President Benigno S. Aquino III yesterday said the over-reaching powers of the judiciary is the reason why he is considering Charter Change.

“‘Yung judicial reach, kailangan naman yata lagyan ng hangganan (That judicial reach, there should be a limit),” the Chief Executive said in an interview over Bombo Radyo as he pointed out that “lahat na lang pinapakialaman….mukhang sumobra naman.”

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Aquino’s statement was aired by the network yesterday morning, on the same day that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno scheduled her news conference.

Sereno, however, chose not to comment on the statements of the Chief Executive.

“The Chief Justice does not respond to political questions; I don’t read anything into President Aquino’s statements,” as she added: “I have enormous respect for the President and I am sure he also has enormous respect for the office of the Chief Justice.”
THE CHIEF JUSTICE | Supreme Court Photo

THE CHIEF JUSTICE | Supreme Court Photo

Sereno is the youngest to have held the position of Chief Justice and might be the longest-serving in the position as she is set to retire in 2030 after 20 years as head of the High Court.

But what exactly is the power of the Supreme Court? Is the President right in saying that it is over-reaching especially after it ruled some parts of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program as unconstitutional? Is the High Court not empowered by Philippine laws to review policies of the executive?

“Despite being a separate and co-equal branch, the judiciary possesses this authority to inquire into and rule on the legality of the acts of the executive or the legislature. It is part of the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution in order to avoid misuse or abuse of power,” the PCIJ reported in our MoneyPolitics website March this year as the Supreme Court was just scrutinizing the DAP.

What is the power of judicial review? What are the effects of a judicial decision?

READ MORE ON THE MONEY POLITICS WEBSITE

“THE POWER OF JUDICIAL REVIEW”

IN THIS SECTION, we will be featuring regularly articles written by the PCIJ or reblogged from our partner organizations like The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists or the Global Investigative Journalism Network. Enjoy!

IMAGE from http://www.e-bas.com.au/

IMAGE from http://www.e-bas.com.au/

By Reg Chua

Reprinted from (Re)Structuring Journalism. Reg Chua is executive editor, editorial operations, data and innovation at Thomson Reuters. He has also served as editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post and had a 16-year career at The Wall Street Journal, including as editor of The Wall Street Journal Asia.

Who should you trust? (Or, for all you pedants out there, whom should you trust?)

It’s an important question for all of us, not least when you’re buying a used car (and believe me, I know.)

But it’s probably even more important for journalists, who talk to strangers on a regular basis and need to make snap judgments about how much faith we should have in what they say.

So here’s the bad news: You shouldn’t trust yourself to figure out who you should trust.

At least that’s the case if I understand Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, a very interesting book by social psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, correctly. Blindspot is a good book (although Mahzarin is an even better lecturer; she recently gave a great talk to a number of Thomson Reuters folks) that focuses on the biases and prejudices – “mindbugs,” she calls them – that we have, but that we don’t know we have.

Don’t believe me (or rather, her)? Check out the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which tracks, via the length of time it takes for you to run through a series of matching tests, how strongly you associate one group with a set of traits – for example, female names with domestic terms, as opposed to men and work issues, or white faces with Americaness vs. non-whites. Try the test(s): They’re both scary and enlightening. And if you’re like me, you’ll take them a couple of times because you don’t like how the results turned out.

READ ON HERE AT (RE)STRUCTURING JOURNALISM

CHIEF JUSTICE MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO | Supreme Court Photo

CHIEF JUSTICE MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO | Supreme Court Photo

AMID issues confronting the judiciary and the Supreme Court’s recent decision declaring some parts of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno will be facing journalists today to answer their questions.

Sereno is the youngest to be appointed as head of the High Court and may also be the longest-serving as she is set to retire in 2030 after a 20-year-term.

MORE OF SERENO’S BACKGROUND ON THE SUPREME COURT WEBSITE.

PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas and researcher-writer Charmaine Lirio will be joining other journalists in this news conference.

We will be live-streaming the event via the Supreme Court Youtube link.

