For all it’s worth it’s practically useless to still babble about an issue that has already dissipated. In the tradition of the Malu Fernandez and Desperate Housewives issue, an act of such nature can only be dubbed as “fanning the flames that had already died.”

But as a discerning journalism student and, hopefully, a future media practitioner, I can’t help but reflect and assess the situation which has been devoted much media attention. I tried not to talk about it extensively when the issue was at its peak because the apparent bias will be, well, very apparent on me. In fact, I burst out in anger and frustration the moment I learned about it and made a blog entry that can possibly be labeled seditious if anyone attempts to file a case against me.

And so now that somehow the anger isn’t there anymore (or at least has decreased in intensity), I can now clearly give my two cents’ worth about the issue devoid of any bias and prejudices. But then again, as a disclaimer, I’m a Journalism student and, hopefully, a future media practitioner so that pretty much speaks for itself on where I stand on this issue.

Okay, let’s proceed with dissecting this one bit by bit.

The main issue: The Media acted as “human shields” for Trillanes, thereby preventing the Police from doing their work and, consequently, obstructing with the proper serving of justice

First off, I would like to quote Ms. Chay Hofileña, an Ateneo de Manila University Professor, speaking during the Media Forum held at the College of Mass Communication last Friday, when she said that the issue here is a matter of balancing of two interests.

First is the right of the Press to be where the action is. And second is the right of the private citizens to peace security (which can be served, albeit ironically, only by the military and the police).

The main bone of contention is therefore this: which of the two rights should be held more important over the other? Clearly both rights overlap in the means of executing them and so one has to give way for the other in the absence of a compromise.

The Police’s argument is this: because the media was inside the hotel and, after all, they are likewise citizens of this country, they averted a possible police operation because of their presence. In saying that, it can be clearly deduced that had the media not been there, a police action would’ve been properly carried out.

The argument of the media, thus, is the fact that it is their obligation to report what is happening inside the hotel and they were inside the hotel before the police arrived in the first place.

My question is this: now that media is being accused of acting as human shields for Trillanes and his men, can I therefore conclude that the police had a plan to do something to Trillanes that would need the absence of people not involved, besides merely arresting him?

I would like to quote Ms. Ellen Tordesillas, chief of writers of Ang Pahayagang Malaya, when she said in front of a Newswriting class in CMC that if they were to do something to Trillanes, whether it be a rub-out, a shoot-out or merely an innocent arrest, to let her (and the other media people) witness it and report it to the public.

The media, specifically the journalists, are accountable to one and only one entity: the public. They uphold the public’s right to know and the public’s right to pursue the truth in doing their jobs as journalists. If they are prevented from doing so then that is a clear trampling of the rights of the press.

A concerned reader sent a letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer this week, ranting about how the media is over reacting to the situation and putting themselves on a pedestal, allegedly asserting self-righteous rights to special treatment when all of us are, in fact, citizens of this country and therefore should be subject to only one law. He analogized the situation by stating the irony of how media people are very keen on criticizing government officials who use power and position to “breeze through airport terminals,” so to speak. But when they’re the ones being criticized, they take much offense when they should, in fact, be subject to the very same treatment the ordinary kanto boy gets.

I find dozens of flaws in this very ill-constructed argument. First off, the media doesn’t mean to criticize government officials on purpose. It is the job of the media as the nation’s watchdog to watch over the excesses in power of these government officials. If news seems to point at an understanding that the media is always criticizing the government, as my J122 professor Sir Danny Arao so aptly puts it, it is only because that is what’s happening in reality and to veer away from such criticisms is not doing what the media is tasked to do.

Second of all, and correct me if I’m wrong with this, journalists are not equal in rights with the ordinary citizens. Sure, in their time as private citizens they have the same rights and obligations as the ordinary man on the street, but as journalists, the media asserts a right which is very much different—and should I say, very much absent—from the ordinary grandpa sitting in his chair in the garden: and that is, the freedom of the press.

The ordinary citizen sees the media as the adversary in this situation, and that is very much understandable. Recent studies show that most citizens of this country are not media literate; meaning they don’t know full well the operations of the press. The media is merely asserting a right which has been constitutionally guaranteed for so long and has always been in danger of being trampled upon. The ordinary citizen would not understand such rights because he is not directly by it.

