BEFORE leaving for the United States to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, President Benigno Aquino III said during a press conference that he had the report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) released first to the Chinese government because he wanted to repair the country’s relations with China. He also said he hoped that the Report would “restore confidence that we know how to run our country and we had taken appropriate actions to prevent such (a) tragedy from happening again.”
The IIRC report was on the hostage-taking incident of August 23, which ended with eight Chinese tourists from Hongkong and Canada dead, the country’s relations with Hong Kong and China in shambles, and the media under intense criticism. Upon receipt of the Report, the Chinese government expressed its “appreciation” for the Philippine government’s “sincere and serious manner in handling and looking into the incident,” but asked for more time to study the document.
CONGRESSIONAL hearings are held “in aid of legislation,” and the leading members of the Senate committee on public information and mass media, and the committee on public services, made it clear last Tuesday that they did not call the heads of the news sections of TV networks ABS-CBN, GMA7 and TV5 just to pass the time. Senator Joker Arroyo, who used to defend journalists from government harassment during the martial law period, warned that the Senate could pass a law to regulate the networks’ coverage of hostage-taking and similar crises if they did not restrain themselves.
The operative word was “restraint.” Despite the lame excuses and the evasions worthy of contortionists, the truth is that television news displayed the exact opposite of it – i.e., the frenzy of predators – when covering the hostage-taking crisis at Manila’s Rizal Park last August 23.
THE FALL-OUT from the killing of eight tourists from Hong Kong and Canada last August 23 could include a spike in discrimination and even violence against Overseas Filipino Workers in Hong Kong and other parts of China. There are also fears that whatever efforts the Philippine government is exerting to stop the execution of those Filipino workers sentenced to death for various offenses in the latter will quickly lead nowhere.
The media have made much of such incidents in Hong Kong as a domestic worker’s being fired by an employer outraged over the August 23 killings, and of a Filipino senator’s passport’s being allegedly thrown at him by an immigration official. But neither have the media failed to report the actor Jackie Chan’s urging his countrymen not to take out their outrage on Filipino workers in Hong Kong, and some Hong Kong students’ declaring the same sentiment. Hong Kong officials have also assured the Philippine government, so the media tell us, that they will protect Filipino workers in that part of China. (The British returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.)
BENIGNO Aquino III said upon taking office last July that he hoped the “honeymoon period” between him on the one hand and the media and the citizenry on the other would last throughout his entire six-year term. But the next Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia surveys should show whether or not it will even survive his hundredth day.
The “honeymoon period” between Philippine presidents and the media and citizenry is supposed to be a tradition in this part of the woods. For those unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Philippine politics and governance, it refers to the first 100 days in office of a President, or any other official, during which the media and everyone else give him the widest latitude for error, and try not to be overly critical. Being new in the job, the official is still getting his bearings and familiarizing himself with the problems he has to address and the means available to address them.
OUTSTANDING in its incompetence was the police response to the hostage-taking by a former police officer of the busload of Hong Kong tourists last Monday. Despite the cocky assurances of police spokespersons that they had “everything under control,” exactly how in control they were was evident in the aftermath of the crisis.
Nine people are dead including the hostage- taker, eight of the dead mostly tourists from Hong Kong, which was the most grievous consequence of the colossal stupidity that apparently afflicts an institution whose demonstrated expertise is limited to torture. Incidental to this loss of lives, for which every human being must mourn, is the confirmation, in the past usually denied by government officials pretending outrage, of the near universal belief that the Philippines is a dangerous place whether for tourists, foreign investors, or, lest we forget, Filipinos themselves.