Wednesday, February 27, 2008

International conference on Press Freedom and Impunity: Finding solutions to unabated and unsolved journalist killings in the Philippines

It's already past 3 am and I just finished doing and tweaking some presentation slides for today's international conference on press freedom and impunity by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

In case you do not know about this conference, here's the news release about it below:

Legal experts, press freedom advocates flying in from Asia, US, Europe, and
Latin America to address the killing of journalists in the Philippines
Source: CMFR

MANILA - Legal experts and press freedom advocates from Asia, Europe, the US, and from as far as Latin America are flying into Manila this week to help find solutions to a long-festering crisis in the Philippines: the unabated and unsolved killing of journalists throughout the country.

Prosecutors, judges, human rights advocates and even high-level justices from such countries as Colombia, Guatemala, Argentina, Spain, the US, Indonesia, and the rest of Southeast Asia, are expected to meet with Philippine media, rights advocates, and members of the national legal community to address the topic of and to attend a conference on "Impunity and Press Freedom" in the Philippines from Wednesday, February 27 to Friday, February 29.

Welcoming the foreign experts, said the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and its Manila-based member, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), will be no less then Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, who will deliver the opening keynote address to the conference.

Click here for more.

So we're now here staying at the Manila Pen (Yes, the Manila Pen where the infamous siege happened) until Saturday. I'm sharing the room with JB, who is currently snoring at the moment but wakes up from time to time to check if I'm already finished with work.

I was thinking of live-twittering the event, but I just realized that I won't be able to do that because I'm going to be busy not just documenting the event and interviewing speakers and participants but also making sure everything in the conference works well. So help me God.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Damaged Institutions--and a Weakened Press?

Randy David writes an insightful piece on the current national crisis. The issue is not just about the rampant corruption in the government, he writes, but the long-term damage to the country's institutions--especially under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's watch.

"Bonfire of institutions"
Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Because it is easier to imagine it, corruption has taken center stage in the public’s appreciation of the current national crisis. Against the backdrop of mass poverty, the quantities are truly mind-boggling: $130 million in kickbacks for a government project worth $329 million, a bribe offer of P200 million for a single signature, cash gifts of half a million pesos each for politicians who attend a breakfast or lunch meeting with a President facing impeachment, half a million pesos in pocket money for a government functionary who flies to Hong Kong in order to evade a Senate inquiry, and many more. But it would be a mistake to think this is just about corruption. This is, more importantly, about the long-term damage to a nation’s social institutions.

Read more here.

Speaking of David, he also offered his views why despite the fact that there were so many scandals hounding this administration last year, there were too few investigative reports from the press. This dearth of investigative reports amid a barrage of political scandals last year was the main story in the January 2008 issue of the PJR Reports.

Despite another year of scandals
A Lean Harvest of Investigative Reports

by Hector Bryant L. Macale, Don Gil K. Carreon, Junnette B. Galagala, Melanie Y. Pinlac and Kathryn Roja G. Raymundo
Source: PJR Reports

The central role of a free press in any society hardly needs elaboration. A free press provides the sovereign citizens of a democratic society the information they need to make decisions on public issues, to demand transparency and honesty in governance, and to hold their elected officials to account. In democratizing societies, the information a free press provides is often the crucial factor that makes the transition possible. Authoritarian regimes fear a free press for these same reasons. But by providing citizens information vital to their concerns, a free press can also hasten the fall of dictatorships and the dawn of democratic governance.

Recent events in the Philippines have again and again validated the vital role a free press plays in public affairs, and demonstrated as well the need for press freedom in any society. During the Marcos dictatorship the emergence of a press that dared challenge the martial law version of events was a major factor in the EDSA 1 citizens’ uprising that overthrew the regime. The critical and free press played a pivotal part during the Estrada presidency, when investigative reporting on the anomalies involving former President Joseph Estrada helped make his impeachment in 2000 possible. Estrada’s successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has also had to contend with press reporting and criticism of corruption and bad government. She faced the possibility of being removed from office, and in fact entertained the idea of resigning, in the wake of the public outrage that followed the critical reports of 2005 and early 2006 on the “Hello, Garci” election scandal.

Since Arroyo’s infamous “I won’t run in 2004” pledge that she made in 2002, her reneging on that pledge in 2003, the fraud-ridden 2004 elections, Arroyo’s “lapse in judgment” apology in June 2005 over her calls to former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano while the votes were being counted, and the first failed impeachment attempt against her in August that same year, the country has been reeling from one scandal to another. The year 2007 indeed proved to be another showcase of controversies and scandals, with most of them implicating Arroyo and other high government officials in various acts of wrongdoing.

