Journalists doing their job
After venturing to the Ayungin Shoal to see and report on how Filipino fishermen were coping amid China’s incursions into Philippine territory, ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano and her crew did not deserve the left-handed compliment initially dealt them by the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
While expressing concern and vowing to investigate the case of missile-equipped Chinese coast guard ships blocking and chasing Zambrano’s team right inside the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo added a swipe: “While we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job.’’
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who has fired off a barrage of diplomatic protests against Beijing after hundreds of Chinese maritime militia ships were monitored swarming the Julian Felipe Reef off Palawan, also branded Zambrano and her team as “thrill seekers.’’
That was all the cue needed by the administration’s troll army to peddle the script on social media that Zambrano and her team were merely doing a stunt and engaging in provocation in “disputed waters’’ — a description that cravenly parrots China’s narrative that it owns the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.
This position is puzzling, to say the least. It was no less than Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who issued an unusually strong statement demanding that China remove its vessels from the Julian Felipe Reef, a stand that drew widespread support from a public that has long been distrustful of China’s intentions. (A July 2020 survey of the Social Weather Stations showed that, despite the Duterte administration’s overt policy of deference and appeasement toward Beijing, Filipinos’ trust in China had sunk even lower, from “poor’’ to “bad,’’ with a net trust rating of -36 which was down 9 points from -27 in December 2019.)
The country’s largest business group, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with other business federations like the Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines, the Filipina CEO Circle, the Judicial Reform Initiative, Cebu Business Club, Iloilo Business Club Inc., and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, minced no words in a statement that called on China to stop acting like a colonizer. “Julian Felipe Reef is historically and by law undisputed Philippine territory, as was most clearly established in the 2016 ruling based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,’’ the groups said. “Now that China is strong economically and militarily, we call on China to refrain from becoming an imperial power.’’
It was the unjust situation that China has foisted for years on the Philippines that Zambrano and her team sought to document when they set out to the West Philippine Sea to see the plight of Filipino fishermen who have been edged out and deprived of their livelihood in their own traditional fishing grounds. Their vivid footage showing a Chinese Navy ship blocking their way and two Coast Guard vessels with missiles chasing them was unequivocal proof that Filipinos are not free and safe from going into their own waters—that a foreign bully is menacing Filipinos right inside their backyard.
Zambrano and her team cannot and should not be faulted for doing their job, which is to show the real picture on the ground. It may not be pleasing to China and its champions in Philippine officialdom, but the reality is incontrovertible: China has been flouting international law and violating Philippine sovereignty while professing friendship with the incumbent Philippine president.
Recall that Zambrano’s team is not the first Philippine news crew to experience Chinese bullying. On Nov. 8, 2018, GMA 7 reporter Jun Veneracion and his crew were also blocked by the Chinese Coast Guard in Panatag Shoal, just 125 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales. The Chinese coast guard told Veneracion’s team that “Without the permission of China, you cannot carry out the interview here,’’ and were warned that they would be dealt with by force if they did not leave.
In the latest case of Chinese harassment of Philippine media, the military fortunately quickly came to its senses. On April 12, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana undid his underling’s uncalled-for statement against Zambrano et al. by presenting the reporter a plaque of commendation for her having “raised public awareness and patriotism on the recent sovereign incursions by Chinese Coast Guard and People’s Liberation Army Navy inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.’’
Shining a light on inconvenient truths so that the Filipino people will see clearly and act accordingly — that is precisely the role of the independent media that Zambrano and her team have courageously done.
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