Urgent ‘To Do’ List

by Juan L. Mercado


Pinabili  lang ng  suka sa kanto, pagbalik  journalist na.  “Told  to buy vinegar at  the corner store,  he  trotted  back a journalist “.

That snappy put-down sums up the key concern of  “Crimes and Unpunishment: The Killing of  Filipino Journalists”.   Co-published  by Unesco and Asian Instiutute of Journalism, this book will be launched December 7.

It  commemorates  the third    anniversary of the single worst attack on the press worldwide 29  November  2009. At grassy  knolls bordering  Ampatuan town, Maguindanao,  32 media workers  were  mowed down by cops and bodyguards, led by  political warlords. Then, their  shattered bodies were backhoed into a  common unmarked  grave.

Nobody tallied  journalists slain during Marcos’  dictatorship.  The 1986 People Power revolt  restored a  free press. Since then, 125 journalists were  cut down, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s continuing head count reveals  “The Philippines is the second most dangerous country in the world — after Iraq .”

Co-editors Florangel Rosario-Braid, Crispin Maslog and Ramon Tuazon stitch, into one volume, research papers,  case studies, alongside workshop inputs on  those 125 slain  —- plus  future victims; likely given the hidebound impunity here.

Is a vinegar shopper a journalist?  In 1693, the dictionary logged in the word “journalist” for the first time. This meant “a writer or editor for a news medium.”  Or “a writer who aims at a mass audience.”   Since then, radio  and TV, came on stream. Internet burst into the scene in the mid 1980s. ”Advent of the new and social media adds confusion with emergence of so-called citizen journalists.”

A journalist is committed to professional standards, including a code of ethics. That “includes multi-sourcing, verification of fact,  fair, balanced and objective reporting”, this  new  book asserts. The 2007 Medellin Declaration on Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity indicates a growing “more inclusive stance.”

Jostling within the Manila Customs beat,  for example,  are over “400″  “media representatives”  from no identifiable paper or station. That’s seven  times  foreign and local  reporters accredited to Malacanang”.  Are they journalists? , columnist  Boo Chanco asked. Or  are they fixers?  “Indeed  “our membership lists remain porous,” observed  a Cebu Press Freedom Week  editorial. “We’ve still to flush out  hao-shiaos who flaunt  oversize  press cards or block time microphones.

The book presents six prisms which refract  insights from various academic  disciplines UP and Inquirer’s Michael Tan sketches “Making and Unmasking A Culture of Impunity:  Anthropological  Perspectives.  “Instances of  impunity here are so pervasive that no term has been coined for it. After the initial grief subsides, people turn away in collective amnesia…”

Clinical psychologist  Ma. Lourdes Carangdang  examines, among other constructs, “the bully, the bullied and the bystander. In the case of the Ampatuans, the government and civil society were the bystanders.”

“Democratic  deficits  are gaps between between promises and fulfillment” notes UP political science professor Carlita Carlos. Killings with impunity are the result.  Journalist Marlene Esperat was killed in 2005. “Her relatives have yet to see the criminals punished. (This) illustrates those democratic deficits.”

“Impunity is the dark side of accountability,” De La Salle University’s Dean Jose Manuel Diokno notes in his analysis from structural-legal perspectives. It can not exist without (co-opting) three institutions: the police, prosecutors and judges. Structural violence results when privileged individuals “influence judicial processes which are slow and often inaccessible to many.”

Murder as an “economic activity” was analyzed by Amado Mendoza of UP’s Political Science Department. “A more complex anatomy involves a middle layer.” It insulates the mastermind from the trigger man. Lookouts join the killer in the bottom layer, as shown in the slaying of Dr. Gerard Ortega and ‘Bombo Boy’ Hinolan.

Colloquial words demonstrate  that the culture of impunity has impinged on daily lives of people, note UP mass communications dean Roland Tolentino. Among these are: drakula (corrupt official), doktor (document falsifier) to consuholtant (expert in sleaze.)   Public affair shows corroded into “infotainment” which spawns “docile bodies” or absence of critical citizenship. Balance sheet management  spawns “envelopmental  journalism”  which turns a blind eye to crime.

Worth reading through also are case studies, namely: “ (a) Antonio Abad Tomis of Cebu as proto-matryr (b)  “Marlene Garcia-Esperat: The Accidental Journalist”; (c) “Crime of the Century: Maguindanao Massacare”; (d) “Lives and Deaths of  Four Provincial Journalists”.  Insights from boondocks were gathered and synthesized from fora in the cities of San Juan , Cebu and General Santos.

“This ‘investigative report’ is a report in the progress.”  Nonetheless, in it’s final chapter “The Way  Forward”, the study presents a compelling list of “immediate doable actions” and “those that  require medium to long term interventions.”

The “To Do List”, which includes suggestions  for Congress,  makes for a compelling case.  For  example:  Provide a way for perpetuating the testimonies of witnesses. Too many have been silenced by a bullet. Or “amend the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981) to cover whistle blowers and other witnesses in danger.”

Unesco director-general  Irina Bokova summed it well: “Every journalist killed deprives us all of an observer of the human condition.  Every attack that goes unpunished adds to a vicious  cycle of impunity…” 

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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