Press freedom alleged

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The death last Saturday of Allan Dizon, a photojournalist like Gene Boyd Lumawag of Mindanao, who was killed two weeks ago in Jolo, Sulu, brings the number of journalists killed this year to 12, and the Philippine record since 1986 to 60. These deaths have made press freedom an allegation rather than the reality many Filipinos presume it to be. The haunting possibility is that they will continue.

Four journalists were killed in November alone, making 2004 the worst year so far since democracy was–allegedly– restored in this country 18 years ago. Continue reading

Powerless

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The country is hemorrhaging brain as well as brawn as Filipinos leave the country in droves. Hunger is now the uninvited guest at most Filipino tables.

Journalists are being killed at a rate that would be understandable in US- ravaged Iraq, not in the one country in Asia where press freedom is protected by the Constitution. Continue reading

Caught in a bind

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The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Santiago, Chile has become the venue for the realization of the Arroyo administration’s fondest wish in foreign relations since July this year. US President George Bush engaged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in what seemed to be a friendly conversation during an APEC dinner over the weekend.

We can expect the latter’s government to milk that event for all it’s worth, but not only for the consumption of those Filipinos who think the world of the US, and that the world is the US. Crucial to the political survival of the Arroyo government–or so it believes– is the appeasement of the super hawks inside the Bush administration, as well as those of its advisers who looked at Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to withdraw the Philippine contingent from Iraq last July as a betrayal of US interests and as probable cause for the withdrawal of US support. Continue reading

Journalists at war

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Uniquely in Asia, only the Philippine press is protected by a Constitutional provision prohibiting the passage of any law abridging press freedom. But also uniquely in Asia, more journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986.

Were it not for the war in Iraq, the number of journalists killed in the Philippines this year would have made the country unique in the planet. In 2003, only the killings in Iraq as well as Colombia and Afghanistan saved the Philippines from the distinction of being the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. The international press freedom advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF–Reporters Without Borders) nevertheless describes the Philippines today as “the world’s most dangerous country for journalists after Iraq.” Continue reading

Damaging U.P.

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The University of the Philippines (UP) Board of Regents, under the UP Charter the body charged with choosing the UP president, will meet this Thursday, the 17th of November, for that purpose. That meeting will mark the culmination of a three-month process that began last August, in anticipation of the retirement of Francisco Nemenzo in February, 2005, when he turns 70.

Who the next UP president will be is naturally a matter of concern for many UP faculty, its more militant students, most of the non-academic staff, and those alumni who still follow developments in their alma mater. Whatever policies the next president will put in place will affect the conditions under which professors, students and employees teach, study, and work. Interested alumni, on the other hand, at least want to be assured that UP will be in good hands for it to continue to be the institution that provided them the training that made so many of them successful and/or enabled them to make a difference in this country, or wherever else they now reside. Continue reading

The land that time forgot

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What’s astounding about Philippine society–that one where a handful lord it over the many–is how steadfastly it has managed to hang on despite the crisis that has afflicted it for decades (some say centuries). That’s equally true of Philippine government as we know it– though not of Philippine administrations, of which we have witnessed rapid changes in recent years. The Philippine crisis is after all also a crisis of leadership and governance as much as it is a social one.

By all standards including the very lowest, both should have long gone the way of the dinosaur. What earthy reason justifies the existence of a society in which the disparities between rich and poor are so vast a few families maintain several homes not only in this country but even abroad, while millions bed down nightly on the pavements of its putrid cities? And what does one make of a society in which the wealthy happily kill themselves daily on prawns, steak and pork while the children of the poor go without a few grains of rice, sometimes for days? And what kind of a society is it, except one begging for extinction, in which the rich send off their children to study in US and European private schools while Philippine classrooms have no desks, blackboards, chalk, and even teachers? Continue reading

Aiming high

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It’s natural, and even expected, that people new in their jobs should aim high. Perhaps it’s to impress their superiors–or because, precisely because they’re new, they don’t have experience enough to appreciate the magnitude of their promises.

Even then, however, the new Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Efren Abu, was aiming for the stratosphere when he vowed to “finish off” the New People’s Army by June 2005, when his seven-month term expires. Continue reading

What Christmas?

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President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s declaration that the coming Christmas should be a happy one for Filipinos is likely to be greeted by hoots of derision by people who’ve seen the prices of basic commodities rising in the last few months, and who have had to deal with them by tightening their belts, or by simply doing without. December 25 is likely to be just another date in the calendar for these Filipinos–and their number is legion.

Eight out of ten Philippine households are hungry, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology survey found last August. Although the FNRI-DOST survey confirmed a suspicion derived from anecdotal evidence that there is indeed hunger in the Philippines as there is in Bangladesh and certain African countries, the discovery that it afflicts as much as 80 percent of Philippine households was shocking to many people, except for the Communist Party, which has always said that there’s more poverty in this country than doctored government statistics reveal. Continue reading

Not a bang, but a whimper

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Speaking for the last time as Armed Forces Chief of Staff last October 29, Narciso Abaya had critical words for the media, the politicians and the civilian government. He was correct on all counts–but incorrect in making the AFP seem like the hapless victim of both in the making of the scandals that have rocked the military establishment.

The media do tend to sensationalize. They do publish unverified information and even to present speculation as fact. And in cases too numerous to mention, they do engage in trial by publicity. Conventional journalism wisdom declares these practices to be unethical and unprofessional. Continue reading