First encounter: Marcos Spox turns deaf to Rappler reporter

BARELY TWO days after the presumptive win of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., his spokesperson, Atty. Vic Rodriguez, held a press conference at the Uniteam headquarters in Mandaluyong, during which he blatantly ignored a question from Rappler reporter Lian Buan.

On May 11, Buan asked how Marcos could travel to the United States, where there is a standing contempt order against him worth $353 million. “Next question,” was the only answer the journalists present got from Rodriguez.

Buan tried to follow up by saying: “I have to follow up, he would be the chief diplomat and he would have to go there for state visits, so we are wondering how it would happen.”  But Rodriguez ignored Buan’s follow-ups and entertained other questions.

After Rodriguez answered questions from other journalists, Buan also asked if Marcos Jr. would revoke President Duterte’s Proclamation No. 319, which declared September 21 as National Day of Protest. It described Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s martial law as “a time attended by the commission of gross human rights violations, arbitrary state interventions, rampant corruption, and disregard of fundamental civil liberties.”

Rodriguez again ignored the question. He then proceeded to read a statement. 

CMFR cheers the TV programs which included the incident in their newscasts: TV 5’s Frontline Tonight, ANC’s The World Tonight and Dateline Philippines; and online: ABS-CBN, CNN Philippines, GMA News, News 5, and Philstar.com. 

Frontline Tonight and the online reports of ABS-CBN, GMA News and CNN Philippines cited a statement from the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), that described the incident as a “red flag for press freedom.” NUJP recalled that “it was during his father’s time (Marcos Sr.) that newsrooms were closed down before being allowed to operate under the watchful eye of government censors.”

Apart from NUJP, ABS-CBN’s online report featured former candidates Leody De Guzman and Walden Bello who said these questions are relevant and should be asked. Bello said, “Marami talagang kailangang tanungin ngayon. Anong mangyayari sa February 25 EDSA uprising celebration? Anong mangyayari sa September 21? Anong mangyayari sa Ninoy Aquino International Airport? Will they change that to Ferdinand Edralin Marcos International Airport? These are very serious issues at this point in time.” 

De Guzman warned the media that they should not expect “good treatment” from a “dynastic-minded” Marcos-Duterte leadership. The report noted that when martial law was declared in 1972, the Marcos administration shut down all media organizations, while outgoing President Duterte also frequently targeted the media in his speeches. 

The same online report of ABS-CBN and Philstar.com provided even more context, tracing Marcos Jr.s’ elusiveness during the entire campaign period. Both reports noted how Marcos Jr. ‘s team preferred one-on-one interviews over debates. 

“Even at campaign sorties, ambush interviews with Marcos were few and often done under setups that were less than ideal. Getting a quote from the presidential frontrunner would entail getting past a throng of security aides and, at times, supporters chanting Protect BBM,” Philstar.com’s report read. 

ABS-CBN’s article also recalled Buan’s being barred from coverage and shoved by Marcos security personnel when she tried to get close to the candidate during a Uniteam rally. 

Reports on the press conference also cited veteran journalists. Dateline Philippines interviewed foreign journalist Erin Cook who was alarmed by how Rodriguez is dismissive of “important questions, easily answerable, and the people’s need to know.” While News 5’s online report cited Al Jazeera correspondent Jamela Alindogan and Rappler editors Paterno Esmaquel II and Inday Espina-Varona who stressed that “fellow reporters should stand up for their colleagues when they are being unfairly treated.”

CMFR notes that last year, Pia Ranada of Rappler and Tricia Terada of CNN Philippines were also cut off from asking former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque questions regarding the government’s COVID-19 response. The presidential spokesperson skipped the questions of whose audio connection was “lost” when they were about to speak at a Malacañang press briefing. But reporters stood up for their colleagues by pointing out that their audio should not have been cut off

These reports are a clear sign that the media may be more inclined to check the abusive conduct of the administration, a lesson learned too late during Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and a challenge that has to be confronted as early as now. Such reporting should help the public appreciate the role of a free and independent press in a democracy.