This Week in Media (September 20 to 24)

COVID-19 takes a backseat to elections, HR issues

NOT MUCH was heard about the COVID-19 situation this week, except for the daily case counts and the spread of the infection in religious establishments in Metro Manila. Much of the news was on human rights, elections and governance issues. But the coverage was short-lived, with each issue capturing only a limited share of media attention.

Commemorating Martial Law

The Philippine Daily Inquirer had the most sustained coverage among print media on the commemoration of Martial Law, publishing reports and opinion pieces throughout the week. TV and online news provided reports correcting the misinformation and disinformation that falsely described the Marcos era as a “golden age.” These reports drew from various sources, interviewing survivors of abuse and citing documents which proved the truth of the human rights atrocities as well as corruption perpetrated by the regime. Media did not fail to report the rallies to observe the milestone and the police response that these provoked. 

CMFR cheered broadcast and online news organizations that featured facts to counter revisionist narratives. Sadly, there was scant effort to do so in  print. 

Duterte speaks before UN as ICC green lights the investigation

Reports noted that Duterte’s last address at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 22 was delivered days after the International Criminal Court ordered an investigation into the killings in his administration’s “war on drugs.”

CMFR cheered news accounts that went beyond the announcement of ICC’s decision to discuss its basis and implications, especially highlighting how the government cannot stop the process now since it did not appeal it earlier. 

Media’s coverage of Duterte’s recorded address highlighted his promise of accountability for the same “drug war.”

Other points noted by reports included Duterte’s call for reform in the UN, for climate action, his allegation of vaccine hoarding by developed countries; and the importance of the UN arbitration ruling on sea disputes that no country can “diminish.” 

Crowding the campaign 

Two weeks before the filing of candidacies, two more presidential hopefuls, Senator Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, better known by his celebrity name Isko Moreno, formally announced their presidential bids. Moreno introduced his choice of running mate as Willie Ong, a physician who has established a following on radio and social media for his talk on health issues, free advice and health tips. Reports noted that Ong ran for a Senate seat in 2019 and lost. 

Both the Senate and the House filed bills compelling the Commission on Elections to  extend voter registration to October 31 from the original September 30. But reports said Comelec was only looking at a one-week extension after the COC filing from October 1 to 8. 

Pharmally and  corruption

Media kept up with the ongoing Senate probe into transactions between Pharmally Pharmaceuticals and the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM). Coverage also followed the back-and-forth between Duterte and Senator Richard Gordon over the president’s accusation that the Philippine Red Cross, which Gordon chairs, is involved in corruption. Gordon heads the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the anomalous multibillion-peso contracts bagged by Pharmally in the early months of the pandemic.

This week, senators expressed strong concern over government’s purchase of expired or near-expiry test kits from Pharmally costing government PHP500M. Senator Francis Pangilinan on September 21 countered the claim of Lloyd Christopher Lao, former chief of the PS-DBM, that the Bayanihan One Law covered the procurement of face masks from Pharmally.  Pangilinan said the questionable transactions preceded the law, which eased up on rules of procurement to speed up the acquisition of pandemic supplies. Pangilinan’s point corrected as well the argument by Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives (HOR) the previous week. 

While separate accounts reported on the two probes in Congress, so far the media have not pointed to the division between the two chambers, with the House tending to whitewash the negative testimonies aired in the Senate. 

Face-to-face classes and COVID concerns 

Media carried DepEd’s announcement that President Duterte has approved a pilot run of limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas. The development comes a week after the opening of the current online school year nationwide. 

News accounts said that while 120 public and private schools were selected for this undertaking, DepEd had not yet identified the schools. Education Secretary Leonor Briones said teachers wishing to join the pilot run would not be required to be vaccinated. Media picked up statements from groups which either approved or disapproved of the decision. Journalists did not question Briones on concerns about safeguarding children against COVID-19.

Media organizations need to adopt a more integrated coverage of pandemic issues, even as reporters are assigned to different beats. Government response has been weak because of the lack of coordination among agencies  which been shown up for not talking to one another. Media should do their part in  enforcing a more coherent response on the part of all government agencies, by interrogating the different agencies on the actions taken vis-a-vis COVID-19. Otherwise, the coverage will simply mirror the confusion and incoherence of the government.