INTERVIEWING University of the Philippines student Marjohara Tucay, editor of the UP student newspaper The Philippine Collegian, GMA7 TV’s Howie Severino implied in so many words that by expressing his opposition to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) during a GMA7 TV event with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Tucay was in violation of the ethics of journalism. Severino asked if what Tucay did was reflective of the kind of journalism his generation was being taught. Severino argued that the journalist’s task is merely to cover events, to be “objective” and not engage his or her subjects in debate.

And yet that was what Severino was doing. While demanding “objectivity” on the part of Tucay, Severino was being so “objective” he was haranguing the latter in favor of his own views — and over his own network, which also described Tucay as the student editor who disrupted (nanggulo) the GMA7 event. Was the media spectacle GMA7 and Severino put in place in behalf of Clinton indicative of what his generation has learned about journalism?

Is their idea of “objective” journalism to stage and script what could have been an opportunity to enlighten the Philippine public on the issues of Philippine-US relations by planting in the audience actors, comedians and actresses whom they had charged with asking asinine questions so as to shield Clinton from being asked the hard questions journalists not only can ask, but should be asking?

Among those questions is what Clinton meant when she said she was visiting Asia and the Philippines in behalf of peace. Is it in behalf of peace that the US is using the Spratlys issue to justify its establishing military bases in Australia, and in the Philippines through the VFA, in the process provoking, and fomenting conflict with, capitalist China? And what of the Aquino regime, whose paranoia over China and the Spratlys has led it to assume the same role as its predecessors as a US tool in, as Barack Obama arrogantly put it, “shaping the future of the region”? How long will it allow, or has it already agreed to extending, the ten-year presence of US troops in Mindanao?

Like its predecessors, is the Obama administration projecting US power all over the planet in furtherance of its economic interests, this time by putting Asia in its gunsights? As it winds down its Iraq presence, is the US looking around for another war to revive an economy built on war, destruction and mass misery in other lands? And have these anything to do with the US elections next year, given the US Republican Party’s demand that the US pressure China into changing its economic policies so US multinationals can “compete with” — read “rule over” — that country?

The answers to these questions are significant to the region’s and this country’s future, and to the Philippines’ development and the “democracy” that has mutated in it. That they were not asked made what GMA7 staged a puppet show. Tucay had every right and responsibility not only to express himself, but also to demand some sanity in an alleged press forum. But Tucay was being too charitable: a press forum that event wasn’t, and Severino had no business demanding, during a non-journalistic event, compliance with the ethics and professional standards of journalism of a student journalist who knew better than to behave like a fawning colonial.

But it wasn’t the first time the Philippine media have been obsequious to visiting US officials, and certainly not the first time they treated Clinton like a governor-general around whom, lest they offend Memsahib, everyone had to tiptoe.

During Clinton’s 2009 Manila visit, GMA7 rival ABS- CBN put together a special called “Hillary Clinton: the Manila Forum.” It was a forum only in the minds of its organizers. It was a circus of sycophancy in which the usual talking heads disguised as journalists displayed their “objectivity” by claiming, among other servile remarks, that unlike in Manila, where there were anti-VFA protests, in Mindanao the people were grateful for the presence of US troops, whom they allegedly credit with protecting them from kidnapping and terrorism.

The same “journalists” also spent the hour gushing over Clinton — and yes, asking practically the same kind of questions actresses were asking Clinton in the GMA7 media event, such as, “If you had a crush other than Bill (Clinton), who would it be?”

Either someone somewhere had decided that journalists should put a hold on doing their jobs in behalf of the US Overlord, or our so-called journalists can’t tell the difference between public relations and the pillar of democracy, independence and change real journalism should be.

The fact remains that US-Philippine relations have been problematic from the very start, when Dewey betrayed Aguinaldo at the turn of the 20th century, and US forces proceeded to kill civilian and combatant alike so as to destroy the forces of revolution and independence. After 1946, when the US “granted” the country the independence it had already won in 1899, those relations remained so close the Philippines could hardly breathe, defined as they were by iniquitous economic and military agreements, the latter consisting of, among others, a lease on air, naval and R and R (rest and recreation) bases all over the archipelago.

The renewal of the bases agreement the Senate rejected in 1991 by a narrow vote of 12-11. That should have ended US military presence in this country. After all, the 1987 Constitution declares that “After the expiration in 1991 of the agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”

But in 1999 the Senate ratified the VFA as a treaty. Its legality has been questioned because it is not “recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State (the US).” But the main argument against it is that it allows US forces to remain in the Philippines on what has become a permanent basis, since they have been in Mindanao for a decade and could also spread like dengue to other parts of the country, restoring and even widening their pre-1991 presence, and once again making a mockery of Philippine sovereignty.

The issues the VFA has raised are by themselves important. But of equal significance is the Aquino administration’s willingness to be the US Trojan Horse in the latter’s strategy of containing rather than engaging China by enlarging its military presence in Asia, including the Philippines, to the present government of which it has promised further military aid supposedly to help it pursue its claim to the Spratlys. The US and the Philippines are militarizing the Spratlys issue, even as the US, a non-party to the dispute, muscles its way into the region with the help of Australia, another non-Asian power eager to be the US imperial overlord in Asia.

The responsibility of the press in this context should be clear enough. It is to ask the hard questions. It isn’t to ask stupid ones and divert attention from the issues — and least of all is it to pay simpering homage to any visiting US official whose purposes are far far less benevolent than some “journalists” imagine.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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