This Week in Media (November 8 to 12, 2021)

Sidelining climate, pandemic crises in favor of elections drama

WE MIGHT be looking at a “better Christmas” with the downward trend in COVID cases, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about the future. 

Largely glossed over in Philippine media coverage this week was the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which opened in Scotland last October 31. Only two Filipino journalists, Pia Ranada of Rappler and Gaea Cabico of Philstar.com, are covering the meeting as fellows of the Climate Change Media Partnership Reporting Program. But cable channel ANC aired interviews with climate activists and environmental advocates who were not participating in the high-level summit as none of these groups were included in the conference. Indeed, the event has been criticized in international media for its lack of inclusivity. 

The rest of the Philippine press, especially the Filipino-language newscasts that reach out to the mass audience, have not picked up and expanded on what little coverage there is on COP26, organized as a venue for actions to mitigate global warming. The Philippines’ location in the Pacific makes it one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Local reports said that the Philippine delegation headed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III presented concrete actions taken by the Philippines in its commitment to combat the crisis. But representatives of civil society claim these are not enough.

The eighth commemoration year of Typhoon Yolanda on November 8 coincided with the summit. Media revisited the country’s experience of the “worst storm in Philippine history” but few did as meaningfully as Philstar.com’s two-part series, which CMFR cheered for interviewing Yolanda survivors who shared the difficulties of relocation, and for flagging the need for grassroots communities to understand the impact of climate change. 

Last November 7, The Washington Post published an interactive report that looked at countries’ underreporting of their respective greenhouse gas emission data to the United Nations. “As tens of thousands of people are convening in Glasgow for what may be the largest-ever meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), also known as COP26, the numbers they are using to help guide the world’s effort to curb greenhouse gases represent a flawed road map,the report said. The Philippines has to use all the resources it can muster to help Filipinos understand climate change, and the need to make adjustments to mitigate and alleviate its dire impact. This includes the media. Each newsroom should do its part to contribute to the collective learning so citizens can be more critical of government policies and programs which may endanger their security and protection. 


COVID-19 response

On home ground, the mess of government’s pandemic response has been revealed by the debate over the obligatory use of face shields. Media reported the unanimous vote of Metro Manila chief executives to scrap its use except in medical settings, considering that the capital region has reached its target for vaccination. Expectedly, the Palace shot this down, telling the mayors to wait for Duterte’s directive and calling their decision “null and void.” Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas shot back, telling presidential spokesperson Harry Roque that local government units have autonomy. Is the question reduced to a competition over turf? 

In another demonstration of government’s punitive tendencies, the Department of Interior and Local Government suggested a “no vaccine, no subsidy” policy for beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino or 4Ps program. Media followed executive and legislative officials who either supported the proposal or called it out for lack of legal basis. But reports did not emphasize the fact that vaccine distribution remains uneven, and that hesitancy remains a problem about which the government has done little. 

The supply no longer being a problem, the national government is considering a three-day national vaccination drive from November 29 to December 1, with a target of five million individuals vaccinated per day. President Duterte has yet to decide whether to make November 29 and December 31 special non-working holidays for this purpose, since November 30, Bonifacio Day, is already a national holiday.

Reports cited deployment and distribution plans as provided by health officials. But such an ambitious undertaking warrants more questions. On one hand, the walk-in system may invite a deluge of individuals willing to be jabbed. On the other, there is no certainty that people will show up, especially those who rely on daily wages and who would rather miss being vaccinated if it means being able to earn what is needed for the day. 

Media have to be more proactive by moving the discourse forward so that authorities are forced to make the decision rather than keep things up in the air as they await Duterte to make up his mind. 


Election drama

It was certainly no surprise to anyone that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio withdrew her reelection bid, dropped her regional party membership, and joined the national Lakas-CMD. Media made it a top story and gave it banner treatment, although all of her actions did not indicate what position she now has in mind for herself. The public was hardly surprised, as many saw that from the very beginning the Duterte family is going to have to get a family member or a dependable ally to run for president.  But the media seemed fixated on the story, and stuck to doing the obligatory rounds of Duterte allies who could say little more than the obvious: she should run for president or vice-president. Ho-hum! 

The Manila Bulletin allowed itself to call this mini-drama a “Saranovela” but that was about as far as media went to acknowledge that this was quite expected, and that the daughter was following a formula that the father had used for the same media impact in 2016. Six years later, reporters still took the bait, and treated it as big news— and without reminding their audiences that it’s a replay of the 2015-2016 Duterte script.

Was this bit distracting enough for the rest of the media to turn away from Davao City’s own public information officer, Jefry Tupas, who was in a beach party that was raided and where PHP1.5 million worth of drugs were seized? Local correspondents reported that the arrested partygoers said the PDEA agents looked for Tupas first, but that he was allowed to escape. National news coverage cited these local accounts. 

Journalists picked up on questions about Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s presidential bid, as the petition to invalidate his candidacy was raffled to the courts. The action here may not be visible, but the documents are and should be open for media to evaluate. Reports also picked up on a meeting between Senator Manny Pacquiao and President Duterte, suggesting that broken ties can be mended. Senator Christopher “Bong” Go emotionally hinted at withdrawing his vice presidential bid, but he also dispelled rumors he is backing out. So far, news reports are reduced to guessing who will run for what post without any analysis. 

November 15, the last day for substitutions, is looking to be a busy day. James Jimenez, Comelec spokesperson, said the commission expects to be flooded with last-minute changes in candidacies. Media should be reminded that Comelec does not expect to release the final list of candidates until December. 

These political maneuverings are a mere front act for what happens in the next two months. If journalists can’t resist every political twist and turn at this point, there is little hope that Philippine media will be able to hold out against being part of the campaign caravan, feeding people the manufactured stories designed to keep candidates in the news, with or without any relevance to citizens about the fundamental issue of their fitness for office.