The press was not remiss in covering the details of these scandals and controversies as it went about its daily task of reporting on governance and politics and other public issues. Through in-depth and background reports, as well as editorials and other opinion pieces, the press also provided background information and analyses in furtherance of helping the public arrive at informed opinions.

But a more careful look at the coverage of last year’s political issues and controversies reveals a lean harvest of the kind of investigative reports that were so crucial in shaping public opinion and even moving citizens to action during the Estrada impeachment crisis and the “Hello, Garci” scandal of 2005 and 2006.

Read more here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

You can't claim you have already tasted the best burger in the whole world...

... if you haven't tried Abalos Burjer yet.

Abalos Burjer: Conquers Fear, Worth Dying For Burjer.

Source: Youtube user 1piso

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Burma's fight for true independence continues

"Sixty years after shedding the yoke of the British Empire," The Irrawaddy's Aung Zaw writes in the magazine's January 2008 edition, "Burma is still colonized—by its own military generals. The fight for true independence is not over."

Independence lost
Aung Zaw
Jan. 3, 2008

When Gen Sir Harry North Dalrymple Prendergast led his gunboats up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay in November 1885, King Thibaw and his army were ill-equipped to defend the city, let alone protect the nation.

The last Burmese monarch, who was 28 years old and had hardly ever been outside the confines of his palace, was quickly shipped into exile. Burma, a country that had in its recent history expanded to conquer neighboring countries, had lost not only its king, but its independence.

Thibaw and his queen were quietly escorted onto the steamer Thooreah by British troops and sent to Rangoon. Burmese subjects were later shocked to learn that king had been captured and exiled by the British colonialists to Madras. He never returned.

To the British and Gen Prendergast, invading Mandalay was like picking fruit from a low-hanging tree. The locals, however, refused to condone the kidnapping and resentfully determined not to welcome the self-styled “deliverers from tyranny,” as the British liked to consider themselves.

King Thibaw was pathetically weak and had not been a visionary in any way—prior to the British invasion, he received bad press in the West. He was portrayed as a monster, a mass murderer who killed princes and princesses, a womanizer and a drunkard.

Newspapers in Rangoon financed by British merchants had often called for an invasion or annexation of upper Burma. The British colonizers sought regime change and Thibaw was deposed.

Thant Myint-U, the author of “The River of Lost Footsteps,” suggested that Mandalay was a stepping stone to unopened markets in Asia for the British merchants.

The Burmese historian wrote: “Years of British machinations had also produced a lively exiled opposition, and more than one of Thibaw’s brothers were plotting to overthrow him from beyond the kingdom’s borders. That Burma was a potentially rich country no one seemed to doubt, certainly not the increasingly vocal Scottish merchants in Rangoon, eager for unfettered access to the teak forests, oil wells, and ruby mines of the interior. What seemed even more tempting was the prospect of a back door to China’s limitless markets.”

Click here for rest of The Irrawaddy article that comprehensively chronicles Burma's fight for true and complete independence, starting with the British occupation up to the present military junta lording over the country. The photo above, which the magazine published along with Aung Zaw's story, shows British forces attacking the fort at Syriam in August 1824.

The Reign of Greed

If the current administration gets away again with the national broadband network controversy, then it is almost sure to expect more alleged corrupt and brazen deals from the government in the near future. If all these alleged corrupt deals continue all the way to 2010--further damaging what are already weak institutions to begin with and at the expense of our democratic values and freedoms--what will be left for us by then?

And that is, if we are too optimistic--or maybe naive or even outright dumb--to think that Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo leaves by 2010. Granted she does that, she will make sure that the next president will not come from the opposition, but someone who will make sure that she--and her family and cabal of sycophant allies and supporters--be free from and get away with accountability.

One thing is sure: Arroyo has provided an instruction manual on how to do politics and run governance in this country. She, the epitome of the flawed elite political culture in this country, has shown future leaders the way how to run this country and how to keep oneself in power. The Reign of Greed (also the alternative English title for Jose Rizal's El Filibusterismo) continues.

Below is the homily Fr. Manuel "Manoling" Francisco gave earlier today at the Thanksgiving Mass for Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada Jr., Senate witness in the alleged anomalous national broadband network (NBN) contract.

Reclaiming our Humanity
Mass For Jun Lozada Jr.
La Salle Gymnasium, Greenhills
Feb. 17, 2008

On this Second Sunday of Lent, during which we are asked to reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, I wish to touch on three themes that have to do with our moral transformation as a people: first, Ascertaining Credibility; second, Rediscovering our Humanity; and third, Witnessing to the Truth. In so doing, I hope to invite all of you to reflect more deeply on how we, as a nation, might respond to the present political crisis in which our identity and ethos, our convictions and integrity, in fact, who we are as a people, are at stake.

