA 9946 – granting additional retirement, survivorship and other benefits to members of the judiciary

We all know how PAGASA has improved. Escudero authored RA 10692, which allowed for the modernization of the weather service. He also authored

RA 10625 – reorganizing and strengthening the Philippine Statistical System; and RA 9470 – strengthening the system of management and administration of archival records, stabling the National Archives of the Philippines. (Very important, if not really sexy laws.)

For anybody who wonders how safe are the funds we park in banks, Escudero authored RA 9576 – increasing the maximum deposit insurance coverage, strengthening regulatory and administration authority and financial capability of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.

Transparency? Chiz is among the rare politicians with their pork allotments out there for public review. He has submitted a genuine waiver with his Statement on Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth since 2013. It’s the real thing. He just doesn’t do a big song and dance.

Among his pending bills are :

SB NO. 16 – requiring public officials and employees to submit written permission or waiver in favor of the ombudsman to look into ALL DEPOSITS OF WHATEVER NATURE WITH BANKS WITHIN AND OUTSIDE PH, including investment bonds issued by PH govt; and

SB NO. 18 – the Senate version of the FOI — implementing the right of the people to information on matters of public concern … and the state policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest. (Full disclosure in there; Chiz was main author; Poe it’s champion. The Senate passed it.)

My anti-Epal side likes SB NO. 17 – declaring as unlawful the naming of govt projects after govt officials and other persons whose name or identity may be associated with said officials.

SB NO. 118 – an act penalizing influence peddling; and SB NO. 425 – an act providing for protection, security and benefits of whistle-blowers should matter a lot to those hoping for a less corrupt country.

As a journalist, I appreciate SB NO. 127 – an act decriminalizing libel.

SB NO. 445 – amending the law on prostitution by imposing penalties on its perpetrators, and protective measures and support services for its victims – would end the current hypocrisy that penalizes sex workers while letting their users go free.

On consumers’ rights: SB NO. 123 – an act increasing the penalty for criminal negligence committed by common carriers

On OFW welfare: SB NO. 432 – penalizing the imposition of excessive placement fees against overseas Filipino workers

SB NO. 441 – magna carta of workers in the informal sector – tries to narrow the cracks in the economic system.

And, of course, it counts that he voted for the Senate version Neri Colmenares’ SSS pension increase bill.

I only have one vote and that goes to support real, tangible issues that matter. What’s been done matters.

Escudero gets my vote. It doesn’t scare me that many Filipinos are waltzing with a dictator’s son. And the argument that my vote will help him win doesn’t impress – because this administration’s record has made a mockery of the word ‘democracy.’

Hey, Bongbong, here’s a dictionary


Just in case all the partying during your dad’s glorious reign sidelined basic vocabulary lessons, here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of “gain”:

So let’s talk about “value” or what we hold dear.

Life is at the top of the pyramid, dude. Cavalier would be a kind adjective for your dad’s attitude towards the basic right to life. At last count, more than 75,000 have filed for compensation for human rights abuses under daddy dearest.

True, they’re still killing, torturing and arresting activists and journalists. Not that you’d be weeping tears for them.

But AFTER Edsa, the courts at least offered some chance of redress.

Under the Marcos dictatorship, everything was hostage to the whims of your father’s henchmen, including that fossil who owes his freedom – in the face of plunder raps – to the Supreme Court.

Your father’s regime cut short the lives of some of the country’s best and brightest. You’re alive and hale enough to pollute the air with your lies. Allowing even idiots their right to life is a real gain, don’t you think?

Had those guys with the same dictatorial bent succeeded in their putscht, you and yours would be buried in some deep pit.

Also, unless you think “Constitution” is a synonym for toilet paper, we do have a chance now to challenge autocrats who abuse power.

That right, which we wrested back from your dad’s stranglehold, led to landmark decisions on the pork barrel. Perhaps that’s a gain wasted on the son of a kleptocrat, who propped up his regime by borrowing gazillions to keep his minions happy.

bongbong2You don’t think people care about what happened under two decades of tyranny? And your empirical evidence is the dearth of people asking you questions about martial law and human rights violations?

