This Week in Media (October 11 to 15, 2021)
First Nobel win by Filipina journalist an indictment of the Duterte administration
2021 IS raining gold on Filipino women—women in particular who have had challenges thrown their way including attacks by the administration.
On October 8, Maria Ressa, veteran journalist and CEO of Rappler, became the first Filipino to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. It was an indictment of President Duterte, who had subjected her to insult and injury, and to numerous charges, some of which are still pending in court. The news of Ressa’s winning the Nobel recalled the first Olympic gold medal won by Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who also bore the brunt of false allegations by Duterte’s government propagandists.
Evening newscasts broke the story on Ressa’s win Friday. It did not make it as big as Hidilyn’s story. But throughout the weekend, messages of congratulations flowed on print, TV and online. Netizens and some news accounts pointed to the lack of immediate comment on the part of the Palace, which waited until Monday, October 11 to say something.
Harry Roque, presidential mouthpiece, did congratulate Ressa, insisting, however, that “press freedom is alive and well” in the country. F. Sionil Jose, a National Artist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee, expressed the same view in a lengthy Facebook post which basically said that Ressa did not deserve the award. Writing for The Manila Times, Rigoberto Tiglao said the Nobel’s justification for awarding Ressa was wrong, calling into question her citizenship – oblivious of the fact that the Nobel gives the honor to any person of any nationality.
Sadly, there was not enough pushback from Philippine media’s coverage to emphasize the reality that the press is under attack in the country, its freedom and independence severely weakened. Press freedom survives only because there are journalists like Ressa who have refused to be cowed by all kinds of attacks and threats.
Unlike Diaz’ Olympic gold, Ressa’s Nobel prize was not as wholeheartedly celebrated by the press. Rather, it raised doubts and questions, making it controversial.
In his opinion piece in Sunstar Cebu, Pachico Seares said, “The country benefits from the controversy as the nation sees two pictures on the state of press freedom and more people may bother to check which is true: what the Nobel committee tells us and what Malacañang and its supporters say it is.” He added, “Safeguarding freedom is needed even when freedom has not yet been taken away. It’s more crucial in fact before censorship or the shutdown comes.”
Another woman who had faced controversy received recognition this week from a local government unit. The Quezon City government named Ana Patricia Non, the proponent of the community pantry movement, an awardee of the Gawad Parangal on October 12. Non was also threatened by military and police forces for supposedly starting a “communist” idea. The spread of community pantries around the country showed up the error of government in failing to support good work by its citizens. Reports noted that Hidilyn Diaz was among the awardees of the same event.
Meanwhile, the decline in the global rankings of the government confirms its poor performance under Duterte. The Philippines plunged 51 points in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016. The country’s 2021 ranking is now at 102 out of 139 countries; it was at 51 in 2015 and at 90 last year. Reports took note of human rights violations in the past years which continued even under pandemic conditions, noting as well the ICC’s investigation into Duterte’s war on drugs.
Following the filing of COCs last week, the surprise moves of some candidates did not escape media attention. Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa filed his candidacy for president two hours before the deadline on October 8. Subsequent reports on Dela Rosa raised questions about the real intent of his filing. Upon media questioning, the former national police chief insisted that they had talked about his candidacy but did not publicize it, but he also claimed he would gladly give his slot to Sara Duterte should she decide to run for president instead of mayor for Davao City.
Asked by the media whether the practice of substitution is a mockery of the elections, the visibly irked Dela Rosa answered, “Do I look like a mockery to you? I won as a senator, number 5 po ako last elections. Number 5 ako na senador, is that mockery?” Enough said, senator!
Media reported on other “placeholders” for president and vice president fielded by Lakas-CMD. Prospero Pichay, the party’s chair, said they put in temporary names just in case someone like Sara Duterte files for a substitution.
News accounts did cite Comelec’s rules on substitution and on nuisance candidates. Some reports on TV and online interviewed political analysts who said the substitution process can be taken advantage of by “deceptive” and “opportunistic” candidates whose seriousness about running cannot be ascertained.
Clearly, the Duterte family’s interests have dominated the process so far. The public still awaits what exactly the substitution deadline will reveal. There have been candidates in the past who had taken to filing to use the event or even an entire campaign for other reasons than actually seeking office. But never has there been such a display of political accommodation to please the ruling family since the Marcos regime.
In his opinion piece for Rappler, John Nery said Duterte was to blame as he “rode the substitution rule all the way to Malacañang.” Nery added, “using the substitution rule to buy time for political maneuvering behind a screen of pretense is an outright abuse, a malignancy; it carries risks for the democratic project itself.”
The COVID news cycle appears to be in a loop, moving within three themes: COVID case trends, government policies and the views of health professionals. As cases in NCR continue to decline, restrictions in the capital have been relaxed, allowing more businesses and establishments to operate at slightly higher capacities. Fully-vaccinated children and seniors are now allowed for point-to-point travel. But health and medical experts disagree with the expansion of economic activities.
The vaccination phase for the general adult population began on October 7, while the same program for children aged 12 to 17 was launched on October 15. Citing the number of doses on hand in his Twitter account, ABS-CBN data analyst Edson Guido said “vaccine supply is no longer the problem.” Media should track the actual vaccine coverage in the remaining months of the year.
President Duterte’s ramblings about the nature of vaccines are disturbing as these contribute to vaccine hesitancy. He claimed that vaccines can cause viruses to be “resurrected” in the body, adding that vaccination should be done in stealth, when people are asleep. Media’s airing Duterte’s unchecked and uninformed statements does immeasurable public damage.
The media should seriously re-consider providing live coverage of IATF meetings. The different networks should apply the editorial process to these events, and share with the public only what they need to know about what was said. Duterte’s random musings have been typically nonsensical. This kind of speech does more harm and must be checked by the gatekeepers of the press.
Typhoon Maring lashed at Northern Luzon, forcing residents to flee their homes for safer ground and causing severe damage to agriculture. Reporters on the ground showed visuals of flooded areas, recalling the onslaught of typhoons around the same time last year in the same regions. Some accounts did well to call attention to the economic losses caused by the storms as these will weigh heavily on any efforts at national recovery.
Unsurprisingly, in the midst of this crisis, Duterte was nowhere to be seen or heard. The strongman president has not made any pretense about his limited attention span for, and perhaps a lack of concern about, these matters. More disturbing, the media have not subjected to journalistic inquiry and scrutiny this administration’s catastrophic failure to alleviate the hardships caused by storms.