On November 8, or barely two weeks from today, US voters — or at least those who will bother to vote, most Americans being too cynical of the process to go to the polls, let alone be politically engaged enough to care about how they’re governed — will choose their next president. In one of those rare moments when he’s right, the Republican Party candidate for president, billionaire Donald Trump, has described the elections as “historic.” But it’s not because he could be Barack Obama’s successor, but because the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, seems likely to be the United States’ first woman president.
As of this writing the opinion polls are saying that Clinton — the wife of 42nd US president William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton and therefore a former US first lady — is 50 percent ahead in voter preference compared to Trump’s 38 percent.
In 2015 the Philippines was number four in the Committee to Protect Journalists’(CPJ) Impunity Index, after Somalia, Iraq and Syria. The Index lists those countries where the killers of journalists are seldom, if ever, punished, with many literally getting away with murder. The first three countries are failed states, which raises the question of why the Philippines should be in their company, but the numbers speak for themselves. Only in 11cases out of 152 journalists’ murders since 1986 have the killers of journalists and media workers been prosecuted, and very rarely have masterminds been tried.
Apparently unique in the Philippine press freedom regime, the practice of appointed and elected officials’ serving as newspaper columnists, or as television or radio commentators, blurs the necessary distinction between the government as object of public scrutiny, and the free press’ critical function of monitoring government. It creates a conflict of interest between the government’s and its officials’ interest in getting favorable publicity, and the citizenry’s need for impartial reports and evaluations of events and issues of concern including government doings and policies.
With his — so far — 91 percent approval rating, President Rodrigo Duterte has the political capital and unprecedented opportunity to raise the knowledge and awareness of large numbers of Filipinos on those issues that for 70 years and through 11 administrations since the restoration of Philippine independence in 1946 have bedeviled this country. They include such fundamental questions as the roots of Philippine poverty and underdevelopment, and the causes of the rebellions and uprisings that have haunted and still trouble these islands.
Duterte’s golden opportunity to present a coherent analysis of these related issues was during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25, during which the former candidate and elected president, whose campaign mantra was “Change is Coming,” could have attempted an answer to why the majority of Filipinos have remained poor despite economic growth, and how the armed social and political movements that have persisted in this country for over a hundred years are the result rather than the cause of underdevelopment. That analysis could then have proceeded to explain just how the new administration intends to address poverty as the core issue behind the support that carried Duterte to the presidency.