A Lethal Vacuum

by Juan L. Mercado

“The past is never  dead,” author William  Faulkner always  insisted. “It is not even past.”  But are we, as a people, shackled by perpetual amnesia? Is 37 years ago beyond our capacity to remember?

Evening of September 21, in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos told us, without blinking: slavery was the price tag for democracy to survive here. Proclamation 1081 suspended human rights, padlocked  Congress, censored the press. He managed to  prostitute a number  judges and military into service. And 14 years of  the “New Society” ( a.k.a. dictatorship ) followed with looting, murder and mayhem.

You remember?  You belong to a shriveling minority, if you do recall. Majority of youngsters today, surveys tell us, have  sketchiest notions of the Marcos years  and “it’s unanimity of the  graveyard.”  

These kids, however, are tomorrow’s leaders. Yet, their insight into what  People Power wrested back, is tenuous at best.   So is their sense of stewardship for nurturing restored freedoms.

This can  be  a lethal vacuum, thoughtful Filipinos fret.  “We are made wise, not by our recollection of the past, but by the responsibilities for the future,”  George Bernard Shaw cautions.  Insisted:

How can we help people, specially the young, remember?  Press groups, in this city and province, can perhaps, take a leaf from Cebu’s unique Press Freedom Week rites.

Every third week of September, Cebu’s  five dailies, 34 radio and eight tv stations aside fierce competition. In unique programs, they underscore  duties, not merely rights, of  a free press. The professional side is balanced by press freedom walks and socials.

“Today, far too many take freedom of the press as a constitutional given, constant as the northern star,” they warned in an earlier common editorial. But “salvage victims and massive corruption underscored the awesome penalty exacted when propagandists masquerade as journalists.”

At the Fernan-Cebu Press Center this September, the press, journalism schools, officials  civic and religious groups work together   on professional concerns and  upgrading standards.

The  Cebu  Citizens Press Council, for example, has sessions on  coverage of the 2010 elections. In previous years,  CPCC  issued guidelines on right of reply, threats to journalists, reporting of  crime and  religious institutions.

The collective stands taken, over the years,  dispel images of journalists banding merely to booze. They  reveal  professionals concerned over fairness, accuracy and  reporting significance. Here are excerpts from their pooled editorials over the years:

Restoration of liberty of expression, by People Power, is a “gift with strings attached,” said their first pooled editorial,  “But make no mistake about it. This is not constitutional largesse for those who carry a press card.

“Nor are we just complacent beneficiaries of unbridled reporting or comment.  We are, first and last, trustees of this gift,” it asserted. “As stewards, we’re tasked to use the latitude this freedom provides for what is just and good”.

“Our young have patchy memories of the dictatorship,”  the  editorial  ‘Cathedrals Without A Soul’ noted. “Few recall that ordinary citizens, massed as ‘People Power’ on Edsa, risked all to return  liberty of  expression, among others, to them.

Utang na loob unfortunately doesn’t flourish in a vacuum.  The   elderly “bear scars from the trauma inflicted by the New Society’s censored rags and gagged stations”. There must be  “quiet recommitment, by all,  to this fountainhead of other liberties. Nunca Mas. Never Again.”

Renewal is anchored in “the resistance set by journalists of a tougher mould”, the editorial  ‘Building New Cisterns’ said. Among these were: Joaquin “Chino” Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr.,  James Reuter, SJ,  Jose Burgos, Sr.  

Today’s press “basks complacently in liberties that earlier generations journalists fought for. We drink from cisterns we never built. And we reap from vineyards we never planted.

“That debt is partly paid off by unflagging dedication to daily truth seeking. This is  a grueling task in a society of skewed privilege.  We journalists build on sand, if we work by values less enduring than integrity.  The press must perform as a fair  and perceptive one.

“Journalists who come after us will also need cisterns of press freedom. We too, must replenish that for them.”.    

“Smell the demographics”, meanwhile.  A  new generation is  moving up the geriatric escalator into key journalism policy posts. Many are post-martial law baby-boomers. A number are women. Some are better trained than their elders.  

“It’ s also a generation that wonders aloud : In journalism as in other professions, moral shabbiness exudes pus. The stench offends. If we think otherwise, we should have our heads examined..”

Technology, meanwhile. radically recasts journalism’s  tools. Email and the cellphone, for example,  whittle  face-to-face oversight that editors exercised over reporters.  “This can  erode our most critical asset: credibility.”

The new tools underscores the urgency of fostering value-anchored competence in a country where the needy are bought for a pair of sandals. “Affirm that dream in a time of trouble and we need not walk backward into the future.”

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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