View Full Version : FOI and Right to Reply

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:43 AM
Time to put up a separate thread for this issue I think.

Post your thoughts and comments on the FOI and Right to Reply issues here.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:44 AM
House leaders pressed on FOI bill

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:49 am | Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Advocates of the freedom of information (FOI) bill are calling on the House leadership to ensure that the measure is voted on in the next hearing by allowing the procedures to extend beyond the 4 p.m. deadline, if necessary.

This was after last Tuesday’s hearing of the public information committee was derailed by technical issues. Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, the committee chairman, cut short the proceedings for lack of time as the House plenary session was about to begin.

Under House rules, committee hearings cannot go beyond 4 p.m. so lawmakers can attend plenary sessions, unless allowed by House leaders.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said advocates of the measure must see to it that enough lawmakers attend the next committee hearing so that they can oppose any dilatory tactics and ensure that the bill is finally voted on.

“We got blindsided in the last hearing. It’s inexcusable if it happens again in the next hearing… We must force the vote next time,” Baguilat said.

Party-list member Teodoro Casiño (Bayan Muna) said House leaders should make up their minds if they want the bill or not and prepare for the hearing, like getting the permission from the rules committee for an extension.

Another Bayan Muna member, Neri Colmenares, warned that if the next hearing turns out to be a farce, those in support of the bill may have to resort to drastic action.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:45 AM
House minority bloc to support FOI bill with ‘right to reply’ provision

By Karen Boncocan


7:53 am | Thursday, November 15th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines — The House minority bloc will only support a Freedom of Information Bill that has the right of reply provision.

This was according to House minority leader Danilo Suarez who said in an interview with reporters on Wednesday that although their members were divided on the FOI Bill, what they agreed on was the need for a right of reply provision.

“Right to reply must be included in the provision. Si Erin [Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III] is a very good friend…sabi ko sa kaniya nung tinanong niya ako, sa minority mixed tayo. Merong pabor merong hindi,” said Suarez.

“Ang hinihingi ko lang, be specific on the right to reply. That we should be given the right opportunity, right footage, right column on our right to reply and we will support it,” he added.

The FOI Bill remains in limbo after Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone adjourned the committee on public information without putting the consolidated version of the proposed measure to a vote.

This was despite urgings from many of the legislators present to just push through with the hearing even if it was past their schedule.

Tanada told reporters that he still hoped the FOI Bill would be brought up and tackled when the public information committee reconvenes on November 27.

He said that Evardone had placed the FOI Bill on ICU by delaying its hearings due to the lack of available conference rooms at the House.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:45 AM
House hypocrites

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:00 pm | Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

On the proposal to enact the constitutional promise of freedom of information, the calculated incompetence of the House committee on public information has led to the outcome it wanted all along: deliberate inaction. The committee’s failure on Tuesday to even put the Freedom of Information bill to a vote, after an agonizing procedural detour, means there is very little chance that it will become law under the 15th Congress.

One FOI advocate, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, thinks there may still be time within the month for the committee to redeem itself and report out the bill to the plenary. Most other advocates, however, have looked into the eyes of the House leadership, and read there the bill’s obituary.

The statement issued by the Right to Know Right Now Coalition used the language of crime to describe Tuesday’s legislative maneuver.

“Battery, assault and murder—this was what happened to the FOI bill today at the hearing of the Committee on Public Information of the House of Representatives. The FOI bill is dead in the 15th Congress.”

Forceful, dramatic language, but entirely in the right. What happened the other day (or, rather, what did not happen) amounts to a crime against the people.

It is a crime in which the Aquino administration and the Liberal Party, which came to power in 2010, are complicit. Earlier this year, the administration proposed a substitute FOI bill, which its communication group described as “an integral element of the Aquino Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan of 2012-2016, which the President has recently approved subject to further refinements. This plan contains reforms and initiatives that pursue greater transparency, accountability and citizen participation in governance.”

We are aware, of course, that not every administration measure becomes law, and that even priority bills can fail to pass through the legislative mill. But the FOI bill is different, for two distinctive reasons.

First, President Aquino himself campaigned for the presidency on the passage of the FOI bill, among other promises, precisely because he saw it as an integral part of the initiative against corruption. And second, the administration coalition that runs the House can function with enviable efficiency when it wants to; however, when the conduct of the committee on public information can be accurately described as a bitter comedy of procedural errors—failing to find a meeting room in the sprawling Batasan complex to host a committee hearing, for example, or using up the time in a rare committee hearing to discuss the minutiae of procedure that had already been discussed and resolved in a previous meeting—then the truth becomes obvious: The House leadership, and the administration it works closely with, do not want the FOI cause to advance.

The cause of the latest delay in the already extended legislative struggle over the FOI bill betrays the real issue at stake.

For some inexplicable reason, committee chair Rep. Ben Evardone (incredibly, a former journalist) allowed Rep. Rodolfo Antonino on Tuesday to complain interminably about the supposed failure of the Technical Working Group to consider Antonino’s right of reply bill. This was absurd on many levels. The procedural issue had already been taken up. The urgency surrounding the FOI bill could not be denied. Not least, the right of reply measure had nothing substantive in common with the FOI bill. The very concept of right of reply is philosophically antagonistic to freedom of information; it is a patently unconstitutional attempt to control the editorial content of the news media. That it managed to suck up all the remaining oxygen in Evardone’s rare, ridiculous hearing is telling.

It tells us that the real issue is not journalistic responsibility in the use of public records, or even the government transparency that FOI seeks to put in place, but political power. Or to be more precise: the power of the political class.

The right-of-reply feint is the political class’ attempt to level the playing field, as the politicians understand it, in their favor: They seek to exchange the privileges they would lose under an enacted FOI with the privileges they think they will enjoy once politicians get to dictate editorial content. Battery, assault—and murder.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:47 AM
Right of reply?

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:12 pm | Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Had not the debate on the Freedom of Information bill been aborted last Tuesday, it might have taken up the issue of “right of reply.” Actually, this is not the first time that the right of reply has reached Congress. In 2009 a bill on the subject sought preferential treatment. Essentially the bill said that “all persons who are accused directly or indirectly of any crime or offense or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to the charges published in newspapers and other publications or to criticisms aired over radio, television, website or through any electrical device.” It did not become law and no case went to court.

Something analogous, however, did reach the Philippine courts. Pursuant to its constitutional power to regulate media during election periods, the Commission on Elections passed a resolution regarding free time or space in media for candidates. The resolution was not a masterpiece of clarity so that it was not clear whether it was meant to compel media to make time or space available or whether the Comelec was merely making a recommendation to media. At any rate, when the Supreme Court took it up in 1995, it said that, if understood as mandatory, it would amount to taking of private property without just compensation.

The Court could also have taken it up as a speech issue because freedom of speech means both the right to speak and not to speak. Political ads, after all, are speech. But the Court chose to approach it as an illicit act of property hijacking.

Should the right of reply become part of the Freedom of Information bill or of the cybercrime law, it will be a good issue to take up as speech and not just as illicit taking of property. And since we follow the American tradition on speech jurisprudence, we will be looking for American cases on the subject. Fortunately there is one that is ready at hand that takes up both sides of the debate.

Miami Herald v. Tornillo (1974) involved a Florida law on the right of reply. Candidate Tornillo, relying on the Florida law, demanded that the Miami Herald print his reply to the editorial comments of the Herald. But the Florida law was declared unconstitutional.

It is interesting that the US Supreme Court took pains to summarize the arguments brought up in favor of a right of reply. They are worth recalling if only to see if they find resonance in our condition.

Essentially the argument in favor of a right of reply rested on the historical premise that “at the time the First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1791 as part of [the] Bill of Rights the press was broadly representative of the people it was serving and collectively presented a broad range of opinions to readers. Entry into publishing was inexpensive … A true marketplace of ideas existed in which there was relatively easy access to the channels of communication.”

However, the argument ran, because of changed circumstances newspapers had ceased to be “a true marketplace of ideas.” “The result of these vast changes has been to place in a few hands the power to inform the American people and shape public opinion.”

Proponents also sought support from certain dicta of the US Supreme Court suggesting that the guarantee of a free press also imposed obligations on owners of newspapers. The First Amendment, they quoted, “rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.” Cited also was the dictum that spoke of “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide open.”

In the end, however, the Court was deterred by problems of implementation. “However much validity may be found in these arguments, at each point the implementation of a remedy such as an enforceable right of access necessarily calls for some mechanism, either governmental or consensual. If it is governmental coercion, this at once brings about a confrontation with the express provisions of the First Amendment and the judicial gloss on that Amendment developed over the years.”

The Court also said: “The power of a privately owned newspaper to advance its own political, social and economic views is bounded by only two factors: first, the acceptance of a sufficient number of readers—and hence advertisers—to assure financial success; and, second, the journalistic integrity of its editors and publishers….The clear implication has been that any such compulsion to publish that which ‘reason’ tells them should not be published is unconstitutional. A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated.”

I might also add that a right of reply in the context of current Philippine society today will not really add anything to what people who pay attention to media already know. Newspaper readers, radio listeners and television viewers already are bombarded with assertive reporting, some straight and others biased, and opposing opinions of columnists. The strong temptation in fact is to ignore them or sometimes to go over media, just for fun, as a vacuum cleaner would—only to look for dirt.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:48 AM
Live coverage and the rights of the accused

By Artemio V. Panganiban

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:31 am | Sunday, November 18th, 2012

As expected, the Supreme Court resolution (dated Oct. 23, 2012, but known publicly only last week) “disallowing the live media broadcast” of the Maguindanao massacre trials and allowing only the “audio visual recording and streaming of the video coverage … both (1) for documentary purposes and (2) for transmittal to specified viewing areas: (i) outside the courtroom, within the Camp Bagong Diwa premises; and (ii) selected trial courts in Maguindanao, Koronadal, South Cotabato, and General Santos City where relatives of the accused and the victims reside” generated a maelstrom of controversy.

Earlier ruling modified. To be precise, the resolution modified an earlier one issued on June 14, 2011, which allowed “pro hac vice” the live TV and radio broadcast of this “trial of the decade,” subject to strict guidelines, among them:

• “A single fixed compact camera shall be installed inconspicuously inside the courtroom to provide a single wide-angle full-view of the sala of the trial court. No panning and zooming shall be allowed to avoid highlighting or downplaying incidents in the proceedings…

• “The broadcasting of the proceedings for a particular day must be continuous and in its entirety … [with] no commercial break or any other gap…

• “To avoid overriding or superimposing the audio output from the ongoing proceedings, the proceedings shall be broadcast without any voice-overs, except brief annotations or scenes depicted therein as may be necessary to explain them at the start and end of the scene…”

These guidelines were issued pro hac vice, meaning for “this instance only,” and will not apply as a precedent to future cases, because of the unusual circumstances in the Maguindanao massacre in which there are 57 families of victims, 197 accused, 20 sets of lawyers, 200 witnesses for the prosecution, and another 200 for the defense. Since they could not be accommodated in the courtroom, the Supreme Court allowed live broadcast to enable them to monitor the case.