I. Ascertaining Credibility

Jun, as Sen. Miriam Santiago has grilled you to ascertain your credibility (or was it to undermine your credibility?), allow me to raise some important questions to consider in the very process of discerning your credibility. Allow me to do so by drawing on my own counseling experience.

Very often, a young rape victim initially suppresses his or her awful and painful story, indeed wills to forget it, in the hope that by forgetting, he or she can pretend it never happened. But very often, too, there comes a point when concealing the truth becomes unbearable, and the desperate attempts to supposedly preserve life and sanity become increasingly untenable.

At this point the victim of abuse decides to seek help. But even after having taken this step, the victim, devastated and confused, will tell his or her story with much hesitation and trepidation. It should be easy to imagine why. In telling the truth, one risks casting shame on himself or herself, subjecting oneself to intense scrutiny and skepticism, and jeopardizing one’s safety and those of his or her loved ones, especially when one dares to go up against an older or more powerful person.

Similarly, it is easy to imagine why Jun would initially refuse to challenge the might of Malacanang. Who in his or her right mind would accuse Malacanang of crimes against our people and implicate the First Family in a sordid tale of greed and corruption, knowing that by doing so, one endangers one’s life and the lives of his or her loved ones? We are, after all, living in dangerous times, where the government has not hesitated to use everything in its power to keep itself in power, where it has yet to explain and solve the numerous cases of extra-judicial killings.

But Jun is in his right mind. His story rings true especially in the face of the perils that he has had to face. And by his courage, Jun has also shown that it is not only that he is in his right mind; his heart is also in the right place.

Hence, my personal verdict: Jun, I believe that you are a credible witness. And if hundreds have gathered here this morning, it is probably because they also believe in you. Mga kapatid, naniniwala ba kayo kay Jun Lozada? Naniniwala ba kayo sa kanyang testimonya? Kung gayon, palakpakan po natin ang Probinsyanong Intsik, si Mr. Jun Lozada.

Jun, we hope that by our presence here, you may find some consolation. Pope Benedict XVI writes that “con-solatio” or consolation means “being with the other in his or her solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.” Jun, be assured that your solitude is no longer isolation as we profess our solidarity with you. Hindi ka nag-iisa. We are committed to stay the course and to do our best to protect you and your family and the truth you have proclaimed.

II. Rediscovering our humanity

What makes Jun a credible witness to us?

I think Jun is credible not simply by virtue of his being an eyewitness to the unmitigated greed of some of our public officials. Perhaps more importantly, Jun is credible because he has witnessed to us what it means to be truly human.

Which leads me to my second theme: What does it mean to be human? How might we rediscover our humanity?

Allow me to quote Pope Benedict XVI, who in his latest encyclical, Spe Salvi, has written: “the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life becomes a lie. . . For this … we need witnesses—martyrs …. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day.”

Our Holy Father concludes, “the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity.”

Isn’t this the reason we emulate our martyrs: Jose Rizal, Gomburza, Evelio Javier, Macli-ing Dulag, Cesar Climaco and Ninoy Aquino? They have borne witness for us what it means to be truly human—to be able to suffer for the sake of others and for the sake of the truth.

I remember Cory recalling a conversation she had with Ninoy while they were in exile in Boston. Cory asked Ninoy what he thought might happen to him once he set foot in Manila. Ninoy said there were three possibilities: one, that he would be rearrested and detained once more in Fort Bonifacio; two, that he would be held under house arrest; and three, that he would be assassinated.

“Then why go home?” Cory asked.

To which Ninoy answered: “Because I cannot allow myself to die a senseless death, such as being run over by a taxi cab in New York. I have to go home and convince Ferdinand Marcos to set our people free.”

Witnessing to one’s deepest convictions, notwithstanding the consequences, is the measure of our humanity. Proclaiming the truth to others, whatever the cost, is the mark of authentic humanity.

Jun, we know you have feared for your life and continue to do so. But in transcending your fears for yourself and your family, you have reclaimed your humanity. And your courage and humility, despite harassment and calumniation by government forces, embolden us to retrieve and reclaim our humanity tarnished by our cowardice and complicity with sin in the world. You have inspired us to be true to ourselves and to submit to and serve the truth that transcends all of us.

III. Witnessing to the truth

This leads us to our third and last theme: witnessing to the truth. In his encyclical, Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII exhorts that it is the fundamental duty of the government to uphold the truth: “A political society is to be considered well-ordered, beneficial and in keeping with human dignity if it grounded on truth.” Moreover, the encyclical explains that unless a society is anchored on the truth, there can be no authentic justice, charity and freedom.

