This Week in Media (July 25 to 29, 2022)

IN HIS very first SONA last July 25, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. claimed that “The state of the nation is sound.”

He may have been thinking of the business sector, which the media said lauded his highly-technically worded economic agenda. Or it could have been about his own comfort over the supermajority he enjoys and can rely on for support in both houses of Congress. 

But for most Filipinos, serial natural disasters, an ongoing pandemic, a looming mosquito-borne epidemic, and the daily threat of violence make up an entirely different reality. 

The week began with Marcos’ address to the nation and the opening of the 19th Congress, special events that media have grown accustomed to covering annually. CMFR’s monitor noted reactions from experts as well as media’s own: The new president covered a lot of ground.  He finished his sentences and kept to the standard decorum required by his office, in contrast to his predecessor. But his plans on the key sectors of agriculture and health needed more detail. Not surprisingly did he stay away from issues of corruption and human rights, as these would have brought up ongoing charges against him and his family.

Leadership delegations from the Senate and House were expected, as reporters covering these two chambers said these had been decided after the national elections and were only formalized during the opening of sessions. The Marcos-Romualdez dynasty was ensconced in power with additional blood: Marcos’ cousin Martin Romualdez and Marcos’ son Sandro are now in high positions as House Speaker and Senior Deputy Majority Leader, respectively.

Earthquake jolts Luzon

Alas, just two days after the event, an earthquake of Magnitude 7.0 struck down the triumphant mood.  On July 27, the temblor rocked the island of Luzon, with the epicenter in the province of Abra in the Marcos bailiwick of the Solid North. Heritage sites in Ilocos Sur and Norte were in ruins. As of press time, six had been confirmed dead and 136 hurt. 

Marcos visited Abra on July 28 to hold a meeting with key national and local officials and check on the residents, who were shown in broadcast footage cheering his arrival. Marcos’ first disaster had hit close to home.

Broadcast media were prepared with visuals of the aftermath of the earthquake. Reporters tracked evacuation, rescue and relief efforts. 

Coverage so far did not recall the historic 7.8 earthquake in 1990 or the earthquakes in Mindanao during the Duterte presidency. News reports did not say it, but Marcos’ showing up onsite and discussing ways to address the issue with his Cabinet and local officials was definitely a step-up from Duterte’s absence or tardiness in past disaster events, even those in his bailiwick in Mindanao. Media should be alert to the administration’s response to disaster for the consistency of the President’s presence, and the aid and relief provided  afflicted communities.

Alarming numbers of illnesses

Citing the Health department, media reported that 3,858 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on July 28, the highest daily tally since February 10. Meanwhile, dengue cases since January are now at almost 74,000, with 11 out of 17 regions recording numbers beyond epidemic levels.

Media previously reported that Maria Rosario Vergeire, officer-in-charge of the DOH, would only be holding her post until July 31, but her designation can be extended if no secretary has been appointed yet by that date. The DOH has been reporting the increases in the number of individuals contracting both COVID and dengue, while monkeypox has been declared by the World Health Organization as a public health emergency of international concern. The first case in the country was confirmed on July 29. Journalists must be persistent in discovering what has held back this key appointment, given the severity of the public health crisis. 

Violence as legacy

News of the killing of former Lamitan, Basilan mayor Rose Furigay broke on Sunday, July 24, during her daughter’s graduation from Ateneo de Manila’s Law School in ceremonies held at the Loyola Heights campus of the university.

Media followed up the case through the week as reports picked up details of the ongoing investigation. So far, the information reported in the news indicate that Furigay was targeted for assassination by a physician, Chao Tiao Yumol, whose clinic was shut down by the City of Lamitan due to lack of permit. Yumol accused Furigay of being tied to the drug trade, but the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had cleared the former mayor of any drug charges or links. Yumol’s now-suspended social media account also contained hate speech against Duterte’s critics.

The Inquirer’s July 29 editorial “A legacy of violence” connected the case to the mindset projected and perpetrated by Duterte which favored killing as a “solution” to the country’s many problems. It was a mindset evident during his term of office, and even while he spoke from the presidential podium. Such a violent outlook enabled and empowered ordinary people to adopt violent means, including killing for a cause. Inquirer said Yumol is being celebrated online by some individuals “who have become so desensitized to violence and so conditioned to accept it as the price of peace and order.”News reports said former Duterte mouthpiece Harry Roque, now a legal adviser to Marcos, posted photos on his social media account to reveal that Marcos, his Cabinet and legal executives had met to discuss the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into Duterte’s “drug war.” Reports said those who attended did not provide further details of the meeting, with Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra telling reporters the only agenda was the government’s position on the ICC  probe.

Whatever Marcos’ administration decides, media must do their part to provide information so that the public knows that the lack of justice and the culture of impunity affect all Filipinos. The investigation by the ICC is a global effort to promote justice in the world. The people must demand transparency in the government’s response to the ICC. And it is hoped the media will help them decide that justice must be served for their own good.