It never occurred that people don’t bother asking you because of all the news reports detailing your memories of some warped wonderland?

Yes, news. We’re even printing your pratling. You’re allowed to peddle your fantasy. Of course, we’re also allowed to shoot down your lame fiction. I can see why you don’t count this as a “gain.”

“Gain” also includes the breakup of the monopolies your dad showered on his pals.

joel abong2
Joel Abong, the boy who became the poster child of famine in Philippines’ Sugarlandia — on www.revolutionrevisited.com

Go check out what the thousands of agricultural workers in Sugarlandia think of your dad and his cronies — not that opposition landowners were any better. Their children are still poor but no longer look like starving, sub-Saharan waifs.

Read what UcanNews reported way back in 1985:

In a pastoral letter draft in July, Philippine bishops said the famine “raised the spectre of a generation of brain-damaged children” …

Severe third-degree malnutrition among Negros children reached 7-8 percent, according to a UNICEF survey in July. This doubled the 1984 rate.

UNICEF officials told UCA News some countries declare 3 percent an emergency.

Doctor Violeta Gonzaga of La Salle College in Bacolod City says the third-degree malnutrition rate was 10 percent or more in August.”

There have been gains for the sugar workers — no thanks to the old-style oligarchy and the new-style kleptocracy. Those gains weren’t gifts from anyone but the fruits of their struggle.

You think life under Ferdinand Sr. was so flush?

The Businessworld points out:

“The average GDP growth rate from 1972 to 1985 (Marcos’s last full year) was all of 3.4% per annum. Per-capita GDP grew annually at less than 1% average over the period — more precisely 0.82%… For comparison, the average GDP growth from 2003 to 2014 — even under a bumbling and quarrelsome democracy — has been 5.4% per annum — with a rising trend. On a per capita basis, GDP today is rising 3.5% annually, more than four times the growth rate under the dictatorship.”

It’s laughable when you lament the lack of jobs that force people to brave foreign shores. The dearth in employment that pays enough for a decent life is true. But dude, the diaspora was launched and encouraged by your dad to mask rising unemployment and bring in foreign reserves needed to pay for the debts he racked up – to keep the party going.

 

You think all young Filipinos are so guillible? Let’s see what happens in May.

I may not think much of those seeking to lead the nation. But you talk like gains are on the account of a few leaders. In fact, gains have been won despite leaders. And young people know this.

Duh. This country owes you and your family  nothing for nothing.

The Philippines isn’t beyond saving. It can be made better. It will be made better. You and yours  are the last thing we need.

 

Elegy for Freedom of Information Law


When the Right to Know Right Now (R2KRN) coalition proclaimed the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill dead in the 16th Congress, I wondered if the declaration was premature. Could renewed clamour prod President Benigno Aquino III to finally declare the bill urgent? READ: R2KRN 2010 Letter to PNOY on FOI

Another paragraph also raised my brows. The coalition said it would be unfair to continue giving House FOI champions the burden of taking political risks in order to overcome the leadership’s refusal to push for FOI.

“Champions are expected to take political risks,” was my thought bubble. But I come from a more militant point of view than other folks in the R2KRN coalition and so decided to ask co-convenor Nepomucena Malaluan some questions. There’s always room for enlightenment.

I’m going to share Nepo’s replies verbatim. Before that, however, let me acknowledge the very hard work the coalition has done in more than 15 years of campaigning for the passage of the FOI Act.