REPOSTED FROM THE INTERNATIONAL CONSORTIUM OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS’ WEBSITE

Sheila Coronel is the director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Last month, she was named as the next academic dean of the journalism school, a position she will assume in July. Prior to joining Columbia, Coronel founded the Phillippine Center for Investigative Journalism, where her reporting on corruption and graft by then-President Joseph Estrada helped bring about his impeachment and subsequent resignation. She recently spoke with ICIJ for its “Secrets of the Masters” series.

SHEILA CORONEL | Image from http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/

SHEILA CORONEL | Image from http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/

As the director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, your reporting revealed the massive personal fortune compiled by then-President Joseph Estrada. How did you report that story and what were your main findings?

That story was fundamentally a way of proving corruption – not by getting evidence of the actual corrupt acts, which was difficult, but by investigating where the proceeds of corruption went. We had heard rumors of large-scale bribery and commissions from government contracts and the sale of shares in state-owned companies. Because it was almost impossible to prove bribery, we decided to go after the fruits of bribery instead.

Estrada was a former movie star who had five mistresses and he was building fabulous mansions in the ritziest parts of Manila for them. None of these properties were in his or his family members’ names. They were registered in the names of shell companies and it was difficult to show real ownership. What we were able to do was establish a pattern in the acquisitions: the same law firms were used to incorporate the companies, the same nominees fronted for the purchases, the same architects were used, the same interior designers, landscape architects, etc. Even the design of the houses was the same because Estrada went home to a different house every night, frequently intoxicated, and so didn’t want to be stumbling in unfamiliar territory.

We also spoke to a number of people, including builders, neighbors, friends and associates who had interacted with Estrada in relation to those properties. We found that Estrada had bought 17 pieces of real estate in just the first two years of his presidency, and we said that based on his income tax return and his financial disclosures, he couldn’t have legitimately afforded them. We also found dozens of companies that had been formed by him and his families, and none of these were disclosed in his asset statement. We discovered thriving business enterprises set up by the more entrepreneurial mistresses and these businesses had assets that could not be explained by the president’s legitimate earnings.

READ MORE ON THE ICIJ WEBSITE

By Cong B. Corrales

THE STORM surges and strong winds have long been gone but people in areas hardest hit by super typhoon Haiyan last year still continue to rebuild their shattered lives.

And women are finding it more difficult than men, burdened as they are by gender discrimination, and a host of other problems that have been magnified after the storm.

More than a hundred women survivors of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) gathered to point this out during the international aid group Oxfam’s forum on Tuesday dubbed “Women After the Storm.”

“The struggles of those from typhoon hit areas—from poverty, poor governance and delivery of basic social services, to gender discrimination—have always been there before, and were even magnified after the typhoon,” Jing Pura, gender justice programme coordinator of Oxfam-Philippines told the PCIJ.

Derived from the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries. In the Philippines, Oxfam has been operating since 1978. It is helping at least 760,000 people affected by the storm in the provinces of Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Cebu.

Haiyan – the strongest typhoon ever recorded in recent history – killed more than 6,000 people and displaced 4.1 people, 3.7 million of whom are women and girls, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) reported.

Pura said gender inequality and discrimination are some of the underlying causes why people are still suffering nine months after the storm had passed.

“Meron kaming pagkiling sa kababaihan dahil nakikita namin na sila yung maraming dinadaanang problema at ibang sitwasyon dahil may mga inequality doon sa community. Dito sa Haiyan, yung response ng Oxfam—kasi tumutugon kami sa water, sanitation and hygiene issues, tumutugon din kami sa livelihood issues—nakita namin na hindi sila masyadong natatanong, nakokonsulta,” Pura said.

(We have a bias for women because we have seen that they are facing more problems because of the inequalities in their community; because of Haiyan, Oxfam’s response has been to help them in terms of water, sanitation, and hygiene issues. We are also helping them in their livelihood because they are not largely being consulted or asked.)

INFOGRAPHIC BY OXFAM

INFOGRAPHIC BY OXFAM

The experience of Mirasol Gayoso, a woman survivor from the fishing town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar is a stark case in point. Like her, women in their town contribute to her family’s finances by making bags and sleeping mats from indigenous hemp while their husbands fish.

