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As if to remind the Philippine press and media of the challenges they face during his troubling watch, President Rodrigo Duterte began the new year by urging the owners of ABS-CBN to sell the network. He had earlier threatened to make sure that the House of Representatives majority he controls doesn’t renew its franchise, which expires on March 30 this year. One of his accomplices in that House of ill-repute has in so many words assured him that they will do exactly that.
In another demonstration of unpresidential pique, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Bureau of Immigration to stop United States Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy from entering the country. Messrs. Durbin and Leahy were the most instrumental in the decision to include in the 2020 US budget act, which Duterte phone pal Donald Trump has signed into law, a provision ordering the Secretary of State to deny entry into the US anyone in Philippine officialdom involved in the persecution, arrest and detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.
The guilty verdict on some of the principals responsible for the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre is the first instance in which members of a powerful warlord clan have been convicted as masterminds in the killing of journalists in the Philippines. No masterminds and only 14 assassins had previously been convicted of the killing of the remaining 133 journalists out of the 165 who have been murdered for their work since 1986.
TESTED for the first time by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a presumably representative population of 15-year-old Filipino students put the Philippines last in reading comprehension among 79 countries. They hardly fared any better in science and mathematics; they were rated second to the last at 78th place.
The transport, accommodations, athletic facilities, press accreditation and food issues, among others that hounded the Philippines’ hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games prior to its opening date, were real enough. But the response of government officials, Netizens, much of the public, and even the press itself to that “cauldron of errors” being reported by the Philippine media also underlined the need for developing authentic media literacy programs not only for the enlightenment of the citizenry but also, and perhaps even more urgently, for the education of the so-called leaders of this country.
Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso, who’s more popularly known as Isko Moreno, is thinking of putting up a “Freedom Wall” on which citizens can express their frustrations, call on others to be involved in public issues, and post their demands on government agencies or private entities like the media and employers. Such a facility would help enhance the capacity of students, labors, farmers, environmentalists, journalists, human rights defenders, and other groups to bring their concerns to their countrymen and engage them in their advocacies.
It has taken on a life of its own, but it was evident that President Rodrigo Duterte’s only purpose was to stop Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo’s criticism of his so-called “war on drugs” when he dared her on Oct. 31 to take charge of it for the next six months.
November 2nd this year was the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Recognized and supported by the United Nations, it is observed annually in the hope that it will focus attention on a global problem. The harassment and killing of journalists has made the exercise of press freedom and free expression dangerous, and democratic discourse difficult if not impossible in many countries including the Philippines.
The Marcoses have been asking for closure on the public debate over their late patriarch’s martial law regime and its impact on Philippine politics, culture, and economy -- and most of all, on the Filipino people’s lives and fortunes. Many are buying into the idea of relegating that period to just another meaningless episode in history that deserves forgetting either because they can’t remember how things were during that period, or just don’t know enough about it.
Not only the credibility of the Duterte regime is at stake in the scandal over the alleged appropriation and sale by 13 so-called “ninja cops” of illegal drugs they had confiscated during an anti-drug operation, as well as resigned Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Oscar Albayalde’s supposedly preventing their dismissal from the service. On the block as well is whether the PNP should continue as the lead organization in that “war” -- or should have even been so designated at all.
It took him nearly four hours to make it to Malacañang from New Manila, Quezon City. He lives in Marikina, and if he had started from there it would have taken him an additional hour for a total commute time of five hours. But Duterte Spokesperson Salvador Panelo still refused to admit that there’s a transportation and traffic crisis in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Last year he did sign into law Republic Act 11053, which criminalizes all forms of hazing. But when asked to comment on the death of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadet Darwin Dormitorio, President Rodrigo Duterte nevertheless said that hazing is impossible to stop.
CONGRESS is supposed to control the purse strings in the Philippine system. But because the Constitution arms him with vast powers as head of a highly centralized government, it is the President who has the biggest say in how much of the national budget an office, including his own, will get each year
How could the Filipino people have allowed the outrage that was martial rule? Why did they just stand by while “the show window of democracy in Asia” was being smashed and turned into a dictatorship? Where were they when the newspapers and television and radio stations were being padlocked?
The phrase “heinous crimes,” for which death is their preferred penalty, falls often from the mouths of the advocates of state-sponsored murder, whether capital punishment, or the use of extrajudicial killings against suspected drug users and pushers as well as lawyer-, student-, farmer- and worker-activists and regime critics. Include in this lot certain senators and congressmen, the police and military, some judges, and, of course, the current president of this endangered republic.