Aquino and Estrada cases. Historically, the Supreme Court had always disallowed live TV and radio coverage of trials. On Oct. 22, 1991, in the libel case filed by President Cory Aquino against Luis Beltran, the Court held:

“Considering the prejudice it poses to the defendant’s rights to due process as well as to the fair and orderly administration of justice, and considering further that the freedom of the press and the right of the people to information may be served and satisfied by less distracting, degrading and prejudicial means, live radio and television coverage of court proceedings shall not be allowed…”

Likewise, in the plunder trial of President Joseph Estrada, the high court a decade later, on June 29, 2001, ruled via an 8-6 vote that as between the constitutional rights of the accused to due process and the orderly administration of justice on the one hand, and the freedom of the press and right to public information of our people on the other, the balance should be weighed in favor of the accused.

However, in a subsequent resolution issued on Sept. 13, 2001, the Court in the same Estrada case “provided a glimmer of hope” when it ordered the installation of cameras inside the courtroom for “documentation purposes.” This resolution was obviously used as basis in allowing the pro hac vice live broadcast on June 14, 2011.

Mistrial and exclusion. However, the Court now modified this pro hac vice ruling, fearing (1) that the accused could be acquitted on the ground of “mistrial” arising from the public pressure and media hype, and (2) the disqualification of many prosecution witnesses who have not been properly excluded from listening to earlier witnesses.

The Court reverted to the Cory Aquino libel ruling that “Witnesses might be frightened, play to the camera, or become nervous. They are subject to extraordinary out-of-court influences which might affect their testimony. Also, telecasting not only increases the trial judge’s responsibility to avoid actual prejudice to the defendant, it may as well affect his own performance. Judges are human beings also and are subject to the same psychological reactions as laymen. For the defendant, telecasting is a form of mental harassment and subjects him to excessive public exposure and distracts him from the effective presentation of his defense.”

The Court became extra careful in avoiding a mistrial that may ensue from the trial court’s witting or unwitting deprivation of the accused’s constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial, as a consequence of which they could be acquitted on appeal regardless of the evidence of their guilt.

My stand: As a sitting justice when the Estrada case was decided on June 29, 2001, I urged the use of “a single fixed camera under the control of the court… The audio-video output of the camera could be flashed on big, wide TV monitors or projection screens inside and outside the courtroom. This will also enable TV and radio crews outside the courtroom to beam the output to their respective stations for broadcasting to the public, without the ubiquitous and intimidating wiring, lights and media cameras inside the courthouse.”

This single fixed camera allows the public the same view as spectators inside the courtroom; they can see and hear the unfolding proceedings without bothering the judge, the lawyers, the witnesses and the parties. I think technology can widen the reach of the right to information without affecting the litigants’ rights.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:48 AM
‘Right’ of reply: It’s not a right, it’s oppression

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:13 pm | Sunday, November 18th, 2012

I almost fell out of my chair when I read it. I read it again to make sure I had not made a mistake from reading a little too fast. That was P-Noy saying, “The same spirit hews closely to our position on the issue of right of reply. As the Bible says, the truth shall set you free. If two sides of a story are reported, if the details of every piece of news are accurate and the freedom of all Filipinos to form their own opinion is valued, then a journalist has nothing to worry about.”

That’s not unlike saying, which in fact the custodians of martial law did say, that if people were innocent then they had nothing to fear from the antidefamation laws, the rumor-mongering laws and the antisubversion laws. Indeed, if people were law-abiding and upright and civic-minded, then they had nothing to fear from martial law itself.

The “right” of reply is tyrannical. It has no business being in the Freedom of Information bill, which almost assures its doom. It’s like the “parity rights” the United States tacked on to the release of war-damage payments to us after the War. If we wanted the war-damage payments, we had to agree to “parity rights,” which gave Americans the same privileges as Filipinos to exploit the country. It’s the same thing here: If we want freedom of information, or the right to have access to official documents, particularly those of an incriminating nature, we have to agree to “right” of reply, which gives public officials time or space in media to answer perceived slights or wrongful reporting.

We fell prey to the first, we may not to the second.

The FOI should be passed as a matter of course, the way the war-damage payments should have been released as a matter of course. The “right” of reply, like parity rights, should not. The one is laudable, the other damnable.

It’s all very well that media should practice balance and objectivity and judiciousness. It’s all very well that media should strive for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But who’s to say they have or haven’t? P-Noy himself hasn’t said anything, or done anything, that the Arroyo camp or the Left has found truthful. Everything he has said they’ve called self-serving, misleading and deceitful. Everything he has done they’ve called unfair, vengeful and oppressive. Depends on who’s making the determination.

Which is what makes the “right” of reply not unlike the censorship of martial law. Which makes the defense that if you’re truthful you’ve got nothing to fear from the “right” of reply not unlike the defense that if you’re innocent you’ve got nothing to fear from martial law’s antisubversion laws. It places the determination in the hands of public officials, the one group of people who are bound to see slight or slander in anything negative said about them.

Even more oppressively, it penalizes the presumably offending newspaper or radio or TV station with having to part with part of its airtime and print (or online) space to accommodate the public officials’ prickly defense of themselves. That is an egregious violation of the right—and it is a right, enshrined in the Constitution—of newspapers, radio and TV stations to determine, control and shape their editorial content. That is a transgression of the freedom of the press.

I grant that media can be, and have often been, abusive. I grant that media can be, and have often been unfair. “Right” of reply doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse. It solves nothing, it merely adds to the problem.

Public officials do not lack for means, opportunity and power to reply to reports they deem unfair, untruthful and abusive. For one, they can always air their side, their replies, retorts, and rambling grumblings, in subsequent stories about the issues, exposés and scandals. They are normally given the opportunity to. That is if they do not write letters to the editor, which are routinely printed and aired in the more reputable newspapers and TV stations.

They do not lack the means, opportunity and power to castigate the offending reporters, commentators and news broadcasters in their appearances as guest speakers in their anniversaries and other celebrations. P-Noy certainly does not.

Far more importantly, as Juan Ponce Enrile showed only recently, senators and congressmen do not lack for something far more powerful than reportage. That is the privilege speech. Enrile scoffed at the academicians and netizens for threatening to sue Tito Sotto for plagiarism, saying they forget, or do not know, that legislators may not be prosecuted for something they say during the privilege hour. They can malign you or insult you or damn you, but they may not be reproached or reprimanded or dragged to the courts. Certainly, you may not have any right or privilege to reply to them. The power is absolute.

Enrile justified this as necessary so the legislators could perform their task of exposing and correcting various ills in society. “That is why the Constitution grants Congress immunity for what they say inside the halls of Congress.”

So what in God’s name do they need “right” of reply for?

The press does not enjoy anything near the privilege speech. You can always reply to the press even within the press itself, without making it compulsory. Between senators and congressmen who are there to make laws, who harbor the vested interest of wanting to get reelected, and reporters and commentators who are there to inform, and who (except for the corrupt, who arguably fester in media’s pores) can look at things more impartially, who better to trust to expose and correct the various ills of society?

Excise the “right” of reply like a tumor from the FOI.

It’s not a right, it’s oppression.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:50 AM
Palace: Aquino not out to kill FOI bill

By TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

7:41 am | Thursday, November 15th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Wednesday denied President Aquino has been leading the charge to kill the freedom of information (FOI) bill, but made no commitment to rally its allies in Congress to approve the measure.

The President’s spokesperson, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, declared that Malacañang has not been delaying the passage of the controversial bill, but has deferred to the lawmakers in the House of Representatives to deliberate on it.

“We have submitted our FOI Bill and we have no hand in delaying [the passage of] the bill,’’ he said in a briefing.

Lacierda said that even proponents of the bill acknowledged that the administration has been transparent, and this should douse any speculation that the President “is the lead conspirator in the fight against the FOI bill.’’

When asked about perceptions that the President has been secretly undermining the passage of the bill, Lacierda said: “That is totally incorrect. We are a government that practices transparency and our actions speak for themselves.’’

Lacierda also denied reports that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. has been spearheading the lobby against the bill.

Deliberations on the bill by the House committee on public information have been stymied by technicalities. The committee chair, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, on Tuesday adjourned the hearing before the consolidated version could be put to a vote, fearing this would overlap with the plenary session.

Advocates had been hoping that this could be put to a vote at the committee so it could be forwarded to the plenary for debate and approved on final reading.

The bill seeks to lift the secrecy surrounding the government transactions and documents, and allow for more transparency. The measure is aimed at rooting out corruption and promoting good governance.

Lacierda said Malacañang has submitted its version of the bill, and even Cabinet officials have appeared in the hearings as resource persons.

He observed that the deliberations were bogged down by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino’s claim that the consolidated bill ignored his version containing a right of reply provision, but factored in Malacañang’s version.

“We already submitted our FOI version. So we are happy with our FOI version—the Malacañang version,’’ he said. “As to the developments in the House, that’s another matter which we are not aware of.’’

On whether Malacañang was concerned that the bill had not moved past the committee level, Lacierda said it would remain hopeful “it would pass out of the committee.’’

But he indicated that the passage of the 2013 national budget and the sin tax bill would be the administration’s priorities for now.

“Well, there are a number of bills that have to be passed first admittedly, which we have not denied: the budget, the sin tax. The budget is important. The sin tax bill will address the funding gap. The RH is another and the FOI. But, again, all these we leave with the legislature,’’ he said.

Would the President make a stronger endorsement of the measure then?

Lacierda said: “We already made our position very clear. We have submitted our version. We have talked to the Right to Know, (Right Now) coalition.’’

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:51 AM
Evardone vows voting on FOI bill

By Christian V. Esguerra

Philippine Daily Inquirer

6:24 am | Saturday, November 17th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—Stung by criticism, the chairman of the House committee on public information on Friday pledged to finally put the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill to a vote when the hearing resumes on Nov. 27.

“I want this to get out of my committee so the plenary could now decide,” Rep. Ben Evardone on Friday told the Inquirer after FOI proponents accused him of mishandling the previous committee hearing last Tuesday.

In the next hearing, he said he would ask members to vote on contentious issues such as the proposal to include a “right of reply” provision. Also up for discussions are Malacañang’s proposed exceptions to the FOI bill, such as matters pertaining to national interest and security.

Evardone insisted that there was still time to pass the FOI bill despite the coming election season when attendance at the House of Representatives traditionally dwindles. All three plenary sessions this week were adjourned for lack of quorum.

Right of reply

“There is still time because we still have session until June after the May elections,” he said.

Tuesday’s committee hearing, only the second conducted on the FOI bill this year, ended unceremoniously supposedly for lack of time. Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino spoke for most part of the hearing, arguing in favor of including a “right of reply” provision in the measure.

The “right of reply” provision will force private media to give politicians free space to reply to criticism against them, among other things.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III expressed “dismay” over the way Evardone, his fellow administration representatives, handled the hearing. Tañada warned that time was running out for the FOI bill, but his colleague urged him to be “optimistic.”