“May mga organization na iba, halimbawa na kumukuha sila ng impormasyon tungkol sa mga livelihood, so mostly naka-focus sila sa mga kalalakihan. Parang nawawalan na ng time or attention ang mga babae kasi naka focus nga sa kanila. Eh, paano naman yung mga kababaihan doon napakalaking tulong din yun sa mga asawa nila,” Gayoso told PCIJ.

(There are organizations that get information about our livelihood and most of them focus on what the men are doing but they are not giving time or attention to the women. How about the women who can be of big help to their husbands?)

For Jayza dela Dia of Balanggiga town in Eastern Samar, it took 14 days for relief operations reached their town. She blames the problem to a gap in communication.

“Delayed siguro ganon tapos may information na naiparating sa mga higher (officials) na partially damaged lang yung Balangiga ang report. Pero ang katotohanan po talaga totally damaged (sic) din po kami. Kung titingnan po yung lugar namin halos walang bahay doon nakatayo or kung may roon mang nakatayo, walang bubong at sira yung mga walls,” she said.

(It could have been delayed because information reaching the higher-ups said that Balangiga [town] was only partially-damaged but in truth, there was total destruction there; almost all houses were destroyed and those left standing had had no roofs or the walls had collapsed.)

“We need to understand how women, with their families and communities, are coping and managing so that we are able to collectively re-imagine the best and most lasting ways to build back better,” Pura said.

Representatives from various national and international agencies—United Nations Population Fund, UN Women, Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, UP Center for Women’s Studies, and Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc—also attended Oxfam’s forum.

SOME PARTICIPANTS during the forum | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

SOME PARTICIPANTS during the forum | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Topics discussed during the forum include: rebuilding of women’s livelihoods, promoting women leadership in times of emergencies, responding to gender-based violence and reproductive health needs of women, mainstreaming gender in relocation and rehabilitation planning, and recognizing LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) rights during and after typhoon Haiyan.

“The risks women, men, girls, and boys who are affected by Yolanda are different, and this determines who survives or who will get back on their feet. Thus, gender responsive provisions should be instilled in rehabilitation and recovery programs to address overlapping issues like land, shelter, and livelihood,” said Pura adding that it is important to have a “gender lens” in rebuilding communities after calamities.

IN THIS issue of Asia Journalism Focus published by Temasek Foundation’s Asia Journalism Forum in Singapore, the work of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in advancing data journalism was discussed.

“Quality journalism is more needed than ever, in a world that has grown more complex and diverse. Yet, professional journalism’s capacity to serve the public interest is under unprecedented threat. This magazine reports on a seminar on Sustainable Independent Journalism, organised in Singapore in 2014 by the Temasek Foundation Asia Journalism Forum. It features insights from media innovators such as Malaysiakini and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the reflections of media policy experts such as Aidan White, Sevanti Ninan and Sasa Vucinic.”

This month’s issue is titled “Learning from Asia’s Best: Sustaining Independent Journalism.”

You may read the report by scrolling down or click HERE to be redirected to the Scribd site.

By Ed Lingao

Ed Lingao was right smack in Baghdad, Iraq when the United States unleashed its “shock and awe” campaign during Operation Iraqi Freedom to bring down then President Saddam Hussein. He was also deployed in Afghanistan where he and his team were held up by armed men, and has also covered wars in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. He prefers to call himself as a journalist who “had some experience covering conflict here and abroad, made many many mistakes along the way, and still learning every day” but does not remember how many wars he has covered because to him, the country seems to be “in a state of perpetual war interspersed with brief periods of peace talks.”

He has moved from print to broadcast to multimedia over his 27-year career, won the Marshall McLuhan Award, the Red Cross Award for Humanitarian Reporting, and is an Outstanding Alumnus of the University of the Philippines. The murder of American photojournalist James Foley has brought to the fore once more the dangers for journalists covering conflict. Foley is not the first nor the only reporter killed in the line of duty. In the Philippines, 32 journalists and media workers were killed in November 23, 2009 while covering a simple event – the filing of a certificate of candidacy by a gubernatorial candidate in the province of Maguindanao.

In the United States, a debate is raging after policemen arrested some journalists covering the protests triggered by the killing of a civilian by policemen in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. Amid these interesting, and fatal, developments for the press, Ed Lingao shares with us his thoughts.

