The issues confronting Mindanao are complex. Journalists covering the region need to study its history, said veteran journalist and Mindanews editor-in-chief Carol Arguillas. 

There are lots of materials available,” said Arguillas. “The youth are lucky because one Google search can get them the information they need – something which was not possible when I started researching on the Bangsamoro as a very young reporter.”

Arguillas recalled how she had to visit the microfilm section of the University of the Philippines library in Diliman to study peace agreements in the region. 

Arguillas spoke at the Second National Conference on Investigative Journalism, during a breakout session on covering Marawi and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). 

Philippine Daily Inquirer journalist Julie Alipala, who joined the panel, said she was advised by Arguillas herself when she was a younger reporter to look at past literature on Bangsamoro issues.  

“When I was young, Carol advised me to go back to previous peace agreements, including the agreement between the government of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to fully appreciate the issues of the region,” Alipala said.

Arguillas said journalists should also read the latest peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the breakaway group of the MNLF. It resulted in the abolition of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to make way for BARMM, an autonomous government with wider powers over the region’s resources. 

Arguillas said journalists currently covering the rehabilitation of the former battle area in Marawi City should also read up on the Marawi Compensation Bill, which is pending before Congress. 

The bill can help Marawi residents get back on their feet, she said. 

Veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo said covering Mindanao issues also requires spending time among its people. Young reporters covering Marawi, for example, should talk to the displaced residents of Marawi, he said. 

They will realize that the reality of Marawi is far removed from what the government is saying, he added. “A major portion of Marawi has no people. In the outskirts, there are lots of temporary shelters. You can interview Marawi residents there. They are [also] in different places – Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Manila, Cebu, trying to earn a living,” Gallardo said. 

Arguillas said journalists should also pay attention to the social media pages of civil society groups and grassroots organizations.

“(Young journalists) should know what we should expect from the officials (with regards to Marawi). We should not just accept their statements. We really need to do research and ask the displaced residents,” she said.

Alipala added that what happened in Marawi was felt in other areas of Mindanao. “For example, the imposition of Martial Law had a huge impact on all of Mindanao,” she said.

Young journalists should also be mindful of previous events comparable to what happened to Marawi in 2017, she sadded. “The Zamboanga siege, for instance, happened in 2013. Until now, we still have a lot of IDPs (internally displaced persons) here."

As the 2022 polls approach, Gallardo reminded journalists to take precautionary measures when covering areas that are vulnerable to election violence.

He recalled how 58 people, including 34 media workers who joined a convoy of politicians, were killed in Maguindanao in 2009 in one of the world’s worst cases of election violence. 

He also reminded journalists that they should not be lured into working for politicians during the campaign. 

“It should be clear to us what we are: Are we journalists, or propagandists for the candidates?” Arguillas said. If journalists begin to work for politicians, they have to cease identifying themselves as journalists, she said. 

Ateneo de Davao University faculty member Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez, who moderated the panel, also encouraged journalists to push the “people’s agenda” in their coverage. 

“My added advice for budding journalists is to keep monitoring, be cautious of fake news. Double check and verify information. Cultivate sources,” Alipala said. END




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