“Without curtailing the rights of the members of the committee and the authors, I hope we can expedite and shorten the debates,” Evardone said, denying accusations that he was conniving with Malacañang to kill the FOI bill.

“To be fair to Malacañang, I have not received any hint to either approve or reject the bill, so I will just go through the process,” he claimed.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:58 AM
Ooops... No room for FOI bill

by Carmela Fonbuena

Posted on 10/09/2012 3:50 PM | Updated 10/10/2012 2:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Unbelievable and funny, but true. The House of Representatives is postponing the scheduled committee hearing on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill because there is no available room. Literally.

"There is no room... The hearing is rescheduled to November 13. That's final," House committee on public information chairman Rep Ben Evardone told reporters on Tuesday, October 9.

It's supposed to finally happen next week, between October 15 to 17. Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr instructed Evardone to hold a hearing after the October 15 scheduled passage of the government's 2013 budget. (Congress will take another break from October 20 to November 4. Session will resume November 5.)

The FOI bill seeks to impose speedy procedures for obtaining documents of high public interest. It has been languishing in the House of Representatives. It remains in the first stage of the legislative process: pending approval on first reading before the House committee on public information.

This in spite of 117 members of the House of Representatives supporting the bill, based on a signature campaign launched by the bill's principal authors.

No coordination

Expecting it as a possible reason to further delay the hearing, FOI main author House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada III said he had reserved a room for the committee hearing. It's a legitimate concern. Availability of rooms is a common problem for committee chairmen.

“I anticipated that reasoning and I reserved a room for a committee hearing that the committee on public information can use if they want to,” Taňada told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday.

“It just takes a little effort to look for a room and maybe I did that effort,” he added.

But Evardone said Tañada did not coordinate with the committee secretariat. "He did not coordinate with me. When I checked with my committee secretary, she told me we were 3rd on reserve. So I decided that we would just hold it on our regular slot," Evardone explained.

Running out of time

The FOI bill is running out of time. The next elections is 7 months away. Bills not approved by the current 15th Congress will go back to square one when new members assume their posts in June 2013.

To give the FOI bill a fighting chance, Tañada said it has to be passed on 3rd and final reading in December 2012 at the latest both by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The previous 14th Congress was one step away from passing the FOI bill into law. The Senate ratified it but the House of Representatives under Speaker Prospero Nograles did not. - Rappler.com

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 09:59 AM
FOI bill faces ‘crawl to the finish line,’ but authors not giving up


GMA News November 14, 2012 4:51pm

Authors of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill at the House of Representatives admitted Wednesday that prospects of passing the measure are already becoming dim, but the lawmakers still expressed willingness to fight for the bill’s approval.

“It’s going to be a crawl to the finish line and I don’t think we can crawl as fast as we want, but the crusade has to be there,” Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada, the FOI bill’s primary author, said in an interview.

Tañada said he hopes the bill will finally be voted upon on November 27 — the date of the House public information committee’s next hearing.

“There’s a pending motion to vote on the bill. In the next committee hearing, that could be raised. When we go back, I’m sure that motion will be raised and hopefully, it will proceed from there,” he said.

On Tuesday, the House panel failed to vote on the FOI bill due to procedural questions raised by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, who is pushing for the inclusion of a right-of-reply provision in the measure.

The consolidated version of the FOI bill, which seeks to lift the shroud of secrecy over government transactions and data, has been pending before the House committee since February last year.

‘Exclusive’ FOI hearing

For his part, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairperson of the House public information committee, vowed to make the FOI bill the only agenda of the panel’s hearing on November 27.

“It will be a hearing exclusively for the FOI bill. Wala nang ibang bills na itatackle, para ma-resolve na ‘yung contentious issues,” Evardone said in a separate phone interview.

The committee chairman, who has deferred hearings on the FOI bill several times in the past months, said he will invite again Palace and defense officials to the hearing to settle issues on national security and the right-of-reply provision.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño, another author of the FOI bill, said there is still a “favorable number” of members of Evardone’s committee who wants to the measure passed.

“I fear that the FOI bill is doomed, but we still continue to fight for it,” the party-list lawmaker said in a text message.

‘FOI bill is dead’

Despite the possibility of another hearing on the FOI bill this month, the “Right to Know, Right Now” coalition—a group of media practitioners pushing for the measure’s passage—said the proposed legislation is already “dead.”

“The FOI bill is dead, actually murdered on its tracks. Its butchers? The lackadaisical Evardone. The mindlessly perorating Antonino. The President and his flaccid support,” the group said in a statement.

The coalition added that the House public information committee’s failure to approve the bill on Tuesday was the “final blow” to the measure.

President Benigno Aquino III, who won on a platform for transparency for transparency in government, has endorsed the passage of the FOI bill, but has not included it in his priority measures.

During the last Congress, the measure was only waiting for the ratification of the House—the final step in Congress before the proposed legislation is forwarded to the President for signing into law—but was not approved due to lack of quorum. — RSJ, GMA News

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 10:02 AM
Evardone, Antonino derail passage of FOI bill

Maricel Cruz

Posted on Nov. 14, 2012 at 12:01am | 1,324 views

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño on Tuesday slammed the “arrogance of power” after the House committee on public information headed by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone refused to allow a vote on the freedom of information bill.

“It was truly distressing that the… hearing on FOI was adjourned without acting on the measure despite the presence of more than enough votes to pass it,” Casino said.

“The chairperson did not use the presence of a quorum and the favorable numbers to pass the bill. Why? Well that’s better left to the House leadership and Malacañang to explain,” Casiño said, after Evardone refused to act on a motion for a vote from Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello.

“Obviously, the House leadership continues to be lukewarm to the FOI bill just like the Executive branch,” Casiño said, referring to the tepid support that the Palace has shown the measure despite Mr. Aquino’s campaign promises to push such legislation.

“What we saw today was a kind of incompetence that could only have been deliberate. I fear that FOI bill is doomed but we shall continue to fight for it,” he added.

On Tuesday, Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino singlehandedly derailed the committee proceedings by insisting that a right-of-reply provision be incorporated into the FOI bill.

Antonino also accused the technical working group led by Deputy Speaker Lorenzo

Tañada III of considering the Palace version of the FOI bill while ignoring his right-of-reply bill.

In response to these charges, Tanada said Antonino’s bill was submitted after the FOI bill was already prepared, and that it was Evardone’s fault that no other meeting was called.

Tanada also said the Palace was concerned with exemptions from public disclosure where national security or the free flow of ideas during Cabinet meetings were involved.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Evardone, who had earlier vowed to push the FOI bill, refused to act on Bello’s motion and adjourned the hearing instead, saying rules prohibited them from holding public hearings when the plenary session was ongoing.

He also refused to put Bello’s motion to a vote because “contentious issues” would have to be discussed thoroughly before approving the bill.

Evardone’s refusal to act on the bill drew brickbats from spectators.

Antonino, however, supported Evardone’s decision.

“We can’t decide on one hearing alone, considering the nature of today’s heated arguments on the FOI bill,” said Antonino, who used up all the time insisting on his right-of-reply rider despite protests from committee members.

The FOI bill seeks to provide the public access to government transactions and documents to ensure transparency, good governance and accountability.

The right-of-reply rider would compel newspapers and broadcast stations to allow politicians to respond to criticism against them, a move that most news organizations reject as a violation of free speech rights.

But Evardone on Tuesday allowed Antonino to defend his rider until the panel ran out of time without resolving the most contentious issues.

A shouting match between Antonino and Casino ensued after the former insisted on taking up the right-of-reply issue.

Under Antonino’s bill, all information and documents that may be obtained by virtue of the FOI must also be subjected to the right-of-reply provisions such as securing the side of the aggrieved party that was the subject of the documents and information.

The aggrieved party must be given the right to be heard and equal space, he insisted.

But Tanada said the right-of-reply bill is a “different and distinct” subject that cannot be made a rider in the FOI bill.

“It can be a make or break today or it can be a continuing struggle to see that the freedom of information [bill] be passed,” Tanada said. “We feel that there are just very few contentious issues that should be resolved and should have been resolved earlier in the year if more committee hearings were held but that’s water under the bridge.”

Tanada said if the right-of-reply issue could not be resolved, the committee could simply vote on it. He added that even if the proposal lost in the panel, Antonino could bring it up again in the plenary.

Tanada noted that a similar proposal in the 14th Congress was not approved on third reading because of strong objections to the imposition it would make on news organizations.

Antonino vowed to fight for the right-of-reply up to the plenary.

After Tuesday’s failure, both Tanada and Casino said it looked increasingly unlikely that the FOI bill would be passed by the 15th Congress.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Tanada’s party mate in the Liberal Party, defended Malacanang’s insertions in the FOI bill, and said some of its proposals, such as the online posting of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, were “more progressive” than the House version of the bill.

Tanada acknowledged that the technical working group had worked closely with the Palace on the final version of the bill.

Tanada said he sought a hearing on Antonino’s concerns but that Evardone turned down the request. Evardone has yet to set a date for the committee’s next hearing. With Christine F. Herrera

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 10:04 AM
Aquino: With balanced reporting, why worry about right of reply?

By TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:24 am | Friday, November 16th, 2012

TAGAYTAY CITY—President Benigno Aquino on Thursday said journalists should not fear the right of reply bill if they practice balanced reporting.

Speaking before the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the President made a passing mention of the bill, which grants individuals and companies the right to reply to charges or criticisms in newspapers, radio, TV or websites.

Mr. Aquino said Juan de la Cruz, the Filipino everyman, would not only benefit but would be encouraged by truthful reporting in taking part in nation-building.

“The same spirit hews closely to our position on the issue of right of reply. As [the Bible] says, the truth will set you free. If two sides of a story are reported, if the details of every news are accurate and the freedom of all Filipinos to form their own opinion is valued, then any journalist has nothing to worry about, isn’t it?” he told TV and radio broadcasters at the Taal Vista Hotel.

The right of reply bill is pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Lawmakers were also proposing to include a right of reply provision in the freedom of information (FOI) bill pending in the House of Representatives.

Deliberations on the FOI bill by the House committee on public information have been clogged by technicalities. Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, the committee chairman, on Tuesday adjourned the hearing before the consolidated version could be put to a vote, fearing this would overlap with the plenary session.

Advocates had been hoping this could be put to a vote at the committee so it could be forwarded to the plenary for debate and approved on final reading.

The bill seeks to lift the secrecy surrounding the government transactions and documents and allow for more transparency. The measure is aimed at rooting out corruption and promoting good governance.

Malacañang on Wednesday denied the President was leading the charge to kill the FOI bill, but made no commitment to rally its allies to approve the measure.

Secretary Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokesperson, said Malacañang was not delaying its passage, but was deferring to the House lawmakers to deliberate on it.

Sam Miguel
11-19-2012, 10:16 AM
‘Right’ of reply: It’s not a right, it’s oppression

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:13 pm | Sunday, November 18th, 2012

The press does not enjoy anything near the privilege speech. You can always reply to the press even within the press itself, without making it compulsory. Between senators and congressmen who are there to make laws, who harbor the vested interest of wanting to get reelected, and reporters and commentators who are there to inform, and who (except for the corrupt, who arguably fester in media’s pores) can look at things more impartially, who better to trust to expose and correct the various ills of society?