Every government is therefore obliged to serve the truth if it is to truly serve the people. Its moral credibility and authority over a people is based on the extent of its defense of and submission to the truth. Insofar as a government is remiss in upholding the truth, insofar as a government actively suppresses the truth, it loses its authority vested upon it by the people.

At this juncture, allow me to raise a delicate question: At what point does an administration lose its moral authority over its constituents?

First, a clear tipping point is the surfacing of hard evidence signifying undeniable complicity of certain government officials in corruption and injustice, evidence that can be substantiated in court.

Hence, during the Marcos Regime, the manipulation of Snap Election results as attested to by the tabulators who walked out of the PICC was clear evidence of the administration’s disregard for and manipulation of the collective will of the people in order to remain in power..

During the Erap Administration, the testimony of Clarissa Ocampo, claiming that Pres. Erap had falsified Equitable Bank documents by signing as Jose Velarde, was the smoking gun that triggered the rage of our people.

Allow me to respond to the same question by pursue an alternative track of argument: an administration loses it moral authority over its people when it fails in its fundamental duty to uphold the truth, when it is constituted by an ethos of falsehood. When a pattern of negligence in investigating the truth, suppressing the truth and harassing those who proclaim the truth is reasonably established, then a government, in principle, loses its right to rule over and represent the people.

Regarding negligence: Do the unresolved cases, such as the the failed automation of the national elections, the fertilizer scam, the extra-judicial killings, and the “Hello, Garci” scandal, constitute negligence on the part of the GMA Administartion to probe and ferret out the truth?

Regarding covering-up the truth: Does the abduction of Jun Lozada and the twisting and manipulation of his narrative by Malacanang’s minions constitute concealment of the truth? Was the padlocking of the office of Asst. Gov’t Counsel Gonzales who testified before the Senate regarding the North Rail project anomaly an instance of covering-up the truth?

Regarding the suppression of the truth: Does the issuance and implementation of E.O. 464, which prevents government officals from testifying in Senate hearings without Malacanang’s permission, constitute suppression of the truth? Was the prevention of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Senga and six other officers from testifying before the Senate with regard the “Hello, Garci” scandal tantamount to a suppression of the truth? Was disallowing Brig. Gen. Quevedo, Lt. Col Capuyan and Lt. Col. Sumayo from appearing before the Lower House an instance of hindering the truth from surfacing?

And regarding harassment of those who proclaim the truth: Are the abduction of Jun Lozada and the decision to court-marshall Gen. Gudani and Col. Balutan for disregarding Malacanang’s order not to testify before the Senate examples of punishing those who come forth to tell the truth?

By conflating one’s responses to all these questions does one arrive not at hard evidence showing culpapility on the part of some government officials, but a ghestalt, an image which nonetheless demands our assessment and judgment. I invite all of you then to consider these two methods of evaluating and judging the moral credibility of any government, the moral credibility of our present government.

Allow me to end with a few words about an Ignatian virtue, familiaritas cum Deo. To become familiar with God involves the illumination of the intellect, coming to know who God is and what God wills. But it also involves the conversion of the affect, the reconfiguration of the heart. Becoming familiar with God entails trasforming and conforming my thinking, my feeling and my doing in accordance to the Lord’s, which can only be the work of grace.

Familiarity with God thus entail rejoicing in what God delights—the truth; abhoring what God detests—falsehood; being pained by what breaks the heart of God—the persecution of truth-seekers. Familiary with God means sharing the passion of God for the truth and the pathos of God whenever the truth and the bearers of truth are overcome by the forces of the lie.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, as we contemplate the transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Horeb, we pray that our hearts and minds be so transfigured and so conformed to the mind, heart and will of the Jesus, our way, our life, and our truth.

May the Lord bless and protect you, Jun, and your family. May the Lord bless and guide us all into the way of truth. Amen.

Black and White Movement posted this statement from convener Vicente "Enteng" Romano III two days ago:

Lesser Evil No More
Black and White Movement
Feb. 15, 2008

There is a story going around about how Secretary Ermita was fuming mad at Mike Defensor. The budgeted hush money for a scandal of this scale was P5.0M. And so, the story goes, the envelop was passed from Ed to Mike. But as the money exchanged hands through the bureaucracy, only P50,000 reached the intended recipient – Jun Lozada.

This would be a rather amusing story were it not reflective of the pervasive culture of corruption that Lozada has vividly detailed. It is more than just dysfunctional. It is naked greed abetted by grave abuse of power.