Ed Chua, country chairman of Shell Companies in the Philippines and a trustee of Makati Business Club signs www.change.org/TayoNaParaSaFOI at a UP event
Ed Chua, country chairman of Shell Companies in the Philippines and a trustee of Makati Business Club signs http://www.change.org/TayoNaParaSaFOI at a UP event

It has has held forums, issued statements, ran pooled editorials, participated actively in the legislative process – the latter not a task for the faint-hearted and the sensitive. It has also launched mass actions signature campaigns — more than 17,000 signatures on this Change.org petition and 20,000 more on the paper version. It also organized advocacy runs, filed its own bill by way of Indirect Initiative, produced information materials, initiated dialogues, and coordinated work with allies in Congress and the executive. READ: 38,000 signatures submitted to Malacanang

This is the coalition’s sad conclusion:

“We confront the reality that our institutions, particularly the Presidency and Congress, are not ready to overcome their selfish fears and take the side of public interest on the issue of FOI.”

Sounding the death knell for the FOI bill isn’t a full retreat. Nepo explains it as an alternative course of action and one started even as the coalition pushed for passage of the FOI Law.

This is what the coalition said in its statement:

“While the FOI bill again meets its death in the hands of a President and a House leadership reluctant to redistribute power or too arrogant to heed our call, our fight for an effective, working, and living FOI, lives on. It may take a different form, emphasis and strategy, but its essence will remain the same: we assert the right to information as a fundamental mechanism in the struggle for a rights-based governance with greater transparency and accountability, less corruption, broader and informed peoples participation, and development outcomes that are sustainable and just.”

Here are Nepo’s answers to my queries. I just broke down the pargraphs for easier reading:

1) Why is the coalition issuing the death certificate this early?

It is not early.

There is hardly any more time if we go by legislative calendar. Session adjourns October 10 to November 2, and resumes session again from November 3 to December 18. It adjourns again December 19 to January 17, and resumes session from January 18 to February 5. Then a long break for the elections, to come back on May 23 mainly for the canvassing of votes and proclamation of the new president.

This is where prioritization by the highest leadership is important, and the declared top priorities are BBL and the budget. All others in the “priority list” are really secondary.

Can we get them to give FOI equal priority, such that they will take it up alongside/at the same time they take up and approve BBL and the Budget?

freedom-of-information-law-aquino

2) Have there been clear indications — other than (Deputy Speaker Neptali Gonzales ) Boyet’s remarks; say, from the Palace — that it is going nowhere?

It’s not like we are demanding such high prioritization only now. We demanded it from day one of this administration. We did not see it for the past five years (other than lip service).

You can google how after taking his oath PNoy changed his tune by raising ever-mutating concerns early in his term. He created a study group, which we painstakingly engaged for a year to arrive at a balancing of concerns (which our friends in Makabayan reduced to calling a watered-down Malacanang bill). READ: FOI Bill ‘defanged’ — Makabayan

READ: Coalition responds to Makabayan criticism

Nepo adds:

PNoy’s supposed endorsement in Feb 2012 was not accompanied by push on the ground, unlike in other measures such as sin tax and even RH. His allies saw it as mixed signals, allowing Evardone and House leadership to dribble FOI to death in the 15th Congress.

At the start of the 16th it was not included in the priorities. It took PNoy to be cornered by a question from Ramon Del Rosario at the Daylight Dialogue in Malacanang before the 2014 SONA, to for the first time in his term personally say something positive about FOI passage. It was only after the 2014 SONA that it was included in the list of Malacanang’s priorities, even if he still did not mention it in the SONA itself.

For what it’s worth, the statement at the Daylight Dialogue provided some Malacanang close allies who are supportive of FOI to join the push at the House (particularly Reps Dina Abad and Leni Robredo, and Usec Manolo Quezon, which provided political counterweight to allow Committee chair to move positively). “Added to the coalition and House champions (those pushing independently of Malacanang) work, the Bill passed through the committee.

I could tell you there was really hard work behind the scenes that went into that — coordination meetings that goes from substantive unities to the specific motions and manifestations to be made, and mustering the votes. The Makabayan opposition is the easy part, although they did contribute to the slow process at the TWG level, and also undermined the integrity of the bill through conclusions that are attractive to those who don’t have the time to objectively look at the fine print.