The difference, my dear Conrad, is that we can always vote these bastards out of office, but we are eternally stuck with reporters and columnists and have no say whether or not they get to keep their jobs.

Sam Miguel
11-20-2012, 08:33 AM

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:05 pm | Monday, November 19th, 2012

“If President Benigno Aquino believed in transparency, he’d not have pushed for that ridiculous Right of Reply (RoR)” rider smuggled into the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, Political Jaywalkers blogged.

The President repeatedly cartwheeled on FOI, noted Viewpoint in “Indifference’s penalty” (Inquirer, 11/17/12). His grudging façade of support masked apathy. This spurred Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino to insist that his RoR bill—scavenged from measures discarded by the 14th Congress—be stitched into the long-stalled FOI measure.

“There is no connection” between a bill broadening access to information and an RoR that allows “dumb nuts to respond” to critics, Political Jaywalkers added. “Only idiots in the Philippines” try that.

Like Sen. Tito Sotto? “He plagiarized for his anti-reproductive health bill speeches—at least with good judgement,” e-mailed engineer Leonor Lagsca from Iloilo City. Sotto had cribbed from the late Robert F. Kennedy and other reputable sources.

Antonino, in contrast, scoured his RoR from the garbage bin of bills scrubbed by the previous Congress, namely: Rep. Monico Puentevella’s House Bill 3306 and Sen. Bong Revilla’s Senate Bill 2150. Antonino dolled up HB 4252 as an FOI measure.

“Section 10 is an RoR. Antonino hijacked it without by-your-leave. The sources are discredited. No wonder Rep Antonino skipped attribution. To plagiarize from someone, then make it worse, is a rip-off,” Lagsca added.

“Ang magtanim ng hangin, bagyo ang aanihin,” e-mailed “TinimbangNgunitKulang” in reaction to Viewpoint’s column “Unsought legacy” (11/13/12). He who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind. “Man is doomed,” he said.

That column cited the report of Science journal that global warming could overshoot the danger threshold of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequences could range from shriveled rice harvests and dwarfed fish sizes to villages swamped by rising sea levels. Too late to cut greenhouse emissions, some scientists argue. Countries should focus on “policies to mitigate harsh impacts of altered weather.”

“Albert Einstein said, ‘Problems cannot be solved at the level of awareness that created them,’” commented The Gum. “[He’d probably] begin solving this daunting problem by saying ‘Consume less, share more, and consider everyone as your equal.’”

Indeed, “the signs are somewhat grim. I’m worried about the arctic permafrost melting, leading to uncontrolled releases of previously trapped methane gases. Time to tax carbon usage and use that revenue to climate-proof the world. But ours is a deaf world. What will we tell future generations? Sorry?”

Viewpoint’s “Those pesky proverbs” (11/5/12) discussed the $345-million contempt fine clamped by the US Court of Appeals on Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The Marcoses tried to secretly ship out of the United States paintings, etc. In exchange, they demanded a 25-percent tax-free share. “Contumacious conduct,” the US court fumed. The Marcoses attempted to bootleg estate assets under litigation. “This caused direct harm to martial law victims.” The court whacked the Marcoses with a daily fine of $100,000.

“The bigger scandal is the Marcoses—Imelda, Bongbong and Imee—still hold government positions,” Pert Cabatana e-mailed. “They dish out the same junk that they’ve been heaping on the Filipino people for decades. We need divine help to stand up against [such]. This is urgent. Please note: the Binays are waiting in the wings.”

“When Marcos won the presidency in 1964, our foreign debt totaled $600,000. Within Asia, we were second to Japan economically,” Greg Andymar wrote. After almost 20 years, our foreign IOUs have ballooned to about 33,333 times the original $600,000.

“In simpler terms, the Marcos presidency borrowed an average of about $2.74 million every day—for 20 years! This explains how the Marcoses and cronies became multibillionaires. The very sad part is we are still paying up to now money borrowed by the Marcos presidency.”

Where did “he Marcoses get the nerve to gripe and “adopt pathetic royalty postures?” wonders Lilia Firme. Puede ba, sa Libya o Syria nga kayo tumira?

And Romeo asks: “Bakit walang plunder case laban sa kanila?”

“It’s Cory’s fault,” says TinimbangNgunitKulang. “She should have had them all executed during her rule. To make up for her shortcoming, her son should finish the job.” Indeed. The Marcoses should be thankful that they are residing in a civilized country, Domingo G says. If what they did happened in Libya, Iraq or Egypt, matagal na silang nadispacha.

Viewpoint’s “Faces not forgotten” (11/3/12) was “a moving piece,” writes Phoenix Political Party. That column remarked on the passing of Tom Palmeri, a former Jesuit scholastic. Palmeri and wife Diane spent over 30 years feeding thousands of malnourished kids on Camiguin Island. They treated wounds, got crutches for the lame, enrolled hundreds in schools—without self-seeking publicity.

“When Palmeri wrote, ‘They are no longer there, they are here,’ was he pointing to his heart?” asks Phoenix. “The poor will always be there, pathetically struggling. Look at the good things you got!” the musical “Superstar” (referring to Christ) says. In the movie “Desiree,” Napoleon addressed his defeated troops: “Though I love you all, I cannot embrace you all.”

“My heart goes out to Palmeri’s wife and family. And in his final resting place on the island, may the winds sing a hero’s eternal song.”

Sam Miguel
11-20-2012, 08:44 AM
Rethinking privacy

By Rina Jimenez-David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:58 pm | Monday, November 19th, 2012

A teacher of mine, an American Maryknoll nun, once shared a piece of advice her mother had given her: “Don’t put down on paper what you don’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”

No matter where you write it—in a letter to a friend or lover, your diary, an e-mail message, your blog, or even your tweet—someone (other than your intended recipient or recipients) is bound to read your words and may take offense. Or worse, may decide that your words are indeed deserving of space in the New York Times or in the Inquirer, or of being broadcast to the wide, wild world of social media and the Internet, where they will live forever and ever, downloadable and open to any and all comments.

It still surprises me how people expect their privacy to be respected on the World Wide Web. It seems extremely naïve to believe that “privacy” options could protect one from adverse reactions or comments, or from having incriminating words and images reproduced and reaching those you really don’t want to reach.

True, those St. Theresa’s Cebu students may not have wanted or meant their teachers or administrators to see photos of them in bikinis. And I do agree it was a private social event and had no connection whatsoever with their school or with their identities as students. But c’mon. If you upload “incriminating” photos on Facebook or some other social site, you’re not just exposing yourself, you’re also asking a great number of people to view your photos and perhaps “like” them or comment on them. That some of those folks turned out to be the prudish nuns and censorious teachers of your school was just bad luck, although, in the larger scheme of things, bikini pictures are not exactly deserving of expulsion or suspension.

* * *

FACEBOOK founder Mark Zuckerberg once famously declared that in the age of social media “nobody has any privacy.” In this world, everybody’s life is open to scrutiny and comment, or at least the parts of one’s life that one chooses to put out there.

And nobody knows the truth of this better than former CIA director David Petraeus, who decided to step down from the US spy agency after agents of the FBI uncovered incriminating e-mail messages he had sent to a (former?) lover.

The scandal took the sheen out of an illustrious military career and brought to a premature end a promising political one as well. Incredibly, Petraeus had managed the most difficult of political twists: earning the approval of both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, his name was already being mentioned as a possible Republican nominee for the presidency in 2016, a possibility that now seems to have withered on the vine even before it could blossom.

But the fate that befell Petraeus should send chills down the spine of not just superspooks but even ordinary folks like you and me. If other folks—and not just FBI agents—can access your personal files and expose your weaknesses and flaws, then all of us are vulnerable, our secrets, lies, opinions, and rants subject to public exposure, and us to ridicule, shame and blame.

* * *

JOE Nocera, a columnist for the New York Times, writes that “the Petraeus scandal could well end up teaching some very different lessons.” He observes: “If the most admired military man in a generation can have his e-mail hacked by FBI agents, then none of us are safe from the post-9/11 surveillance machine. And if an affair is all it takes to force such a man from office, then we truly have lost all sense of proportion.”

At heart, the scandal can be traced back to the cozy relations between military bigwigs and socialites in Tampa, Florida, where two important bases are located. Jill Kelley, the Tampa hostess who chose to focus on wining and dining the uniformed brass, enjoyed unprecedented access to the generals, including Petraeus. This may have provoked the “threatening” e-mails allegedly from Paula Broadwell, the author of a Petraeus biography who had or is having an affair with the ex-general.

In the course of investigating the e-mailed threats (courtesy of an FBI agent and friend of Kelley who managed to convince his superiors to pursue the investigation), the FBI discovered the incriminating messages from Petraeus to Broadwell. If the head of one of the most powerful espionage agencies in the world could leave himself so vulnerable, one wonders what other secrets could still lie in wait, setting up landmines for other officials.

* * *

NOCERA looked up the cyber-stalking statute and now says a crime has been committed “when e-mail ‘causes substantial emotion[al] distress’ or places the victim in ‘reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.’” The FBI has worked hard, says Nocera, “to make Broadwell’s e-mails as threatening as possible. But once they leak out, as they surely will, I strongly suspect that we’ll see that the law was just a fig leaf.”

He concludes: “I wish the president had said that although General Petraeus had made a mistake in his personal life—an all-too-human mistake, made by millions of people every day—the consequences of that mistake should be dealt with by him, his wife and his former lover. I wish he had said that the affair should not trump his decades of public service, or stop him from continuing to serve. I wish he had said that the Justice Department’s inspector general was going to conduct an inquiry into whether the FBI had acted appropriately in handling Kelley’s complaint.”

And we—Americans or not—should debate what Nocera calls “the ease with which the government can look at our e-mails and peep into our bedrooms.” The anti-cybercrime bill could stand some rethinking, don’t you think?

Sam Miguel
11-20-2012, 08:46 AM
Corrupt journalists

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:57 pm | Monday, November 19th, 2012

Earlier this month, four columnists (two from the Star, one from Manila Standard Today, and one from Malaya Business Insight) were observed using the same talking points—the term of art is “column feed”—to attack Sen. Franklin Drilon and his proposal for higher “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol.

As a quick search on Google would show, the columnists shared not only the same point of view or the same angle of attack, but also the same language: Three of the columns, for instance, described Drilon as having “a hard time keeping up with his colleagues.” Two columns had two almost identical and consecutive paragraphs, with telltale idiomatic twists giving the game away: “put Drilon on the hotspot fielding queries;” “appeared to be also grasping at straws.”

But was it corruption? No one doubts that there is an aggressive tobacco lobby, which favors the tax plan originally proposed by Drilon’s predecessor as Senate ways and means committee chair, Sen. Ralph Recto; did the concerted column-writing mean the lobby had reached out to the columnists?

