THE PHILIPPINE media community, one of the freest and most rambunctious in all of Asia, is an incredible, hopefully not incorrigible, story of dissonant currents and practices.
For instance, while press freedom has broad and firm guarantees in law and jurisprudence in this country, the Philippines remains one of the deadliest places in the world for journalists, even as the executive and legislative branches have been slow to move on strategic reforms, including the Freedom of Information Act.
Reporters and editors also zealously guard and assert their freedom and resist all attempts by state authorities to restrict their trade, and yet self-regulation by professional and industry associations has always lacked vigor and constancy. Indeed, self-criticism of media by media remains scant and thus ineffectual, even as competition for sales, revenues, and audience share drives most editorial decisions of most gatekeepers.
UNLESS THE Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) moves faster than usual, the clan implicated in the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre might soon retake control of what by all accounts is a scandalously vast estate of money and mansions, and wheels and weapons it had acquired while governing over a dirt-poor province.
Next week, on Dec. 2, a freeze order on 597 bank accounts, 142 firearms, 132 motor vehicles, and 113 houses and lots, recorded in the names of 27 Ampatuan family members and their associates, will lapse.
The bank accounts alone are estimated to be worth more than a billion pesos – multiple times more money than what the Ampatuans who held elective office had declared in their asset disclosure records to be their lawful incomes and net worth.
JUST A few weeks after the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, where 58 people including 32 journalists were executed in a remote barangay in Ampatuan town, officials of the Firearms and Explosives Division (FED) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were surprised to receive a deluge of applications for gun amnesty from one particular province in Mindanao.
Every once in a while, the national government offers a gun amnesty to the general public. These amnesty offers are a general pardon of sorts, where people with loose or unlicensed firearms are allowed to have illegal guns licensed and registered in their names.
But this batch of applications raised a red flag among officials of the PNP-FED, the agency tasked with regulating gun ownership and use in the country.
ON NOVEMBER 23, 2011, media groups throughout the country and all over the world will mark the International Campaign to End Impunity with a wide-ranging public awareness campaign to press for stronger and firmer government action against media killings in the country. The campaign was timed with the 2nd anniversary of the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, where 58 people including 32 journalists were murdered in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.
In line with the activities leading up to the commemoration of Anti-Impunity Day, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) produced three short public service ads (PSAs) for free distribution to all media organizations and social networking sites. The PSAs are meant to remind everyone that impunity continues to be a problem in the Philippines, despite the change in the national leadership.
MAGUINDANAO:The Quest for Justice is a documentary produced by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the second anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre. After two years, the Ampatuans have allegedly ramped up efforts to reach a settlement with the families of the victims. The families of the victims continue to hold out against the proposed settlement, even as they try to survive from day to day. In the meantime, the Ampatuan clan continues to wield clout in the region with its vast resources and continuing political influence.
Is the President still part of the solution, or is he now part of the problem?
Advocates of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill raised this question after Malacanang again failed to include the FOI bill in its list of priority measures during the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council earlier this week.
In a statement sent out to media organizations, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition noted with alarm that President Benigno S. Aquino III had raised new concerns over the proposed Freedom of Information Act during the LEDAC meeting in Malacanang. These concerns were apparently added to the list of other reasons that Malacanang had been using to defend its refusal to endorse the bill to Congress.
THE apparent inability of majority of Metro Manila local governments to respond quickly and fully to citizen requests for asset disclosure records of local officials, as well as documents on education, health, public safety and other essential services may well be a reflection of the Aquino administration’s own dithering over a Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
POLITICS and government, business and finance, education and culture. In all these and more, the national capital region, Metro Manila, is supposed to lead the rest of the nation. Here, bureaucrats and politicians thrive, mostly schooled and steeled in the art of governance and advisedly, the liberal ramparts of transparency and accountability.
It seems fair for citizens to expect that in Metro Manila, more than anywhere else in the Philippines, the people’s right to know and to access official information and documents would be respected. But that could well be plain wishful thinking for now.