This Week in Media (May 2 to 6, 2022)

Salient developments in the news as the campaign winds down

THE NEWS media have shifted their focus from the campaign sorties to the preparations for the May 9 elections. Reporters on TV, print and online were not remiss in instructing voters about filling out the ballot, and reminding them about what is prohibited in polling precincts, as well as their rights and responsibilities.  

The media also followed the final testing and sealing of vote counting machines in some cities, noting how many were defective and returned to the Laguna warehouse for repair or replacement. In areas damaged by recent calamities, local election offices and authorities assured voters that evacuation centers will be allowed to function as polling precincts, providing generators as needed.

For its part, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) emphasized that the right to vote is a constitutional prerogative. Commissioner George Garcia told the media that only those already in quarantine or isolation won’t be allowed to vote. But even those who have COVID-like symptoms while in line will be allowed to vote. 

Preparations aside and with campaign activities winding down, the media reported figures this week that projected the need for good leadership, for a government that will be able to help the nation overcome overwhelming challenges. News reports provided statistics that reflect the dismal situation confronting the country: Despite the decline in the number of jobless Filipinos from 4.5 million in 2020 to 3.7 million in 2021, joblessness is still higher than the pre-pandemic figure of 2.3 million in 2019. The inflation rate in April 2022 rose to 4.9 percent, the highest since January 2019; while the national debt had ballooned to PHP 12.68 trillion as of March 2022.  

The media reported on May 5 that President Rodrigo Duterte has created a transition team to oversee the smooth turnover of government to the next administration. But there was nothing else heard from the outgoing chief executive, who had confessed in February that he was ready to leave the Palace. His conduct showed little interest in the aftermath of his term, as he was scarcely seen in the news during the last months of his term. His weekly Talk to the People no longer made headlines; he was a president both out of the scene and out of touch with the people.

But news conventions being what they are, some media organizations picked up Duterte’s more outrageous remarks. Last week during the inauguration of the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway, he said his campaign promise to solve the drug problem was just “bluster” and “hubris.” Speaking in a Taguig campaign rally this week, he told his supporters he would wait for them in hell, joking that he himself would dethrone Satan. Much of media simply ignored him. But the Inquirer’s editorial said the thousands of lives lost in the drug war should serve as an essential reminder that on May 9, the voters should ignore campaign promises. 

More retractions in De Lima drug case

Ordinary citizens were easy targets of the drug war. But Duterte proved that he could target even a sitting senator.

Things are looking up, however, for reelectionist Senator Leila de Lima, who has been imprisoned for five years due to the claims by convicted felons that she was involved in the Bilibid drug trade. Last week, Kerwin Espinosa, one of those witnesses and a confessed drug trader, withdrew his testimony against De Lima in a sworn affidavit, claiming he was only coerced to speak against her. On May 5, former Bureau of Corrections Chief Rafael Ragos, who had testified for the prosecution in court proceedings, did the same, claiming he was similarly forced and threatened by then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. Ragos’ legal counsel Michael de Castro told ANC it was likely the order to implicate De Lima in the three high-profile drug cases against her came from a position higher than the DOJ Secretary. He also called on the DOJ to investigate its ranks for participation in mounting false claims against de Lima.

Media reports included Aguirre’s denial of Ragos’ claim that Aguirre had coerced his testimony, and his daring Ragos to file charges. 

World Press Freedom Day in the margins of news 

This year’s observation of World Press Freedom Day largely went under the news radar, with only some online and print reports picking up discussions in different forums on May 3. May 5, 2022 also marked the second year of ABS-CBN’s shutdown, but only a few other organizations recalled that event.

The media may be reluctant in highlighting news about themselves. But when the government marshals all its forces to attack the press in the manner that Duterte’s allies did in denying the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, it becomes a bigger story, its relevance quite obvious for more than just those working in the media. Journalists have every reason to recount the event, noting to its lessons, keeping the facts recorded so the public will never forget the “who, what, where, and why” of such abuse. Media should help the public remember the past to help avoid repeating mistakes in selecting its leaders. News files and archives are timely sources and can be made current by journalists. Hopefully, the press can do better in the future. 

Short memories enable abusive public officials to return to power. A more informed and aware news audience could help build resistance against the kind of abuse we have witnessed during the last six years. The story of ABS-CBN is reminder that free expression is a basic human right, and that access to news and information can make a difference in future elections, including on May 9, 2022. 

This applies to the records of other abuses — the killings of lawyers and human rights defenders, of mostly poor suspects of drug use and drug dealing, and the participation of law enforcement and security forces in creating an environment of fear and intimidation against the citizens they are sworn to protect.