And even if it did, was the outreach necessarily corrupt? Journalists attend briefings and take meetings and conduct interviews all the time; is, say, a press conference a form of corruption?

I do not mean to complicate the discussion; the reality is complicated, and teasing out the ambiguity is necessary work.

But this is not to say that the four columnists (one of whom explained the almost-miraculous coincidence in language and perspective to online reporter Angela Casauay as the result of journalists “who regularly play golf together”) don’t have some explaining to do. At the very least, they need to clarify how, Tito Sotto-like, they came to use, in their voice, someone else’s words.

For this reason alone, I hope all four columnists will take part in the ninth Media Nation conference this weekend. An annual opportunity for journalists from various organizations and working in various platforms to talk shop, to dwell on concerns held in common, Media Nation has inspired both new media activity (for instance, Che-Che Lazaro’s Media in Focus, which ran on ANC for several years) and the occasional review of organizational practices.

And for the first time, the annual conference will be turning its collective gaze on corruption in the media. Not an easy subject, but with the 2013 midterm elections only a few months away, a timely and necessary one.

* * *

The Media Nation conference in Tagaytay City will be bookended by two keynote addresses. On Friday, Nov. 23, President Aquino will open the conference. As he has done on at least four other occasions, he is expected to speak plainly with and to talk tough to the media; I have heard at least one Cabinet secretary say that Mr. Aquino sees it as part of his responsibility as head of state to “educate media.”

As the date is the third anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, I would expect the President to pay tribute to the fallen, but devote most of his time to explaining why the Freedom of Information bill has languished in Congress. If he will attempt to explain his recent notion that journalists will have nothing to fear from the “right of reply” proposal, he will find a respectful but absolutely unsympathetic audience.

The event will end with an address by Lech Walesa, the iconic founder of the Solidarity labor movement, who tangled with his country’s media when he served as Poland’s president.

* * *

When I started reading Denis Murphy’s commentary yesterday proposing the late Jesse Robredo as a modern-day saint, the surprise I felt (the shock of the truly new idea) quickly gave way to sympathy and appreciation. Blessed Jesse Robredo? Now that’s a thought.

To be sure, Murphy was making a nuanced suggestion, at once out of the blue and (like his own work among the urban poor) down to earth. He asked: “Will the Church canonize brave young people like Pedro [Calungsod] who know nothing of our modern world and little of their own world, or will it honor mature men and women of this age who have mastered the modern world’s sciences, systems, technologies and disciplines for good ends and still possess a heart and a mind for our traditional faith, and a mind and a heart for the poor?”

This is not a false choice, because, as Murphy writes, the world needs both kinds of saint. But the possibility that a married man, a long-time public official at that, could have lived a moral life of heroic virtue is tonic, for both the Filipino Catholic faithful and the Catholic church itself.

The suggestion reminded me of something I came across in my research on the Southeast Asian legacy of Jose Rizal. The hero’s personal conduct had led many to imagine him, if not a Catholic saint, then a moral statesman worthy of emulation.

A report in the April 6, 1907, issue of the British Medical Journal, for example, gave its readers a belated look at the life and death of an accomplished physician, who ended up choosing the martyr’s path. The report’s title: “St. Joseph Rizal, M.D.”

I realize this is not the sort of sainthood that Murphy has in mind. But it makes me think that the people may be ready for Murphy’s idea: mature men and women of the age, who have mastered the modern world, and yet “still possess a heart and a mind for our traditional faith, and a mind and a heart for the poor.”

Sam Miguel
11-20-2012, 08:53 AM
^^^ It is one thing, John, to have been at a press conference and taken the same notes of the same statements given by the same people. It is quite another to write four columns that contain many of the same statements. Unless all four of those colleagues of yours sat down at the same press conference, or at the same hearing or session, and the pooled their columns and just took the bits and pieces they agreed would make the best writing, then indeed what you have described was precisely corrupt journalists all taking aim at Senator Drilon. And that is why as important and essential as the FOI is, so is the ROR. It's not like these four colleagues of yours write for trashy tabloids who make more off raunchy pictures. Point of fact, they write for major broadsheets, including your fellow "Big 3" member the Philippine Star. For godsakes, your phrasing in the interogative only bolsters the contention that indeed, just like any big industry, Big Media cannot be expected to police its own ranks, and thus requires a strict regulatory regime like all the other big industries.

Sam Miguel
11-23-2012, 11:30 AM
Lawmakers urged to vote on FOI bill

By Aurea Calica

(The Philippine Star) | Updated November 23, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang appealed to lawmakers not to be absent and vote on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, just like the Reproductive Health (RH) bill that has been pending before Congress for sometime.

Secretary Manuel Mamba, head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, said President Aquino had been reminding lawmakers of the need to have these bills passed no matter how controversial they were.

Mamba, however, said the right of reply bill or provision in the FOI bill was being pushed by its proponents to compel the media to give people they criticize or expose equal space and time to air their side and defend themselves.

He said the elections in May were also a factor to the decision of the lawmakers both on the FOI and RH bills.

The Catholic Church is against the RH bill while according to sources, officials are afraid the FOI bill will force them to open up records that can be used against them during elections.

Mamba said they were working hard to reach a consensus and would not want to end up as losers when these bills were put to a vote.

“We are still hoping that these (bills) will be passed,” Mamba said, quoting the President as telling the lawmakers they were the leaders of the land so “don’t be absent” and do what the people were expecting from them.

“They are avoiding a vote and we are having a problem on the quorum,” Mamba said.

He said they were aware of the delaying tactics and the nearer the elections, the harder it would be for them to push for these measures.

Mamba said it would be ideal if all media organizations were balanced and give everyone the chance to air their side before publishing or airing reports.

Sadly, this is not the case, Mamba said, and thus lawmakers would want a right to reply and make it an obligation for the media to always get the other side.

Mamba said this was being seen as an infringement on freedom of the press but a compromise would somehow have to be reached.

He said all inputs must be considered and that it was useless to accept any amendments if the FOI bill would not be passed after all.

Sam Miguel
11-26-2012, 08:36 AM
Aquino parries criticism, turns the tables on press

By Amando Doronila

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:35 am | Monday, November 26th, 2012

President Aquino pushed the Philippine news media to an agonizing ordeal of self-criticism at the media national summit in Tagaytay City on Friday in the guise of being helpful in improving their standards and addressing corruption in the industry.

He delivered the keynote speech at the summit, attended by media executives, proprietors, editors and other journalists, especially reporters.

In his speech, the President called on the media to lift their game, thereby shifting the focus of criticism of his administration’s parlous economic performance and flagging commitment to social reform—particularly in agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita, owned by the Aquino family, poverty alleviation, and sluggish job creation—to media shortcomings. These issues have been the focus of media criticism.

Although the President spoke in less confrontational language than in his previous attacks on the media for highlighting “bad news,” there was little ground for many media observers at the summit to believe that the encounter in Tagaytay had opened a new era of amity between the media and the administration.

Mr. Aquino noted that the summit had adopted “corruption in the media” as its theme. He then quickly tried to turn the tables on the media.

He raised the issue of the need for “consistent standards” in the media, the lack of which is alleged to be the source of “conflicts of interests” that leads to corruption.

In regard to the issue of conflict of interests, he said there were many questions left unanswered. For instance: What are the parameters concerning endorsements? What are the requirements for sources? And when anyone is unhappy with how a journalist conducts himself, what are the mechanisms for redress? Is there an ombudsman in the media to whom aggrieved citizens can turn to?

Press institutions

While the absence of a set of standards that applies throughout the industry does not directly lead to corruption, “it does lead to make corruption easier to take place,” according to the President.

These questions stem from the ignorance of institutional mechanisms already in place in most media organizations.

Speaking from personal knowledge, there are mechanisms, such as readers’ advocate, rigorous daily review by editors of news priorities, weekly review of editorials by an editorial board, and critique on grammatical lapses, and there’s a code of ethics against which journalists can be held accountable.

Yes, of all institutions with public interest functions, the media are the most overpoliced. Mechanisms in place include grammar police, ethics police, not to mention working under the constraints of criminal libel law.

The media need no further self-disciplining mechanisms to make them disposed to write “good news” of an administration whose lethargic record of delivering results is the hallmark of governance.

The media have their own “daang matuwid” (righteous path) creed, but they don’t remind the public about it, they don’t pay lip service to it.

They just do their jobs quietly and put out a newspaper every day, and let the reader judge them whether they are producing a paper worthy of their continuing trust and patronage despite the whining by the government about “unbalanced” or “bad” news.

The President likes to point out that newspaper owners should pay their staff well, implying that low pay is a cause of corruption on the level of reporters.

But if we examine closely payrolls of news organizations, records will show that the media generally pay their news staff higher salaries compared to those of civil servants.

The President has no superior claims to be a protector of the reporters, who are on the frontline of news gathering every day.

No need for apology

Responding to the President’s speech on behalf of the media industry, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, the Inquirer’s president and CEO, did not dodge the issue of corruption.

According to a report by Rappler (not by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which made a laid-back report), she said:

“The basic questions we ask of any news today were first asked and refined several generations ago by print journalists: Is it accurate? Is it solidly attributed? Is it fair?

“Because print was first, those who worked in it have also struggled with the problems of journalism, including corruption. I must tell you that from my own experience and of others in similar situation, one of the most disheartening, disappointing and frustrating things is for one to find out that someone you’ve tried your best to support, whose independence you’ve nurtured breaks that trust by selling valuable editorial estate.

“This betrayal weakens the institution deeply and must be addressed with great conviction.”

She told Mr. Aquino: “Mr. President you have sometimes spoken about being bombarded by negativity, from critics who define negative and positive in their own way. We feel for you … But the Constitution grants that the press is fundamentally free as it allows the press to define negative or positive in different ways. This is the diversity of opinion in the heart of democracy.”

She need not be apologetic to the President for the media doing their constitutionally mandated job.

Truth will take care of itself

Speaking of good or bad news, Lord Northcliffe, the British publisher, said years ago, “News is what somebody wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

Add to this Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communications theorist who said, “The real news is bad news.”

More elegantly. Albert Camus, the French journalist and philosopher, put it this way, “A free press can be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom a press will be anything but bad.”

Newspapermen of the old school, to which I belong, have not forgotten the injunction of the celebrated editor of the Kansas Emporia Gazette, William Allen White: “The facts fairly and honestly presented, truth will take care of itself.”

This dictum holds true in the digital media age.

Sam Miguel
11-26-2012, 08:46 AM
^^^ And again in the mdoern age when media is Big Media, like all big industries we cannot and we should not trust Big Media to police itself. Media already takes upon itself the task of telling the entire world what is and is not newsworthy, and to present it as they see fit, and to give or not give an equal amount of space for rebuttals and exhonerations. While that may all be fine and good and consistent with our liebral democracy, onyl a fool would not see the veryr eal dangers inherent thereunto. No one elects the media into office, and no one outside of their own owners and proprietors decide what makes the news, and what treatment it is given, especially for opinion writers. And it is the same everywhere regardless of whether it is print, broadcast or online. Why do you think media has often been referred to as the "Fourth Estate" of government? And yet they are ultimately accountable only to how many copies and ad space they sell, not to the people, certainly not to something as nebulous as truth and justice. Since Big Media is a business, it must be regulated, perhaps even strictly so since their business could ruin a man whether he deserve that ruin or not. We do not let alcohol, tobacco, firearms, pharmaceuticals, telcos run amuck if we can help it. Why should Big Media be thus exempt?

