Journalists and artists have recently issued statements denouncing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s call for media to “focus on winners, not losers.”
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Journalists denounced President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s strongly-worded speech at the Nov. 10 conference of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP, Association of Broadcasters in the Philippines) in Baguio City. In the conference, the president told the media to “focus on winners, not losers.”
“We must take heed of the media becoming part of the national malaise and a hindrance to development rather than an important solution to our problems,” Macapagal-Arroyo said. “A press that loses credibility as the watchdog of government and the society becomes a drag to democracy rather than a force of freedom. Yes, we must admit that some segments of the media are pushing the negative angle of stories too far and too often.”
��The President forgets that an informed citizenry is needed for development and democracy,” said Rowena Carranza-Paraan, a director of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), in reaction to the speech. “An informed citizenry is only possible if media is free to report both good and bad news. What she wants is ‘praised journalism’ just like Martial Law days. Calling us a ‘drag to democracy’ and tools for destabilization is tantamount to declaring war against media.”
For his part, columnist Vergel Santos said that it seems that President Arroyo wants to rewrite the terms of engagement between the media and government.
“She cannot do that, (because) it has been set by tradition and wisdom through the ages,” Santos told reporters, adding that the “terms of agreement is a democracy deal and part of that deal is press freedom”. .
In less than an hour after President Arroyo left the podium, ABS-CBN chairman Eugene Lopez III lashed back as he appealed to public officials to refrain from unduly tarnishing the reputation of broadcasters with unfounded accusations. Lopez, one of the speakers in the KBP conference, said that the “Philippine media is being unjustly vilified by those whose interest lies in the continued suppression of the truth” taking as context the country’s “unsettled political and economic situation.
Dean Luis Teodoro of the University of the Philippines said that the more the president stonewalls the presidency, the more she loses credibility. Teodoro said that it seems the president do not want reports that will put her in a bad light.
Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo said Macapagal-Arroyo should not blame the media for the existence of bad news, and had “only herself to blame” for it. “She has been caught lying or backing out on her public statements,” said Ocampo. “She touts her title ‘economist’ but she presides over an economy marked by high prices, high taxes and elitist control.”
Enter anti-GMA artists
Meanwhile, a broad artists’ alliance calling for Macapagal-Arroyo’s removal from office and the institutionalization of reforms beyond a constitutional succession has stepped into the debate as well.
The Artists for the Removal of Gloria (ARREST Gloria) – whose membership includes poet-musician Lourd de Veyra, singers Bobby Balingit and Dong Abay, the multi-media group Southern Tagalog Exposure, the worker-based musical group Tambisan sa Sining, and the poetry group Kilometer 64 among others – assailed in a Nov. 13 statement Macapagal-Arroyo’s call to media to highlight “winners” and not “losers” as well as her attacks against journalists covering the proceedings of the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA).
“President Arroyo’s call to media to focus on ‘winners’ and not ‘losers’ reminds us artists of how former First Lady Imelda Marcos, during the martial law period, repeatedly pressured our colleagues to highlight ‘The True, The Good, The Beautiful’ while the economy was on a downward trajectory because of pro-foreign and elitist policies, as well as corruption, and the rights of people seeking a better life for all were being trampled upon on a grand scale,” the ARREST Gloria statement read. The group likewise recalled how artists who chose to “depict things as they really were” earned the ire of the Marcos dictatorship and were “punished” in various ways.
“We artists hold sacred the freedom of expression,” the ARREST Gloria statement further read. “Freedom of the press is the freedom of expression as exercised by members of the media.
“Without freedom of the press, journalists cease to be journalists. Without artistic freedom, artists cease to be artists. To tell journalists to focus on ‘winners’ and not ‘losers,’ to tell artists to highlight ‘The True, The Good, The Beautiful,’ is to order them to kill themselves.”
Journalists vs. anti-terror bill
Teodoro, Santos and Ocampo, have also joined calls to oppose the anti-terrorism bill (ATB) pending in both houses of Congress.
“If enacted into law, the ATB would make it easy and legal for the Arroyo government to label as terrorists any journalist or media outfit that would interview or cover dissidents, critics and other newsworthy sources perceived by government as terrorists,” said Ocampo in a Nov. 11 statement.
Teodoro, in his talk during the 31st top-level management conference of the KBP Nov. 10 said that the anti-terror bill, with its broad definition of what constitutes terrorism, will affect the security of media persons and outfits.
Referring to President Arroyo’s disclosure of an intelligence report linking ABS-CBN reporter Julius Babao to suspected terrorist Dawud Santos, he adds that if the bills have been passed into law, Babao’s overzealousness at getting to the core of facts surrounding the Dawud bail can be considered as an aid to terrorism.
“Kulong siya,” (He could land in prison) Teodoro said. Under the ATB, terrorism as a crime is not bailable and an alleged terrorist can be arrested without warrant and detained for 15 days without warrant.
Santos said during the same conference that all journalists must read the anti-terrorism bill and oppose it.
Earlier, the NUJP Board of Directors initiated a petition March, 2005 opposing the Anti-Terrorism Bill branding the bill as an “assault to democracy”. In a primer, accompanying the petition, the NUJP criticized the Anti-Terrorism Bill for including “legitimate dissent” in its definition of “terrorism.”
The Anti-Terrorism Bill
The House Committees on Justice and Foreign Affairs approved Oct. 4 a consolidated version of the Anti-Terrorism Bills filed by Reps. Imee Marcos (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, 2nd District, Ilocos Norte), Judy Syjuco (Liberal Party, 2nd District, Iloilo), Robert Ace Barbers (Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, 2nd District, Surigao del Norte), Amado Espino Jr. (Nationalist People’s Coalition, 2nd District, Pangasinan), Marcelino Libanan (Nationalist People’s Coalition, Eastern Samar), Robert Vincent Jude Jaworski ( Lakas-CMD, Pasig City), and Douglas Cagas (NPC, 1st District, Davao del Sur).
Meanwhile, there are five pending Anti-Terrorism Bills at the Senate. These are Senate Bill (SB) No. 735 by Sen. Manuel Villar (Lakas-CMD), SB 831 by Sen. Panfilo Lacson (Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino or LDP), SB 871 by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada (Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino or KNP), SB 38 Sen. Ramon Magsaysay (Lakas-CMD), and SB 1768 by Sen. Alfredo Lim KNP). They were reported out by the Committees on Public Order and Illegal Drugs, Justice and Human Rights, and Finance.
Section 7 of the version approved by the House Committees on Justice and Foreign Affairs makes it “unlawful” for any person or group of persons, “whether natural or juridical,” to establish, maintain or serve as contact or link “with any person or group of persons or organization/s who have pursued or are pursuing terrorism.” Any person who is found to have violated any of the provisions under the draft’s Sec. 7, which lists “Acts that Facilitate, Contribute to or Promote Terrorism” will suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P10 million ($183,755.97 based on a $1:P54.42 exchange rate as of Nov. 14, 10:23 a.m. Philippine time).
Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief of staff and now commanding officer of the military’s Southern Command (Southcom), had proposed sanctions against journalists interviewing “known or suspected terrorists.” (Bulatlat.com)