I was reading Oscar Corpuz's 'Roots of the Filipino Nation' when I came across this passage, an observation by a Spanish friar of the Filipinos during the 17th century:
'Some of them could not unite with others, and although they desired liberty, they did not work together to secure it, and therefore they experienced a heavier [yoke of] subjection. And among the peoples whom God seemed to have created that they may live in subjection to others who govern them with justice and authority are those of these Filipinas islands; for when the Spanish arms conquered them with so great facility they were living without a head, without a king or lord to obey...' (Corpuz 2005: 157)
Corpuz writes that these words 'deserve reflection in the light of the ultra refractory nature of modern Filipino politics'. I'm afraid the description 'living without a head' still applies to the country even until now. The recently released Global Integrity Report gave the Philippines a 'very weak' rating at 57 (out of 100), citing the wide gap between the country's laws and their actual implementation. Looking at the indicators, I was surprised that the country got 58 (!) points for 'media's ability to report on corruption'. The NBN-ZTE controversy, the fertilizer scan, and several other big issues which arose during Arroyo's presidency have yet to be fully investigated and presented to the public. But this brings me to the more interesting part of the report, the 'Philippines Noteboook'.
Focusing on the Ampatuan massacre, Gemma Mendoza explains that the combination of the country's weak justice system and 'institutionalized corruption' within the media (e.g. 'journalists' working for politicians, even acting as PR persons for them) have turned the Philippines into a dangerous place for journalists. The five reviewers of the report also offered very good analyses about the sorry state of Philippine politics and media. One said that the killing of journalists did not start until the Martial Law period. But with the restoration of democracy, why has it become widespread, particularly in the last ten years? Seven journos were killed during Estrada's term (1998 to 2001) as compared to 79 during Arroyo's term (2001 to 2010). It seems to me that it is the lack of independence among media owners and journalists which is at the heart of the matter. Democracy, Philippine-style, has made us all go back to the days when we lived 'without a head'. Ironically, the Marcos dictatorship united majority of Filipinos against a repressive ruler.
It was a time when we valued freedom, justice and nationalism. Although journalists were constrained from exposing misconduct in the government, some of them remained courageous in their work, particularly women journalists such as Sheila Coronel, Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, Ma. Ceres Doyo, Letty Magsanoc, Maritess Vitug, and Jo-Ann Maglipon. But once Marcos was toppled, we went back to our 17th century to-each-his-own state. Media owners once again saw their newspapers and broadcast stations as business interests without regard for the public's interests. At the lower end of the hierarchy were the journalists, mere employees of a business enterprise closely linked to politics.
Filipino journalists have become even more personally involved in politics, whether at the local or national levels. They're probably thinking, corruption is systemic anyway so why not take advantage of their position? They need to look after their own economic, social and political interests, too, you see. And to a struggling local reporter, a little help from a politico is simply difficult to refuse. Never mind that they are supposed to be impartial, objective and balanced in their treatment of the news. That national (even big time broadcast journalists apparently) and local journalists work as PR persons of politicians or businesses is widely known in media circles. But if this is the state of mind of Pinoy journos, I wonder how they collectively view the killing of their colleagues? I wonder how they see the role of their profession in the context of the country's existing socio-political landscape?
But there's of course Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Newsbreak, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and other independent media organisations which remain committed to helping us understand the complex issues facing the country. How do we then guarantee an independent media in the Philippines? Should journalists form their own cooperatives instead and provide news services to their local audiences? Should they consider other organisational options, apart from being employees of commercial media companies, that could give them a direct hand in pursuing their profession? What is the best media model for a country like the Philippines, where 'freedom' and 'democracy' go hand-in-hand with massive corruption and human rights violations?