Instead of the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations that have surged in unprecedented numbers during their troubling watch, the minions of the Duterte regime are condemning activism as if it were a heinous crime whose perpetrators deserve the death penalty they so eagerly want to restore.
Plans are afoot to bring back the long dead Anti-Subversion Act that became LAW 62 years ago. The military, the police and the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) are asking Congress to do just that on the argument that its re-enactment -- it was repealed in 1992 during the Fidel V. Ramos presidency -- will enable the Duterte regime to defeat the New People’s Army (NPA) and destroy the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that commands it.
The Philippine National Police’s complaint of sedition/inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel, obstruction of justice, and harboring a criminal against lawyers, priests, Vice-President Leni Robredo, and several opposition candidates for senator in last May’s elections is likely to make it to the courts. If it does, it will be one more instance that critics of the Duterte regime can cite to validate their view that only an international body can check human rights abuses in the Philippines because the justice system is not working as it should.
The Parliament of Singapore passed a law against uploading and spreading false information last May. It requires online media platforms that any government ministry accuses of carrying “fake news” to correct or remove the offending material, and penalizes those responsible with 10-year prison terms and fines of up to S$1 million (about $740,000). The bad news is that the Philippine Congress could do the same thing.
The officials of the Duterte regime contradict themselves and each other daily and almost by the hour. They have, individually and collectively, outdone and are outdoing every other administration in the incoherence, contradictions, unreason, and non sequiturs of their declarations. A reality that is arguably as alarming as the lawlessness and the extrajudicial killings that are continuing to ravage the ranks of human rights defenders, political activists, and regime critics, it is specially evident in their foreign policy discourse.
Singapore passed early last May an anti-“fake news” law that will be implemented this month. The “Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation” Act gives government the power to compel online news sites and even chat groups to remove statements “against the public interest” and to correct them. Not only individuals will be affected but also social media and news organizations like BBC and Reuters.
The way the Philippine Party List System has worked, since it was created by the 1987 Constitution to assure “proportional representation” in the House of Representatives and the Party List Act ( Republic Act 7941) was passed in 1994, has provoked even the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider asking Congress to amend the law. But it is unlikely that that body will do so -- at least not towards making it truly serve the voiceless and marginalized sectors of Philippine society.
The problematic -- and for many Filipinos, depressingly predictable -- results of the May 13 senatorial elections have provoked the usual mini-debate on whether the mass of the electorate is really so stupid as to vote against their own interests. They have after all elected, among others, accused plunderers, liars, supporters of tyrannical rule, opportunists, enforcers of extrajudicial killings, and, in general, the yes-men and chorus line of the Duterte regime.
The Philippines is one of the world’s most lawless countries. But it’s not because it has too few laws or none at all, but because it has too many that are often interpreted in favor of the powerful so as to bring about the exact opposite of their intention, are selectively implemented, or hardly enforced at all.
World Press Freedom Day has always been the occasion for responsible journalists to reexamine the state of one of the fundamental needs of ethical practice. This year as in 2018, May 3rd was not so much an occasion for celebration as for alarm. As in many other parts of the world, the independent press is under siege from a government that has made it its life work to harass, restrict, threaten and silence it, and to even arrest practitioners for daring to report the truth.
Why the seeming change in the Duterte regime’s response to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea? Is it because it fears that mass opposition to its refusal to do anything to stop Chinese bullying could affect the chances of its candidates at both the national and local levels on May 13?
The public opinion surveys of the past year or so have confirmed that most Filipinos distrust China while wholeheartedly favoring the United States. Over a majority of the population are skeptical of the former’s intentions, and would like the Philippine government to do something about its occupation of the West Philippine Sea.
Now on its 26th year in the Philippines -- March 29, 2019 marked the 25th year since the country was “wired” into it -- the global communication network known as the Internet has been rightly hailed as another milestone in providing the perennial human need for information.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is expected to promote international understanding and defend Philippine sovereignty. It is also tasked with protecting Filipinos abroad. In its dealings with other countries, it is of course assumed that the DFA will enhance and defend Philippine interests through diplomatic means. But equally important is its affirmation in word and deed of the value and need for the country to honor its international commitments to human, civil and political rights.
DEBATES between candidates for public office are among the means some media and civil society organizations are using to help voters decide who deserve their support. They’re especially useful in the Philippines, where those running for this or that post are often hardly distinguishable from each other in terms of platforms and programs, if at all they have any.
TO BELIEVE and argue that black people are inherently violent or that all Jews are money-grubbing scoundrels is to presume that race is the determinant of certain vices and virtues. It is nothing but racism, and those who harbor that presumption qualify as racists.