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ON COVERAGE: Ed Lingao at work | Photo by Tita Valderrama

IN NOVEMBER 2010, Marie Catherine Colvin of The Sunday Times stood before mourners at the St. Bride’s Church in London’s famous Fleet Street to talk about two things that seem to run in direct conflict with each other: the danger of covering wars, and the urgent need to cover wars. The venue could not have been more appropriate, and the occasion all the more so. It was a religious service for journalists who have died covering conflict since 2000.

St. Bride’s is also known as the journalists’ church, with a link that goes back three or more centuries with the first printing press in Fleet Street being setup in the church courtyard. Many journalists have tied the knot there, and many a newspaperman would go there to seek succor after dealing with evil editors or senseless reporters.

Then there was Colvin herself. Photos taken from the memorial show Colvin at the lectern, stern and grim-faced, dressed simply in a black dress offset with pearls. She glares at the camera with her one good eye; the other is an empty socket, covered with a leather eyepatch that presents a stark contrast to her fair but weathered face and dirty blond hair.

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MARIE COLVIN | Image from http://www.badassoftheweek.com/

Eyepatch? Those who appreciate the newspaper and the written word know Colvin as a war reporter’s war reporter, a newspaperwoman who has jumped from war zone to war zone without the benefit of the long logistical tail, tons of equipment, and gaggle of support personnel that accompany most modern broadcast war correspondents. She just goes in alone with a translator or a guide, armed with a mission but without the trumpets and the fanfare. In 2001, Colvin lost her left eye when a Sri Lankan soldier fired a rocket propelled grenade at her while she was covering that country’s civil war. Badly injured and in need of medical assistance, she still trekked the jungle to meet her deadline.

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A year before, she barely made it out of Chechnya alive, crossing 14,000 foot mountains just to escape to Georgia. A year after Sri Lanka, she was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder. Then she went out into the field again. On that November evening, Colvin spoke of the important work done by those who go into harm’s way to tell the story of conflict, and to tell the story of people. Hers was a message that struck at the root of journalism and how, in the end, we all explore our world, no matter how dangerous or uncomfortable, in order to change it. But in many respects, it was Colvin herself, just by the mere act of standing there, who was already the clearest and dearest message of all.

“Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children,” Colvin told an audience of journalists, newspaper editors, and families. “Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without giving prejudice.”

“Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices,” she added. “Sometimes they pay the ultimate price. Tonight we honour the 49 journalists and support staff who were killed bringing the news to our shores.” “It has never been more dangerous to be a war correspondent, because the journalist in the combat zone has become a prime target,” she added. At no time do her words ring more true than now.

The murder of James Wright Foley by Islamic State (IS) militants earlier this month puts into sharper focus something that had long been felt and understood, although largely left unwritten and unsaid – somewhere along the way, the threshold had been crossed. Journalists are no longer observers who are, at times, caught and killed in a crossfire. In war, in conflict, in combat, journalists are, more and more, becoming targets, victims, sometimes even weapons of war.

JAMES FOLEY | Image from www.lavanguardia.com

Of course journalists have always been potential targets; the power of the written word has always been both a curse and a godsend. “In America, the President reigns for four years, and journalism governs forever and ever,” Oscar Wilde once said. More recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used to head the KGB, was more straightforward: “Journalism, as concerns collecting information, differs little if at all from intelligence work. In my judgment, a journalist’s job is very interesting.”

Foley of course was not the first journalist to be targeted. Not even Daniel Pearl was the first. Pearl, the Wall Street Journal’s South Asia Bureau Chief, was beheaded by Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan in 2002. In the past, however, journalists were either victims of crossfire, or because specifically of what they wrote, or how they wrote a piece.

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But more and more, as states and non-state entities do battle online and in the field, journalists are now being targeted simply because of what they do and what they are – witnesses to war whose deaths would amplify the propaganda line. Pearl and Foley were not killed because of their writing; their deaths were meant as a message, as a weapon of propaganda, as a means of leverage.

To those who cover conflict, the message is clear – try as you might, you are not likely to be seen anymore as an observer or a neutral reporter. You may, in a manner of speaking, now be viewed as a combatant, an easy and soft target, who rushes to places that people are trying to leave, who fight for a seat aboard vehicles, ships, and airplanes going one way while everyone else is fighting for a seat in the OTHER direction. “We always ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery and what is bravado?” Colvin asked.

