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‘Our challenge IS President Duterte’

/ 05:09 AM January 23, 2018

At the “Catholic media in challenging times” forum in San Carlos Seminary in Makati City on Friday, the veteran journalist and former professor Crispin Maslog—he wryly introduced himself as a “centennial,” not a millennial—rose during the open forum not to ask a question but to offer a comment. “I would like to share with you an answer,” he said. He pointed to the theme of the forum blazoned on the backdrop, read it out loud, and said: “I think our challenge is President Duterte.”

He cut to the quick. That is in fact the real reason why we live in challenging times, and why Catholic media organizations—in common with other media and with other sectors of society—are facing a challenge. The election of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte inaugurated a parallel era of anxiety in the Philippines; behind the record high survey ratings of the President are consistent confessions of fear, mistrust, uncertainty. The same surveys that show majority satisfaction or trust ratings for the President and approval for his signature antidrugs campaign show that almost three-fourths of voting-age Filipinos fear they or someone they know will be the next casualty in the so-called war on drugs. A far greater majority, over 90 percent, say keeping suspected drug dealers or users alive is important. Less than one-tenth say they trust the police when the police allege that suspects were killed because they fought back.

These findings do not cancel each other out; rather, they paint a more complete picture, of a society that (to cite just one pair of what we can call true opposites) sees a rise in the incidence of involuntary hunger and yet registers an increase in personal optimism—people believing their quality of life will improve in the next 12 months.

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The forum featured the Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, as keynote speaker. His task was to give an overview of church teaching on the media, starting from “Inter Mirifica,” the Vatican II decree on “the media of social communications.” Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of Pasig, Howie Severino of GMA Network, and I formed a panel of reactors.

In my own response, I suggested that “what Pope Francis said, about shepherds who must smell of their sheep, must apply, to the gallant journalists who work in Catholic media and to the Catholic journalists who work in secular media.” Part of what that must mean is treating readers, viewers, listeners, and users the way “the responsible shepherd” treats his sheep. We “are responsible for our sheep. We need to be where they are; our duty is to bear witness to them, to bring the light to them, yes, and to reflect the light they receive. When they are being slaughtered, we must use the resources at our disposal to stop this evil.”

The deadly “war on drugs” is antipoor, counterdemocratic, un-Filipino. Based on the theory that drug dependents are less than human, it is also deeply unchristian. (The drug rehabilitation initiatives of many dioceses are good examples of the proper Christian response.) The challenge for Catholic journalists is to both give witness to the slaughter and help end it.

Cardinal Tagle paid close attention to the problem of “moral evil,” a key subject in “Inter Mirifica” which in its complexity can be usefully summed up in one question: “How do you report on it?” he asked. “The way we describe sana should not awaken the base instincts.” I was reminded of another challenge presented by President Duterte: the rehabilitation of the reputation of the Marcoses. The Marcos dictatorship was a moral evil; Pope John Paul II had harsh words for Ferdinand Marcos behind closed doors, when he visited the country in 1981. The attempt to rehabilitate an unrepentant family responsible for such moral evil presents another challenge to Catholic (and other) journalists.

A third challenge: The Duterte administration’s cowardly acquiescence to China’s increasingly aggressive conduct in the South China Sea approaches the level of treason. Shepherds must guard the land on which their sheep graze, not run away when the wolves appear. The Duterte administration’s lack of resolve to implement the country’s rights to the West Philippine Sea, firmly asserted by the landmark arbitral tribunal ruling, means that Filipino fishermen are losing fishing grounds and Filipino servicemen guarding the outposts find themselves at greater risk. The challenge for journalists, Catholic or not, is clear: Tell the truth about the impending loss of our sheep’s own verdant pastures.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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TAGS: Cardinal Tagle, Catholic media, Duterte, john Nery, opinion
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