Sam Miguel
11-26-2012, 08:49 AM
Case of writers in prison taken up in PEN forum

By Pablo A. Tariman

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:23 am | Monday, November 26th, 2012

“It is a long arduous wait for justice and freedom.”

Thus describes former UP Collegian editor Ericson Acosta’s nearly two years of detention in the Calbayog sub-provincial jail in Samar.

The worldwide observance of International Day for Imprisoned Writers initiated in Manila by the Philippine Center of the International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) highlighted the cases of Acosta along with those of Regina Martínez, a Mexican journalist (murdered); Shiva Nazar Ahari, journalist, human-rights activist and blogger (Iran); Muharrem Erbey, a human-rights lawyer and writer from Turkey; Eskinder Nega, a journalist and blogger (Ethiopia).

Acosta was arrested without warrant on Feb. 13, 2011, by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 34th IB led by 2nd Lt. Jacob Madarang. He said he was doing research on the human rights situation in Samar.

He was held for three days without charges and subjected to “tactical interrogation” by the military. Three days after arrest in which no charges were filed, he was finally charged with illegal possession of explosives.

Visited in his Calbayog detention jail, Acosta describes his life in jail since February 2011.

He says his day starts with lining up for the day’s ration of uncooked rice and ends with trying to finish—usually with agonizing difficulty—a blog entry, a statement or a poem.

The toughest part of being in prison, he says, is being deprived of liberty and being away from family and the peasant communities he has long considered family.

“I always try to keep busy by initiating educational discussions with co-prisoners, and even doing literacy classes inside the cell. I read all the books with me listening to music on radio, play chess in between swatting flies and mosquitoes.”

The latest book in his detention cell is “Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir.”

He spent his 39th and 40th birthdays in jail and is about to spend his second Christmas in jail this year.

“Each month I think has its own episode of anticipating a scheduled visit that does not happen; of being threatened by military guards in extremely trashy language; of feeling absolutely helpless in the face of personal health issues, given the continuing refusal of the authorities to bring me to the nearest medical facilities for a long overdue checkup.”

Acosta says he takes on the simple joy of seeing his parents and his only son, Emmanuel, and sharing modest food with other prisoners. He spent his 40th birthday last May sharing pancit with activists.

It was in that birthday that he felt his health was deteriorating. “It was hard trying not to feel bothered. Gradually you feel the gloom of lost youth.”

He says his 20 months in an isolated jail in Calbayog, Samar, has been a test of resilience.

Acosta is one of the subjects of the documentary “Chained Metaphors,” about imprisoned artists.

He was also named finalist for the Imprisoned Artist Prize at the Freedom to Create Awards Festival in Cape Town, South Africa, along with two other artists from Tibet and Myanmar. The finalists were chosen out of over 2,000 nominees from 145 countries by a select jury that included actress and filmmaker Daryl Hannah, novelist Salman Rushdie and ballet icon Mikhail Baryshnikov

The case of Acosta was taken up in the Philippine writers’ forum in a panel of distinguished writers from the Philippine PEN Writers in Prison Committee, such as Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature and chair of the Philippine Center of the International PEN; and PEN board members, critic and columnist Elmer Ordoñez and fictionist Jun Cruz Reyes.

The cultural sector, led by Lumbera, actors Pen Medina and Nanding Josef, filmmaker Carlitos Siguion Reyna and UP dean of Mass Communications Rolando Tolentino, has rallied behind Acosta and signed a petition for his release.

Sam Miguel
11-26-2012, 08:59 AM
Walesa tells media: Help shape future

By Maricar Cinco

Inquirer Southern Luzon

2:29 am | Monday, November 26th, 2012

TAGAYTAY CITY, Philippines — Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who led his country in its transition from communist rule to democracy, called on the Filipino media, on Sunday, to help shape the future of the Philippines.

The role of the media today is to “provoke discussions on how this new era will evolve,” according to Walesa, a 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who gave the closing speech at the 9th Media Nation conference here.

This year’s media summit gathered over 70 Filipino journalists from print, radio, television and Internet-based news organizations taking an honest and a critical look at media corruption, its causes and impact on national life.

“I am pleading with you to continue the discussions so you can find the answer to those questions,” Walesa said.

These questions would revolve around what freedom must be founded on to find the answer to “what the new era will look like,” he said, speaking through his interpreter Josef Sarach, in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer reporters and editors.

Walesa, who became known for launching the 1980 campaign for workers’ rights and the Polish revolution that brought down the communist regime in Poland, was elected president in 1990.

“My revolution and my victory depended so much on media, that’s why I see the solution through media,” he said.

But while he continued to fight for “freedom of work and media,” Walesa threw back the question to members of the press: “What about responsibility?”

Walesa said corruption in media “can be very destructive” and has been everywhere.

“I do not know a country where there is no corruption. It can only be smaller or bigger … We shouldn’t allow it.” he said.

Walesa said the media had the power “to build but can also destroy freedom.”

He said when he was president he had his own gripes against media “who tried to destroy lead to conclusions that were unjust.”

Walesa said he had seen people falsely accused. “Things that are not true are being carried by the media. This can destroy the politicians and the economy,” he said.

Other media people, he said, resort to inventing accusations for monetary consideration or falling for politicians who pay reporters.

But while false reporting must be guarded, Walesa said this should not mean infringement of the freedom of speech.

“What to do is to stop (corruption in media) but not (to) allow censorship. You do not limit freedom,” he said.

He said the Polish media, which became free after democracy was established, had yet to fulfill this.

“But slowly we can work it out so we can put freedom together with responsibility,” he said.

Sam Miguel
11-26-2012, 09:00 AM
And speaking of abusive media people...

Tulfo brothers charged in court

By Julie M. Aurelio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:28 pm | Saturday, November 24th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—The brothers Ben, Raffy and Erwin Tulfo of the TV5 show “T3” have been charged in a Quezon City court with grave threats for threatening celebrity couple Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto on national television a day after their eldest brother Ramon figured in an airport brawl with the couple in May.

Six months after the incident, assistant city prosecutor Rowena Balagtas recommended the filing of charges against the three brothers, whose show was also suspended for three months by the Movie Television Review and Classification Board because of their on-air remarks.

Charges of grave threats were lodged against the Tulfos—two counts each for Erwin and Raffy, one count for Ben— in the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court on Friday. Their brother Ramon is an Inquirer Metro columnist.

Balagtas noted that the respondents’ demeanor, tone and facial expression indicated that “the threats were made with deliberate purpose of creating in the minds of the persons to whom [they were] addressed the belief that the threats would be carried into effect.”

“The threats uttered by the respondents alluded to the infliction of physical harm upon the complainants (Santiago and Barreto).… The threats were consummated as soon as complainant spouse heard the statements of the respondents on TV on May 7, 2012,” the prosecutor said in a resolution.

Balagtas, however, dismissed the slander complaints against the Tulfos for lack of merit.

The case stemmed from a May 6 brawl between Ramon Tulfo and the couple, who were then travelling with an entourage, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. It all started when Claudine confronted Ramon for taking a video of her as she was complaining to an airline employee.

According to the complaint, the couple caught the “T3” program the following day and heard Ben, Erwin and Raffy lashing out at the couple in defense of their brother.

Raffy was heard telling the couple in Filipino to “pray and light a candle from now on” lest they cross paths at the mall. Erwin purportedly said: “We’re not yet done, Raymart. Just wait for it. Wait for the terrible vengeance of the Tulfos (lintik na ganti ng mga Tulfo).”

Ben allegedly added: “I go up against criminals, murderers. You seem to be a good fellow, but if you like we can meet and lock ourselves up in a big warehouse. Ambulances will be waiting. There will only be one man left standing. Let me see how good you are.”

In her resolution, Balagtas also noted that the Tulfos failed to appear and submit counter-affidavits despite being notified of the preliminary investigation of the complaint.

Sam Miguel
11-26-2012, 09:04 AM
^^^ For media folks who always bellow about following the law in full letter and spirit that last line is truly a kicker. It seems when they are the ones being charged they think the law does not apply to them. Don't these guys always make it a point to point out things like failing to appear in a case a huge sticking point in all of their self-aggrandizement and pdeuso-populist rhetoric? E sila pala mismo pareho lang ang guali sa lahat ng mga binabatikos nila...

11-26-2012, 01:59 PM
A telling omission

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:28 am | Monday, November 26th, 2012

President Aquino addressed a conference of journalists meeting in Tagaytay City last Friday and—judging by the news headlines the following day—spent his time not scolding the media. This was news, because only the previous week the President had choice words for the Kapisanan ng Mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas. At the 9th Media Nation conference, Mr. Aquino chose to limit himself to only two points. The points were substantive; unfortunately, he failed to speak directly to one issue consuming journalists across the country.

The President first spoke about “the need for consistent standards in media”—and, really, how can anyone argue with that? “Like any profession imbued with public interest, at the heart of skepticism or even hostility [to the media, Mr. Aquino explained] lies the question of conflicts of interest.” We can follow his argument, because it is one that many in the working media have already raised. The media profession will benefit as a whole if, say, gift policies were not so much standardized (that would be an impossible and frankly unnecessary task) but rather aligned. In the broadcast industry, for example, the caps on gifts that a journalist may legitimately receive range from P300 to P2,500.

President Aquino then spoke directly on the conference’s theme: corruption in media. He was right to begin by emphasizing the greatest point of vulnerability (his words are worth repeating in full): “The reporter bears the brunt of having to find stories, source information, and craft the reports that find their way to our countrymen. Given the hard work they do and the high standards everyone should demand of them, it becomes legitimate to ask whether their pay and benefits are commensurate to the highest standards of integrity demanded of them.”

On these “two broad areas” the President chose to highlight, we can find much to consider. To be sure, his treatment of standardization and corruption was necessarily brief; it is not only reporters and correspondents, for example, who are vulnerable to corruption, but everyone in the newsmaking chain, including editors in the newsroom and cameramen in the field.

But we expected the President to say something about the extrajudicial killings of journalists, especially given that last Friday was the third anniversary of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao, massacre. But all President Aquino said about that was contained in one paragraph, the first half of which read: “In cases of media killings, for example, we in government are demanding the apprehension of suspects and the filing of charges that stick, resulting in justice for all involved. In other cases of violence involving media, we have taken affirmative and just action.” And that, basically, was it.

While there can be no argument that the President’s focus on solid evidence-gathering and resolute prosecution is important, we cannot understand his decision not to train the spotlight on the massacre, on the very day the country needed reminding.