The few war reporters who matter know that it is neither bravado nor bravery that drives these people forward. Bravery and bravado are for the war tourists, who jump from conflict to conflict looking for a quick adrenaline fix, with just enough time to get a nice selfie in the frontlines. To be sure, some war correspondents have adopted what almost appears to be a blasé attitude towards danger and death. But it is an appearance that misleads.

Anthony Loyd’s journey through war-torn Bosnia is chronicled in his book, My War Gone By, I Miss It So. Yet Loyd’s book is far from a longing for bloodshed and misery. It is a devastating condemnation of the first war he would cover, where he watches dogs fighting over a man’s brains on the roadside. Loyd would go on to cover more wars; more recently he was also held hostage by IS militants, and was deliberately shot in the legs to prevent his escape. Fortunately for him, he was rescued by another group of Syrian rebels from the Islamic Front.

Foley himself was also kidnapped before, in 2011, while covering events in Libya. He was held for 44 days before he was freed. His editors were hesitant to send him back to the field, but he insisted. “But he was chomping at the bit to be back in the field and wanted to be back in Libya. I really didn’t want him to, but there was no way to stop him,” said Phil Balboni, CEO of GlobalPost.

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ON ASSIGNMENT in Afghanistan | Photo courtesy of Ed D. Lingao

And so, Foley dove right back in. One year later, in 2012, Foley would again disappear but this time in Syria. He would only resurface in August this year, only this time to die in front of the entire world. Many war correspondents have difficulty explaining why they do it, why they persist in going back. Some even seem afraid to know the answer themselves.

Michael Herr, in his book Dispatches on his coverage of the Vietnam war, captured it perfectly when he wrote: “How many times did someone have to run in front of a machine gun before it became an act of cowardice?” “Why do I cover wars? I have been asked this often in the past week. It is a difficult question to answer. I did not set out to be a war correspondent.

It has always seemed to me that what I write about is humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars – declared and undeclared,” Colvin explains.

Robert Fisk of The Independent writes with ambivalence of his profession, and how it makes one want and hate to be in the frontlines at the same time. More importantly, he writes of how overly romanticized war correspondence has become, how the adventures of journos have become more important than the lives of the people they cover.

We see this in the Philippines too. Too many people want to cover wars and firefights, when they should learn to cover first. Too many want to see death and destruction when they have no appreciation yet of life and its value. And far too many can identify the make and type of firearm and weaponry, yet cannot identify with the numbers of dead, wounded, and displaced.

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“My job is to bear witness,” Colvin said after her horrific injury in Sri Lanka. “I have never been interested in knowing what make of plane had just bombed a village or whether the artillery that fired at it was 120mm or 155mm.” “We have grown so used to the devil-may-care heroics of the movie version of “war” correspondents that they somehow become more important than the people about whom they report,” Fisk writes. “Hemingway supposedly liberated Paris – or at least Harry’s Bar – but does a single reader remember the name of any Frenchman who died liberating Paris?”

In the end, journalism, and more importantly, war reporting, is about reporting on the life of the ordinary man who is caught in conflict. His is the story people like Colvin, Fish, Herr, and Foley go to the ends of the earth to write about, and to die for.

Interestingly, Foley himself was also an “every man” of sorts. He was a former teacher, who found his way to journalism, and eventually found his way to conflict journalism. He was not a big-name correspondent or network anchor. He was a freelancer, someone who lived from day to day in the war zones, hoping that some media outfit would pick up the tab and pay for his next meal.

And so, in 2010, Colvin spoke of sacrifice and responsibility, of journalists driven by obsession to watch and observe the things that they in fact really hate to see. “Many of you here must have asked yourselves, or be asking yourselves now, is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss? Can we really make a difference?” Colvin asked the assembled crowd. “I faced that question when I was injured. In fact one paper ran a headline saying, has Marie Colvin gone too far this time? My answer then, and now, was that it is worth it.”

Two years later, Colvin would be killed by a Syrian artillery shell in Homs, and buried in a shallow grave. And now, more than ever, her words ring true.