The biggest hurdle was the counter-signals from Speaker and Boyet, and we confirm the account by Walden. I can give you details if you’re interested.

Here is a passage from Walden’s op-ed article on FOI:

The problem, however, lies not with Belmonte but with Malacanang. As everyone in the House knows, Belmonte is a pliant ally of the president, and whatever may be his public statements, if Malacanang does not want a bill, it won’t go through. Thus, Aquino’s silence on FOI last Monday spoke volumes to Belmonte and other members of Congress.

During both the 15th and 16th Congresses, Malacanang tried to waylay the advocates by playing a double game. On the one hand, it would send Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III to assure them that Malacanang was willing to assist in framing a law that it could support. On the other hand, other emissaries would float the word that the president had major problems with the bill, giving ammunition to opponents of the bill.

In both Congresses, advocates bent over backwards to accommodate Malacanang’s legitimate national security concerns while ensuring that there would be no blocks to full transparency. In both Congresses, Malacanang’s representatives registered no objections to the versions that finally passed the Committee.

What has prevented people like Belmonte and Aquino from following through on their promises to pass FOI?

I think their strong hesitation stems from the generalized fear of many politicians that the legislated transparency of FOI may work against them in some undefined way at some point. In the case of the House leadership, it is probably a case of generalized fear. In the case of President Aquino, however, it is probably more than generalized fear. It probably stems from his desire to prevent access to documents and other material that may give him an image different from that he wants to leave behind, if not make him and some of his subordinates vulnerable to criminal and civil charges for felonious deeds committed while in office. – See more at: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/530402/opinion/commentary-freedom-of-information-bill-in-its-death-throes#sthash.G9UCdGXw.dpuf

FOI cebu by foi youth initiative

Nepo expounds on the process of shepherding a bill through Congress:

However, getting the bill out of committee is one thing; getting it even calendared in plenary and much more voted on with sufficient time is another. And this is where a mention of FOI at at last SONA would have been critical, and I’m sure PNoy and Malacanang know it.

He did not mention it. Instead, his spokespersons point to the budget message, which to me is just a cover. PNoy could also certify it urgent; he says he wont because the constitution requires an emergency but you very well know it’s a political discretion, as it is used when convenient

3) Is the coalition making it too easy for the Palace? It could die, of course, even with another wave of mass campaign. It would, at least, give some discomfort for those responsible. In bowing out this early, isn’t the coalition encouraging similar behavior from whoever succeeds Mr. Aquino?

We are making it too easy for the Palace by declaring the FOI Bill dead?

On the contrary. What will be too easy is if we allow ourselves to be strung along up to the point when any cry of betrayal is already moot since the elections is done.

We did not just declare the FOI Bill dead; we unequivocally put the responsibility for killing it on PNoy and Belmonte. We gave up on PNoy. We gave up on the House of Representatives. We gave up on the institutions. Certainly it is not our intent to give those responsible comfort.

4) On ‘unfair to continue to burden our House FOI champions with the expectation to take political risks’… It’s a strange phrasing. Don’t major, urgent causes also come with political risk? Does this passage have anything to do with the champions’ political future with the administration’s coalition come election period? Is this linked to the early death certificate?

No, we did not mean political future with the administration’s coalition. We mean the readiness to do what it takes — such as scuttling BBL or budget deliberations to compel the House leadership and PNoy to negotiate on FOI passage. Is there anyone ready to do that? (During the 14th Congress what it required towards the endgame was for someone to scuttle the Presidential canvassing to force a negotiation on FOI.)

We recognize the work of our allies, but how far they will take it is a leadership call and not for us to demand. We can only offer our full support should they do so.

There may be other engagement nuances that I do not see. I’d appreciate if you could expound on these. I’m sure the numerous other supporters of the FOI would also appreciate your insights.

Nepo then discusses the alternative:

What is lost in your questions is the other side of the statement — FOI Practice. We are serious about this shift in focus, and this will be something we will pursue systematically and doggedly.

