There is a reason so many journalists are murdered in the Philippines, and there is a reason so few murderers are held to account for the deed.
Force A, the journalists, advocate for transparency, fair dealing and people's well-being. Force B, the political power brokers, advocate for continued power and enrichment.
It is a simple stand-off, one good, the other bad. One of President Aquino's disappointments is failing to address the bad, failing to investigate and prosecute extra-judicial murderers and murders of journalists. Maybe he sees the futility of taking down the official gunrunners, the vigilantes, in Davao and Cebu and elsewhere who brutally hold order to the law when the official ways simply don't work. Maybe he is right, practically, and I am wrong, idealistically.
I have bemoaned to the point of whining about the lack of a "Civil Liberties Union" advocacy group in the Philippines that would lead the charge on RH Bill passage and correction of other social ills which are too numerous to enumerate here. I understand there used to be such a group in the Philippines but the attorneys representing it found it less threatening and better paying to work elsewhere.
Today, thanks in large part to greater internet literacy within the Philippines, there are some new forces being brought to bear on the political game-players. One is the amalgamation of internet media, including bloggers, social networking (twitter, facebook)and on-line information channels like Rappler.
Another one features the rise of liberal advocacy groups that stand opposed to the entrenched interest groups represented mainly by political parties (oligarchs) and religious institutions. Women's rights organizations are still fractionalized, but the collective voice is getting louder. Maybe loud enough to get the RH Bill passed.
It seems to me that the one organization that represents an ongoing powerful voice of righteous "people power" is the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). It's charter is to dig, to investigate, to reveal. It is a very strong advocate of the Freedom of Information Act and financial transparency from public officials via SALN's and other documents. The PCIJ recognizes that the demands of popular media to operate quickly and at low cost means depth of discovery is often missing. It seeks to remedy this, as the first few paragraphs of its on-line introduction state:
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) is an independent, nonprofit media agency that specializes in investigative reporting. It was founded in 1989 by nine Filipino journalists who realized, from their years on the beat and at the news desk, the need for newspapers and broadcast agencies to go beyond day–to–day reportage.
While the Philippine press is undoubtedly the liveliest and freest in Asia, deadline pressures, extreme competition and budgetary constraints make it difficult for many journalists to delve into the causes and broader meanings of news events.
The PCIJ believes that the media play a crucial role in scrutinizing and strengthening democratic institutions, defending and asserting press freedom, freedom of information, and freedom of expression. The media could—and should—be a catalyst for social debate and consensus that would redound to the promotion of public welfare. To do so, the media must provide citizens with the bases for arriving at informed opinions and decisions.
The PCIJ was set up to contribute to this end by promoting investigative reporting on current issues in Philippine society and on matters of large public interest. It does not intend to replace the work of individual newspapers or radio and television stations, but merely seeks to encourage the development of investigative journalism and to create a culture for it within the Philippine press.
|Executive Director Malou Mangahas|
I like the fact that the PCIJ is speaking to the JBC about transparency matters through two attorneys, Solomon F. Lumba and Nepomuceno Malaluan. It's a dicey and somewhat legalistic situation because the courts rule on transparency laws. They can issue rulings which either hide or reveal judge's financial records. Attorneys characteristically lead the charge for social modernization and fairness in the United States. More power to Filipino attorneys who work for us all, in a way.
The PCIJ internet site is interesting but seems a little stale around the edges. I went to an intriguing side-bar category called "Local Bosses Across the Country" and found one of the best articles I've read in a long while: The Seven Ms of Dynasty Building by Sheila S. Coronel. The article was written in 2007. Well, perhaps it is a timeless article. But my impression of current efforts is "scattergun" and not fresh. My guess is the PCIJ is a small group of people with way too much to do.
I also found an article detailing the turnover of staff and internal tensions that arose during 2007. There was question at the time whether or not the turmoil would end the fine work being done at PCIJ. It did not.
The indication at the time of the turmoil was that the PCIJ would focus on a few high-impact articles. My impression from the web site is that it is perhaps more current-event focused. But they also publish books, which is definitely big project. I think there needs to be both: current issues, where they can get more information than we have, and interpret it for us, and big-impact investigations.
The one critical point that we non-Filipinos have to grasp is how dangerous it is to do investigative journalism in the Philippines. Important people here don't like being revealed in ways they don't agree with, and they often take matters into their own hands, one of the hands too often holding a gun. It is in recognition of this danger that PCIJ received the Agence France-Presse’s Kate Webb Award for exceptional journalism work in difficult or dangerous circumstances in 2009.
I've added links to PCIJ blogs to my blog roll, and its main web site begins a new list of links I will be compiling called "Advocacy Web Sites".
In recognition of their honorable work, I list below the Board and managerial staff of PCIJ. Ms. Malou Mangahas, as Executive Director, carries the heavy load, and I wish her, and PCIJ, every success in the advocacy for a more transparent and honest Philippines. Ms. Mangahas was formerly VP for Research and Content Development at GMA-7, so she has solid digging experience and, I'm quite confident, calluses on her typing fingers.
Thank you for representing those of us who want to see a more candid and well-principled Philippines.
Board of Editors
Howie G. Severino
Dominick NA Danao
Sheila S. Coronel
(FOUNDING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR)
Cecile C.A. Balgos
Che De Los Reyes