ALMOST A third of the 6.9 billion people who populate the world are Filipinos, said a 2011 study by the US-based Pew Research Center. With 93 percent of its estimated population of 100 million Christians, the Philippines is still the only predominantly Christian country in Asia where the seasons of Christianity, whether Lent or Christmas, are celebrated with a vengeance.
Most Filipinos revel in their being Christians–or in their Catholicism, even if they don’t usually vote for the candidates the Church supports, elect those it abhors, and use artificial birth control methods despite the Church’s dim view of condoms and the pill.
CONTROLLING THE flow of information—deciding what citizens are told, how it’s presented to them and even determining what they should and shouldn’t know—has always been a critical concern among the powerful. Whether in the Philippines, its neighbors, or in the most backward or most developed countries of the world, the kind of information that reaches citizens is crucial to the outcome of elections, the making of the policies that decide the quality of life of millions, the staying power of dictators, and even the prospects for war or peace.
The entire planet is inundated with tsunamis of information daily, thanks to the international media organizations’ relentless transmission of reports, commentary and images via cable, print and the Internet. The swift advance of information and communication technology has also made national borders of no consequence to filtering information. At the national level, radio, TV and print assail the senses daily in most countries including those yet to achieve the same level of development as Japan and most Western nations.
TWO VIEWS of the press, its role in society, and its ethical and professional responsibilities so contradictory the protagonists might as well be from different planets define the relationship between President Benigno Aquino III and those media organizations committed to press freedom and free expression.
From his numerous statements and frequent criticism of the news media, few can escape the conclusion that Mr. Aquino thinks that the press should be the cheering squad of his administration, the policies of which he fancies have curbed corruption and achieved unprecedented economic growth. As in a basketball game—or as in one of those shooting matches Mr. Aquino loves—he would like to hear the press shouting Hosannas each time he thinks he has scored a point.
(Keynote speech at the PEN Philippines Conference, December 6-7, 2012)
Founding Chairman Sionil Jose, Chairman Lumbera, Members Of The Board Of Directors Of Philippine PEN, Friends, Ladies And Gentlemen:
A COLLEAGUE at the University of the Philippines thinks the phrase public intellectual redundant, and wonders who may properly be called writers in the Philippine setting. It would seem then that a few definitions are in order.
But we all know who, or what, the writer is. He or she is a poet, an essayist and/or a novelist, as the initials and acronym of this organization suggest. But he or she is also the writer of the editorials and columns, the investigative and explanatory reports that are among the many forms journalism has developed in discharging its public task of describing and interpreting the human environments. In the digital age, the writer is also the blogger who makes it his concern to gather and provide information on issues of citizen concern and to comment on them online.
THE Aquino administration says it’s for press freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of information. It’s supposedly part of its commitment to transparency and the straight and narrow path (tuwid na daan) of governance. Since 2011, however, both its actions and inaction have been speaking louder than its words.
Shortly after Mr. Aquino came to power in 2010, there was some hope that, because of his election promise to respect press freedom and to protect human rights, he would address the urgent need to speed up the trial of the accused planners and implementers of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre. Representatives of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) coalition met with Mr. Aquino’s subordinates in the Department of Justice and the Presidential Communications Operations Office to discuss what the administration could do not only to speed up the trial if that was possible, but also to make sure that the killers of journalists would be prosecuted.