Another facet of this regime’s evil persona is its human rights record, with hundreds of unresolved killings and disappearances. The public couldn’t care less. In their minds, the disappeared are just “communists”. But then, Lozada’s kidnapping drama brought to life an otherwise staid statistic of the disappearances and killings. The whole nation saw how the full force of the state’s resources was mobilized, first – to prevent Lozada from testifying, and later – to cover-up its criminal acts. Brazen and shameless, the snatching of Jun Lozada was carried out with Mafia-like impunity.

Read more here.

Meanwhile, the government has warned media organizations against airing the "Hello, Garci" tapes. The warning came after the Supreme Court ruled that government warnings to media against airing the controversial recordings is a form of prior restraint.

Ghosts are slowly coming back to haunt this government anew. "In the face of lies, someone has to insist on the truth. In the face of impunity, someone has to insist on accountability," the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial said yesterday . "In the face of a growing conspiracy to use our institutions to isolate the citizenry and keep each Filipino feeling powerless, it is incumbent on every Filipino to declare, 'Bring it on!'"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Apostol should be the one deported

I guess someone should check the mental state of our government officials. Are we living in some kind of crazylandia here?

But really, what can you expect from government officials who, instead of answering allegations of corruption, resort to racist and illogical remarks against whistleblowers?

Fil Chinese community slams 'racist' remarks of Apostol
Source: ABS-CBN News

The Filipino Chinese community slammed the remarks made by a top Palace official Friday on Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada Jr. after the resource person testified in the Senate hearing on the investigation of the controversial national broadband deal between the government and China’s ZTE Corp.

"He is a crying witness like a crying lady. Di ba sabi niya ‘probinsyanong Iintsik?’ Intsik pala siya eh. Kung ako ipapa-deport ko na 'yan. Magulo ka dito," said chief presidential legal adviser Sergio Apostol.

(He is a crying witness like a crying lady. Did he not say he is a Chinese from the provinces? So he’s a Chinese. If it were for me I’ll have him deported. He’s unruly here.)

Read more here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

CMFR, AMF launch site on journalism ethics in Asia

In case you have noticed, this blog has become quite stale. To think that I have several things I want to put here. Well, maybe after I finish all my stories and items for the February 2008 issue of the PJR Reports. Really.

For the meantime, let me cut my temporary blogging hiatus for the special announcement from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time that an online site was created exclusively for discussion on journalism ethics in Asia.

(A short disclaimer: I helped Don, fellow CMFR colleague and the project coordinator/editorial assistant for the blog, in the conceptualization and creation of the site. Much thanks to Kapusong Ederic, who immediately agreed to design the blog despite the short notice.)

CMFR, AMF launch journalism ethics website

To generate discussion on the unique ethical issues that confront journalism in Asia, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the Asia Media Forum (AMF) launched a blog site on journalism ethics last Jan. 30.

The site, Eye on the Asian Media: Asia Media Forum (, will feature stories and analyses on ethical issues facing journalism in Asia—a region in turmoil and change as well as stability and progress. Readers may comment on the articles as well as contribute to encourage dialogue. The site also contains various journalism codes of ethics across the continent and links to other media ethics resources.

Original content will be uploaded monthly in the site, which is edited by CMFR deputy director and UP journalism professor Luis V. Teodoro.

For its maiden issue, The Jakarta Post chief editor Endy Bayuni analyzes whether peace journalism could have eased the transition of East Timor to independence. Hector Bryant L. Macale, assistant editor of the CMFR’s flagship media-monitoring publication the Philippine Journalism Review Reports (PJR Reports), focuses on the blurring of the line between news and advertising: Is it really a choice between “old-fashioned ethics” and “rationalized profit”?

Taking a cue from the Nov. 29 siege at a hotel in Manila’s financial district, CMFR staffwriter Don Gil K. Carreon asks another timely question for journalists: Which should take precedence for journalists, the presumably lawful orders of the authorities, or the public’s right to information?

“While the ethics of journalism has evolved enough to be in many ways universal in character and application (truth-telling, for example, is among journalism’s universally accepted ethical principles),” Teodoro writes about the site. “There is at the same time a specificity to the circumstances in which they are practiced which complicate and affect the application of principles in decision-making. To what extent, for example, is trial by publicity avoidable in societies where the justice system is failing, and where only press exposure often makes the difference between wrong doers’ being brought to court or escaping prosecution?”

CMFR is a Philippine based non-profit organization promoting press freedom and advocating professionalism and ethics among media practitioners.

AMF is a network of journalists from across Asia to share insights on issues relating to media and their profession, as well as stories, information and opinions on democracy, development and human rights in the region.

Readers are encouraged to visit the site Comments and contributions are highly welcome.

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