As head of government, the President may think some of his regular critics have co-opted the fateful anniversary for their own. But even if they have—and it is crucial to note that they have not, that media organizations around the country see the quest for justice in the Ampatuan massacre as a crucial test case of the administration’s resolve in the campaign against impunity—it is still incumbent on the President to mark the anniversary in a fitting way.

Because he is also head of state. He represents the entire nation, including the very critics he apparently does not want to have anything to do with (and, frankly, do not want him to represent them). It is that role that requires him to regularly remind us of the horrors that haunt our history; a sorry list that includes the nightmare that was martial law and the unmoderated greed that characterized the Arroyo years.

But “never again” is a battle cry that applies to the Ampatuan massacre as well; President Aquino’s failure to sound the alarm this year is a deafening, inexplicable, silence.

Sam Miguel
11-27-2012, 04:06 PM
The economics of media integrity

By Cielito F. Habito

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:29 pm | Monday, November 26th, 2012

Big money is about to descend once again upon the media industry, if it hasn’t already. Election campaign seasons always bring the industry a windfall, via both legitimate political ads and illicit payments to buy favorable coverage from members of the press. The magnitudes are now so staggering that in the last election year of 2010, the recreational services sector, which includes the broadcast industry, leaped from the previous year by a zooming 30.4 percent in our gross domestic product (GDP) accounts. To show how unusual this was, the growth rate stabilized back to 7.2 percent in 2011, and had ranged from only 3 to 11 percent in the past decade (with that previous peak also posted in the election year of 2007).

But it’s not only politicians who pay the media, legitimately or otherwise. Business interests promoting their particular product, or lobbying for or against a particular policy (sin taxes being the latest example), are known to pay big bucks to get their way. And like the handlers of politicians, their public relations units know the tricks of the trade only too well—including anything from free rides and trips, raffles where everyone wins a valuable prize, free product samples “for review,” lavish gifts, and up to regular deposits made to one’s ATM bank account (rendering the phrase “envelopmental journalism” passé, giving way to the new de rigueur tag of “ATM journalism”).

Last weekend saw media practitioners gathering in Tagaytay for the 9th Media Nation conference, which has become an annual occasion for self-examination. It was remarkable in its choice of the highly sensitive theme of corruption in the media. Together with transparency champion Vince Lazatin, I was tasked to trigger discussion on the question “How can we push media corruption out of the market?” We posited that media ethics and integrity (or lack of it) are basically a cost-benefit proposition. While usually an economist’s tool, cost-benefit analysis is a universal (often subconscious) principle that governs the choices all of us make—fully recognizing that not all costs and benefits are measured in pesos and centavos.

As for media ethics and integrity, the benefits and costs may be examined at two levels: the aggregate/public level and the individual/personal level. At the public level, what does it benefit society to have a professional, independent and honest media? I can think of at least three social benefits. First is upholding the truth—about public policy issues and about individuals or objects. This presupposes that upholding truth is a universally held value that everyone sees as a benefit, at least at the societal level. The truth, after all, guides us to the right choices in life.

A second benefit is that of having the “right” public policies prevail. To my mind, “right” policies are those that promote the greatest good for the greatest number (now also fashionably called “inclusive growth”), as against what I call—for lack of a better term—oligarchy-perpetuating policies. Sin taxes and the competition policy are examples that provoke intense debate and unleash substantial lobby money directed at both policymakers and opinion makers in media.

The third public benefit is attaining a level playing field, against gaining unfair market or electoral advantage that biased reporting can easily achieve for anyone willing to pay the price. Among other things, such level playing field in the economy is a basic prerequisite to providing an attractive investment climate for all enterprises—domestic or foreign, large or small—which in turn promotes wide job-generation. In the arena of politics, better governance will more likely emerge where a level playing field ensures that election results are not driven by money and access to media.

What are the public downsides of having media ethics and integrity? I see none. On the other hand, it is so much easier to list the downsides of having a corrupt media, as these are the exact opposites of what we have listed above: a society built on falsehoods, policies that perpetuate our unusually oligarchic economy and society, an investment-starved (hence job-starved) economy, bad leaders and bad governance, and so on.

Unfortunately, the cost-benefit balance is dramatically different at the personal level for the media practitioner. The benefits of maintaining one’s integrity include personal fulfillment and a clean conscience, uncompromised integrity and respect from others, high stature in the profession (perhaps), and (hopefully) greater marketability and with it, higher (formal) compensation. The last two are not even assured, and the first two, as they say, are hindi nakakain (cannot be eaten) when the media worker’s primary concern may be his/her family’s very survival. What are the costs of keeping clean? Media Nation participants attested to fabulous material benefits in various forms that one would have to trade off for integrity. They also mentioned losing access to valuable sources of information needed to perform well on the job. This comes with being ostracized by their peers, 85-95 percent of whom they estimate to be “playing along.”

What do we do, then, when the net social benefits of media integrity are so large, and yet the net private benefits for the individual media practitioner are so small (even negative)? For as long as media integrity is a public good that no one wants to pay for, we will never have enough of it. And herein lies the puzzle that even well-meaning media practitioners could not solve in one weekend in Tagaytay. The work, they agreed, will be long and hard. What heartens me is that the group vowed to take it on.

Sam Miguel
11-27-2012, 04:07 PM
Vulnerable journalists and angry revolutionaries

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:29 pm | Monday, November 26th, 2012

Do journalists, generally speaking, earn higher salaries than civil servants? The pattern of views I heard at the Media Nation conference over the weekend, which dwelt on corruption in the media, suggests that the reality is dramatically different—especially in the provinces.

In fact, almost everyone at the conference agreed that “local” journalists (a label, by the way, that many of those working in provincial newspapers or radio stations despise as insufferably Manila-centric) are more vulnerable to corruption. A large part of the reason is their economic situation.

It should be self-evident, of course, that economic need alone does not explain the prevalence of corruption, in media or in other sectors. The knowing reader or viewer can easily name a handful of already wealthy media personalities for whom corruption is (or looks to be) a way of life.

But if the testimony of veteran media professionals is any guide, need can drive the desperate to extremes.

Only a few journalists from the provinces were able to take part in the conference: one intrepid community journalist from Mindanao and several correspondents based in Luzon. The Media Nation organizers were not able this time around to raise enough funds to cover still-prohibitive airfare costs for participants from the Visayas and Mindanao. (That last year’s conference was held in Cebu helped attendance then too.)

But despite their absence—or perhaps because of it, because many of the delegates were acutely conscious that something vital was missing—the plight of provincial correspondents and especially of community journalists was frequently at or near the center of discussion.

The few who did make it did not fail to remind everyone else about what it is that they and their kind really face in the field: Many correspondents work without a written contract. Many reporters do PR work, especially for those who can afford to hire them: namely, politicians. Many newspaper owners in the provinces do double duty, as reporter and sales executive, just to make ends meet. Many radio block-timers resort to so-called package deals. And many work without the assurances that government employees in very many government agencies already take for granted: a steady salary, a structured scheme of bonuses, a system of health and insurance benefits.

The kind of anecdotes shared at the conference was telling: In the last election, for example, a journalist-turned-campaign-press-officer was shocked to find journalists in a particular town, both legitimate and illegitimate, quite literally hound a candidate for doles. In one incident, the candidate had to hide from the pressing horde in a toilet, and even there the hungry hands followed him.

In a city in northern Luzon, it is not uncommon to see a reporter bring his girlfriend to a press conference once or twice and then, some time later, to find that girlfriend bringing her own tape recorder and notebook to another news conference: Without training, without vetting, indeed even without an outlet to write for, the girlfriend had become a reporter.

But here’s the thing. These anecdotes aside, the stark reality that journalists in the provinces suffer through reaches all the way to the national capital too.

The sad fact is, the compensation-and-benefits arrangements available at established and profitable publications like the Inquirer and BusinessWorld or in the giant networks like ABS-CBN, GMA and TV5 are the exception, not the rule. (And even then problems remain.)

So, no. Generally speaking, journalists are not better paid than civil servants.

* * *

After the conference, I and others from the Inquirer were able to interview Lech Walesa—the mustachioed union organizer who famously co-founded the Solidarity movement in Gdansk, won a Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 40 and helped hasten the end of communist rule in both Central and Eastern Europe. The second president of Poland served as the closing keynote speaker.

When it was my turn, I used my time with the self-described “last revolutionary” and devout Catholic to talk popes and cardinals.

I was especially intrigued by his relationship with Pope John Paul II. “Of course I was very, very close,” Walesa said. “We could understand each other without a word.”

“If not for him, we would not end the era of communism in Europe,” he said, speaking through his interpreter, Jozef Sarach, a Polish national who has been living in the Philippines the last 27 years. “He told us not to be afraid. The rest we have done.”

About Pope Benedict XVI, the great John Paul’s German successor, he said: “A new pope, who is for this era. But we have to learn how to listen to him.”

And when I asked him if he had a message for the new cardinal archbishop of Manila, his first words were: “I want to give my bow.” He said he looked to the new cardinal for answers to pressing problems of both Church and country: “I hope he will find the solutions.” And he offered a word of advice: “Today, our faith has to be brave … but [must] also notice the problems outside the faith.”

His hair and his famous moustache having turned pure white, Walesa today looks positively avuncular—the benign, wisecracking relative at family gatherings. The image goes well with his natural gift for down-to-earth metaphors: democracy is either all or nothing; it’s like pregnancy, “you can’t be a little pregnant.” Or his approach to problem-solving: as in weightlifting, you need to start with smaller weights.

I must say, though, that the best question thrown at him came from GMA’s Jessica Soho: You were an angry young man then, “are you still angry?”

“I am still angry,” he said. There is still so much injustice in the world.

Sam Miguel
11-27-2012, 04:23 PM
House panel tackles FOI bill today

By Jess Diaz

(The Philippine Star)

| Updated November 27, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The House committee on public information will again attempt a vote today on the controversial Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

The measure seeks to give the public and the media wider access to government documents.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, committee chairman, expressed optimism yesterday that his panel could resolve four remaining contentious issues and vote on the bill.

“These are major issues which are critical components of the proposed FOI law. I hope that we can come up with a report that will uphold the bill without surrendering the mandate of the state and public officials and employees to protect national interests,” he said.

He said the four remaining issues are the proposed inclusion of a right of reply, safeguards against the exercise of the people’s right to information, exemptions from disclosure of official information and documents relating to national defense and security and national interest, and inclusion of private corporations and other entities in the coverage of the FOI bill.

It is Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino who is demanding that the bill include a right of reply provision, which would compel media organizations to use the replies of aggrieved parties with the same space or airtime and prominence as the perceived adverse stories.

Authors of the FOI measure are suggesting that the right of reply be contained in another draft piece of legislation, since the FOI bill deals with giving the public and the media greater and easier access to state documents.

As for safeguards against the exercise of the people’s right to information, Evardone said it was former actress-turned-congresswoman Lani Mercado-Revilla of Cavite who suggested that these be included in the FOI bill.

“But we have yet to agree on what those safeguards would be,” he said.

Regarding the exemption of information on national security and national interest from disclosure, he said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño and other militant lawmakers fear that Malacañang might use this to cover up for or suppress information about human rights violations.

