Quid pro quo releases?
Certainly there was an element of public relations in the release of Mayor Henry Dano of Linging, Surigao del Sur and his two military escorts, as well as of four jail guards last Saturday, by the New People’s Army (NPA).
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda described the move as a “confidence-building measure,” adding that the government was doing its share “to show our sincerity toward advancing the peace process.” But Alex Padilla, chair of the government panel in the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), said the release of the seven captured men has “nothing to do with the peace process.”
This comes in the wake of persistent (and consistent) demands by the NDF that its consultants who are still being held in prison be released first before the negotiations start anew. It certainly looks like the release of the captives is meant to start a “quid pro quo” release of rebel leaders now in government hands. In fact, there’s a move in the House of Representatives to petition the government to do exactly that.
It certainly puts the government panel in a quandary—even if the status of the released captives would not compare in rank and responsibility to the “consultants” in government hands. Maybe for peace to proceed, we should allow the officials in charge to do what they believe is in the best interests of the public.
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One reason it is so hard to sustain public outrage, or even interest, in the killing of media people, some colleagues mentioned during the annual MediaNation gabfest, were the screwed priorities applied by media outfits.
In their desire to rack up the ratings and win audience share, TV news shows, it was observed, prefer to cater to the lowest common denominator of public interest rather than focus on relevance or significance. “We can produce so many stories about the killings of media people or of extrajudicial killings in general,” a TV reporter remarked, “but if we have one story about a media man’s death and another about a three-legged chicken, chances are the story on the chicken would prevail.”
This sounded funny at the time, but it was funny in another way. Some of those taking part in MediaNation were heavyweights in their own outfits. Some were decision-makers, in fact. They may very well have been the editors/producers choosing to feature the story about the chicken rather than about the death of a colleague.
So let me propose a brash challenge: Next time you’re faced with a choice between the chicken and the killing, or between a story of real significance and one of mere human interest or oddity, why not go for significance? After all, the story about the chicken can always wait. When we put too many “chicken” stories in the way of important stories that deserve attention, then the public ends up deprived of important news they will need to exercise responsible citizenship.
If media consumers don’t seem all that worked up over the toll of media killings, maybe it’s also the media’s fault, for choosing the chicken over the killing.
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This realization was brought home during the meeting on Monday hosted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Nov. 23 Movement, to share updates on the case against the suspected masterminds and perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre. The event was also meant to plan for the coming second anniversary of the massacre, where 58 people died, at least 32 of them connected with media outfits.
Department of Justice prosecutor Nestor Lazaro recounted the status of the case, remarking that the “defense is doing everything to delay the case,” including “filing cases and pleadings left and right against the prosecutors, witnesses and complainants.” He also noted how defense counsel Sigfrid Fortun seemed bent on “forcing us to do something to cause the inhibition of Judge (Jocelyn) Solis-Reyes.” So far, said Lazaro, the defense has filed seven motions for Judge Solis-Reyes to inhibit herself and it seemed pretty obvious to him that the motions are meant solely to provoke the judge.
The defense clearly has no intention “to finish the case,” observed Lazaro, noting that the defense counsel is only interested in “damage control.” But for the prosecution’s part, he added, they are bent on “speeding up the case,” expressing optimism that the merits of the case would soon be presented since most of the eyewitnesses (the count was placed at 55) have already testified.
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Meanwhile, the families of the massacre victims wait for justice to run its slow and torturous course.
Grace Morales, who lost her husband and a sibling in the massacre, says that while the survivor families are grateful for all the material and moral support they have been receiving, the inflow of cash has also caused inter-family squabbles and exposed them to community scorn.
She also said that an “intermediary” from the Ampatuans has called on some families, offering each of them P25 million (with P5 million in agent fees) in exchange for their desistance and a public withdrawal from the case. Other families, especially those of the more outspoken survivors, have received threats.
But Morales and other family members said they remained determined to seek justice, “no amount of money will compensate for the death of our loved ones,” she declared.
Aside from vigils, a national conference on media safety, a tribute by artists, and a Mendiola rally, the NUJP and the Nov. 23 Movement are also thinking of airing public service spots to remind the public about the massacre and the ongoing hearings, as well as a public information campaign on media killings. If media are said to be so powerful they can topple governments, surely they—we—can act in behalf of our beleaguered community.