But let me posit a possible scenario, a scenario which has happened several years ago already. What if the media is gagged and prevented from reporting the incidents in the country? What if there’s no more critical or reliable source of information but the government which, for all we know, is only propagating propaganda rather than news? What happens now?

One of the main barometers of democracy in a society is the presence or absence of press freedom. Once the press is silenced and the truth withheld from the public, democracy is, to put it quite bluntly, skating on very thin ice.

During an authoritarian rule, what institution does the government take over first? The media. Because the media has so much clout and influence over the public that it affects the way they think and the way they make their decisions. A gagged press is a democracy in coma. People aren’t anymore able to express and propagate views and opinions which are critical for sustaining the very essence of the freedoms many Filipinos have fought for in the past.

Sure, one may argue that the media were only invited for “processing” and no charges will be filed against them. I ask you: does it matter if charges will be filed or not? The charges are irrelevant here; what’s more important is the message being sent by the government to the media: do it again and something worse may happen to you. Clearly, as it has been said and oversaid the past few weeks, this situation has done only one thing: and that is to create a chilling effect which would make media people and journalists think twice before disobeying the government.

In the first place, just as I’ve said earlier, journalists aren’t answerable to the government, they are answerable to the public. If they fail to inform the public, then they have failed in doing their jobs.

So what if we take offense? It is but right to take offense when your rights are being suppressed. Did the media step outside certain boundaries? Certainly there are no existing protocols as to how the media and the police should operate and cooperate during such times of crisis. But the media is only doing their jobs, the job that they’ve been doing for many, many years now, and only for the first time handcuffed and “processed” by the government for doing so.

In the end, as everyone has so clearly put it, it’s all about judgment call. You may leave if you feel it’s right to leave but you may stay if you feel it’s right to stay. And the police has no right to influence such judgment calls, because doing so is equal to manipulating the press as to what they should and should not report on.

What we are in is a state many of us call “limbo.” Much oppression has been carried out amidst no declaration of Martial Law. The government so carefully avoids mere mention of martial law or authoritarian rule, in fear of enraging the people and of a possible overthrow. But the symptoms are all but clear: threatened press freedom, extrajudicial killings, imposition of curfews; what could be more telling?

Are we just gonna sit and watch while they slowly and very silently kill our rights under the watch of the people who are supposed to protect us, in the public’s eye, in front of our families and in broad daylight? Think about it.

3 Responses to “Media in Focus: The Super-Post Mortem on the Manila Peninsula Standoff”
  1. Gian Paolo says:

    (I won’t make a very long comment. hehe)

    While I do not deny the fact that the government over-reacted during this siege (One cannot blame Arroyo, however, as we cannot afford to have another uprising that will dramatically hurt our economy), I cannot help but oppose your opinion.

    I think that, just like what you have said, it is just a matter of priorities. For me, the mere fact that some of these coward soldiers dressed up in civilian clothing to blend in with the media men is testament to the argument that these journalists became Trillanes and company’s shields (or, should I say, camouflage). These reporters were used by these rebels to hide from the authorities.

    When an order was given, telling all journalists to go out of the Manila Pen, it was assumed that everyone who remained inside were members of the Magdalo–or, at least, accomplices. This may not be true, but this is the most logical assumption to make. It is therefore necessary to arrest everyone who was found inside the vicinity–and with good reason, too, as Magdalo soldiers were in their midst.

    But, then again, it is a matter of priority as to whose duty should be first accomplished.

  2. JM says:

    Yay thanks Gian.

    In any case, of course you have a point there, but that’s peeking through the lenses of the police. Even if there’s good reason for the arrest to sift through the media and look for Magdalo soldiers, I don’t see the point of (1) handcuffing them, (2) arresting Ces Drilon, Tordesillas and a whole slew of other journalists whom one only needs a pair of eyes to identify and (3) stealing/destroying/confiscating their video tapes. Clearly there’s a more pertinent reason beneath this arrests, don’t you think?

    Thanks ulet Gian. =)

  3. Gian Paolo says:

    As I have said, I know that the government over-reacted, and, yes, they may have some other reasons for arresting these journalists for obvious reasons. Weighing both sides, however, I’d still side with the soldiers–this time, at the very least.

    Well, call me ignorant, but if I was one of those soldiers, I would also arrest Ces Drilon and Tordesillas. I have heard of them, but I don’t know what do they look like. Hahaha. I read the newspapers and I listen to the news, but I guess I don’t really pay much attention to the reporters. 😀

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