The serious gaps in FOI that can be comprehensively addressed by legislation, which was the path we took for more than 15 years, we can alternatively struggle to address by FOI Practice. (We did have occasional conversations on Direct Initiative, but this is another very difficult route.)

There are trade-offs. This alternative focus on FOI Practice allows for incremental changes, rather than a one-off big change through legislation. But this can also be rewarding, and can give as much discomfort to the centers of power.

You mentioned earlier another wave of mass campaign directed at the legislative push. That is no small matter; it requires much time and resources. This is time and resources that we can put to FOI Practice, and we are ready to show this can have great impact as well.

In the 14th and 15th Congress we fought the legislative route up to the very end. We may not have done enough, but we also felt the institutions failed us. We are prepared to go a different route this time, and it is not a matter of whim.

The coalition does not see our legislative efforts lost. We would like to think that we have developed a strong and broad coalition. Whatever shortcomings we have, and there would be many, we would like to think as well that we were able to reach some people.

It is from these foundations built from our legislative advocacy that we take the road of FOI Practice.

The Ampatuan Massacre: BECAUSE THEY COULD (Impunity in the Philippines)


keep the story alive“THE KILLERS WANT YOU TO FORGET. #KeepTheStoryAlive.”

The joint by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have come out with a report.

The joint mission was among the activities undertaken in November 2014 by media groups as the Philippines commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, the world’s single most deadly attack on journalists.

The introduction to the report gives a stark summary of the massacre and a capsule analysis of why it happened:

On November 23, 2009, the Philippines showed to the world in the most horrific way what impunity looks like.

The slaughter of 58 people – including 32 journalists – in an “unprecedented act of political violence” in Southern Mindanao was, and is, the single biggest killing of media workers in history. The scene described by journalist Nonoy Espina was that of a “cake of death”; bodies and vehicles piled and squashed into crude mass graves.

The horrifying massacre in Maguindanao shocked and sickened the world. How could this supposedly strong Asian democracy with such a vibrant and robust press play host to an audacious and brutal bloodbath of this scale? How could the killers think that no-one would notice; that life could continue on, business as usual?

The fact is they did. And they did because that was the way it had come to be in the Philippines.

You can read the full report HERE.

(DISCLOSURE: I wrote Chapter 5 of the report. I chaired the NUJP from 2004-2006 and remain a member of the organisation.)

On the cover: The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines created an art installation at the Bantayog ng Bayani in Quezon City to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the largest mass murder of journalists in history. The “Monument to the Heroes” is a landscaped memorial centre honouring individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986. The installation re-created the massacre of November 23, 2009, in Maguindanao in Southern Philippines, which saw 58 people killed, including 32 journalists. The body figures were crafted from newspapers and re-create the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre. Leeroy New, an artist, helped visualise the crime scene. He said: “Our use of newspapers to re-enact the crime scene is in fact a direct reference to how the issue is slowly disappearing. And how the material – the newspaper as a material – is a very transient material. And it’s also a direct reference to the victims – the journalists who were killed.” The agency behind the idea was BBDO Guerrero which provides the NUJP with pro bono support for its ongoing campaigns against journalist killings and impunity."
On the cover:
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines created an
art installation at the Bantayog ng Bayani in Quezon City to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the largest mass murder of journalists in history.
The “Monument to the Heroes” is a landscaped memorial centre honouring individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986.
The installation re-created the massacre of November 23, 2009, in Maguindanao in Southern Philippines, which saw 58 people killed, including 32 journalists. The body figures were crafted from newspapers and re-create the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre.
Leeroy New, an artist, helped visualise the crime scene. He said: “Our use of newspapers to re-enact the crime scene is in fact a direct reference to how the issue is slowly disappearing. And how the material – the newspaper as a material – is a very transient material. And it’s also a direct reference to the victims – the journalists who were killed.”
The agency behind the idea was BBDO Guerrero which provides the NUJP with pro bono support for its ongoing campaigns against journalist killings and impunity.”