Evardone said the proposal to include private companies, organizations and other entities in the coverage of the FOI bill came from Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo.

“If we agree to disagree on these issues, then the FOI bill will remain in limbo. We might run out of time to endorse it and for the House to consider it,” he said.

During the committee’s last meeting two weeks ago, Antonino questioned how a technical working group chaired by Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, the FOI bill’s principal author, consolidated at least 15 FOI measures, accusing the Quezon congressman of “rejecting” his bill and “giving preference” to Malacañang’s inputs on exemptions.

Tañada responded that his panel considered Antonino’s FOI version but that it could not decide on his right of reply proposal as this was within the committee’s jurisdiction.

After sparking what seemed to be an interminable debate, Antonino moved for adjourning the meeting by invoking the House rules, which ban committees from continuing to meet when the chamber is already in session.

Sam Miguel
11-28-2012, 08:06 AM
Senate ready to fast-track FOI as 'POGI' - Honasan

By: Karl John C. Reyes, InterAksyon.com

November 27, 2012 8:14 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate is ready to fast-track the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill and work with the House of Representatives to ensure that it will soon become a law, according to Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media.

Honasan said they will work on the legislation as the "People's Ownership of Government Information" - or POGI.

“At the Senate, we will continue working with all the members of the Chamber to hasten and complete the passage of the People’s Ownership of Government Information (POGI) also known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOI),” Honasan said on Tuesday.

The senator congratulated the House Committee on Public Information "for finally approving the FOI bill at the committee level and endorsing it for plenary consideration, interpellation and debates."

Earlier, the committee chaired by Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III was able to convince panel members to approve the committee report on the FOI bill and send it to the floor for plenary debates.

Honasan likewise praised advocates of the FOI bill for their "relentless efforts" in campaigning for the passage of the proposed measure.

“We also congratulate the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition and all other champions fo the FOI whose untiring and relentless efforts have won us this victory,” Honasan concluded.

Sam Miguel
11-28-2012, 08:10 AM
OPINION | The Right of Reply monkey-wrench in the FOI Bill

By: Nepomuceno Malaluan, Right to Know Right Now Coalition

November 24, 2012 8:33 AM

Lawyer Nepo Malaluan is co-convenor of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition and a trustee of the Action for Economic Reforms.

In an opinion piece published last October, political economy expert and Akbayan Party-List Rep. Walden Bello wondered whether or not there was an ideological connection between Malacañang's lack of support for the passage of the Freedom of Information bill and its vigorous push for cyberlibel. At the same time, Rep. Bello had wondered, and hoped, that the situation was merely one of President Aquino getting bad advice.

But if it was indeed "a case of an ideological position," Rep. Bello felt that it was "truly disturbing" as it hints at a "conservative, elitist stance on free speech and transparency issues."

President Aquino himself would later volunteer a plain, clear answer to Rep. Bello's question in his speech before the management conference of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas on November 15.

The President said:

"Sa karanasan ko po, tila ba nakasanayan na ng media ang magpaulan ng batikos sa mga lumalabas na balita. Allergic po yata ang iba sa good news – kundi man iiwasan ang mga ito, ay hahanapan naman nila ng masamang anggulo....

[In my experience, it looks like the media has gotten used to raining criticisms in the news that come out. I guess others are allergic to good news - if these can't be avoided they will look for a negative angle...]

"Sa dulo po nito, tayo ring mga Pilipino ang makikinabang sa makatotohanan at kumpletong pamamahayag. Kapag may sapat at tamang impormasyon si Juan dela Cruz sa mga isyung panlipunan—hindi lamang siya armado sa kaalaman—gaganahan at maeengganyo rin siyang makilahok sa pagpapaunlad ng bayan.

[Ultimately, it is also us Filipinos who will benefit from truthful and complete journalism. If Juan dela Cruz has sufficient and correct information about issues of society – not only is he armed with – he will also be inspired and encouraged to participate in the effort to develop the country.]

"Hindi po nalalayo sa diwang ito ang paninindigan natin ukol sa mga isyu tungkol sa media at publiko, tulad ng Right of Reply. Ika nga: the truth will set you free – kung patas na naibabalita ang magkabilang panig ng bawat storya, kung wasto ang detalye ng bawat ulat, at kung nabibigyang-halaga ang kalayaan ng mga Pilipinong bumuo ng sariling pananaw at pasya sa mga usaping panlipunan, wala naman pong dapat alalahanin ang sinumang mamamahayag, ’di po ba?"

[This idea is not far from my conviction about issues concerning the media and the public, such as Right of Reply. As they say: the truth will set you free - if the two sides of every story is reported equally, if every detail is accurate, and if the freedom of Filipinos to form their own view and decision on public issues, every journalist has nothing to fear, right?]

It is one thing for the President to express his views on how he thinks the press should be doing its reporting; it is another thing altogether to propose to enforce it by legislation.

The notion that fairness, positive slant, and accuracy in reporting can be made a legal requirement, as the President seems to suggest by making these the context for his mention of the Right of Reply, is repugnant to both our Constitutional guarantee and international human rights standards on freedoms of speech, expression, opinion, and the press.

Section 4 of our Bill of Rights provides that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press. A right of reply to enforce fairness is an abridgement.

A US case (Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo) decided in 1974 is illustrative.

In 1972, Tornillo ran for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. Miami Herald published editorials critical of his candidacy. When Tornillo's demand for printing of his reply was refused, he sued Miami Herald based on a Florida right of reply statute. This statute gives a candidate the right to demand the printing of a reply, free of cost to the candidate, if his nomination or election is assailed with respect to his personal character or official record by any newspaper, under pain of penalty should the demand be refused.

The US Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional. It said:

"x x x A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution, and, like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated.

Appellee's argument that the Florida statute does not amount to a restriction of appellant's right to speak, because "the statute in question here has not prevented the Miami Herald from saying anything it wished," begs the core question. Compelling editors or publishers to publish that which "‘reason' tells them should not be published" is what is at issue in this case. The Florida statute operates as a command in the same sense as a statute or regulation forbidding appellant to publish specified matter. Governmental restraint on publishing need not fall into familiar or traditional patterns to be subject to constitutional limitations on governmental powers. The Florida statute exacts a penalty on the basis of the content of a newspaper. The first phase of the penalty resulting from the compelled printing of a reply is exacted in terms of the cost in printing and composing time and materials and in taking up space that could be devoted to other material the newspaper may have preferred to print. It is correct, as appellee contends, that a newspaper is not subject to the finite technological limitations of time that confront a broadcaster, but it is not correct to say that, as an economic reality, a newspaper can proceed to infinite expansion of its column space to accommodate the replies that a government agency determines or a statute commands the readers should have available.

Faced with the penalties that would accrue to any newspaper that published news or commentary arguably within the reach of the right-of-access statute, editors might well conclude that the safe course is to avoid controversy. Therefore, under the operation of the Florida statute, political and electoral coverage would be blunted or reduced. Government-enforced right of access inescapably "dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate."

In terms of international human rights standards, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

1.Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2.Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3.The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

◦(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
◦(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”

Sam Miguel
11-28-2012, 08:10 AM
^^^ Cont'd

In General Comment No. 34 (102nd session, Geneva, 11-29 July 2011), the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) provided guidance for the interpretation and observance of the said Article 19. It emphasized that no restriction is allowed on grounds not specified in Article 19 (3). If any restriction is at all imposed, it must conform to “the strict tests of necessity and proportionality” and “may not put in jeopardy the right itself.”

Not only are the objectives contemplated for introducing the idea of a Right of Reply in the President’s speech not among the list of grounds for restrictions in the provision, they attack the very rights protected by Article 19. Freedom is abridged through mandatory publication of a reply for the purpose of shaping and balancing reportage.

What is worse, the area where the restriction is sought to apply - the media coverage of matters of public interest or concern - is one which the law accords even higher protection.

In the case of Borjal vs. CA (G.R. No. 126466 January 14, 1999), the Supreme Court states: “A newspaper especially one national in reach and coverage, should be free to report on events and developments in which the public has a legitimate interest with minimum fear of being hauled to court by one group or another on criminal or civil charges for libel, so long as the newspaper respects and keeps within the standards of morality and civility prevailing within the general community.”

We hear politicians cry of the media being "too powerful".

What citizens must not lose sight of is that the purpose of the guarantee of a free press is not to accord the press a privileged standing. It is to protect citizens from the abuse by government officialdom of the power and authority we entrust to them as well as the taxes that we pay for government operation.

In US vs. Bustos (G.R. No. L-12592, March 8, 1918 ), the Supreme Court points out: "The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and an unjust accusation; the wound can be assuaged with the balm of a clear conscience. A public officer must not be too thin-skinned with reference to comment upon his official acts."

The Court, in Borjal vs. CA, did take the opportunity to “remind media practitioners of the high ethical standards attached to and demanded by their noble profession.” But to promote responsibility, the Court pointed to self-regulation as “the ideal mean” rather than “self-censorship that would necessarily accompany strict liability for erroneous statements.”

The idea of the right of reply takes concrete form in a proposed rider to the FOI bill by Rep. Rodolfo Antonino. He inserts in his version the provision:

•Opportunity to Reply. – Any person natural or juridical who came to be involved directly or indirectly in the issue publicly obtained must be given the opportunity to account for, explain, manifest or throw light upon the issue concerned in the following manner:

◦(a) That, it shall be in the same space of the printed material, newspapers or magazines, newsletters or publications circulated commercially or for free;
◦(b) That, it shall be aired over the same program on radio, television, website, or any electronic device as the case may be;
◦(c) That mandatory explanation on the part of the person natural or juridical who is involved or happened to be involved in the public information obtained shall be published or broadcasted not later than three (3) days;
◦(d) That the explanation shall be thorough, clear and complete as to shed light on the issue of public concern.
Elsewhere in his bill, Rep. Antonino provides the consequences for failure to publish or broadcast the reply: "The publisher and editor-in-chief of the publication or the owner and station manager of the broadcast media who fails or willfully refuses to publish or broadcast the manifestation of the person who happened to be involved in the issue concerned as mandated in this Act shall be fined an amount not exceeding P10,000 for the first offense; P50,000 for the second offense; P100,000 for the third offense and closure or suspension as the case may be, of the franchise of the publication or broadcast media outlet or station for 30 days."

Thus, mere being "involved directly or indirectly in the issue publicly obtained" gives a natural or juridical person the right to demand the publication of a reply, on pain of fines and even closure. Every publication (and the proposed provision is all encompassing, not limited to media publication) of a matter making use of information obtained through the FOI law carries with it a legal responsibility to publish a reply of any natural or juridical person "involved directly or indirectly in the issue". The requirement, which carries with it a penalty, obtains whether or not you want to publish a reply, the reply is relevant, or you have the resources for such reply. Where is the guarantee of freedom in that?

In the advocacy for the passage of the FOI bill in the 15th Congress, we engaged the government in earnest to address various concerns on the bill. The changes we accepted, subject to safeguards, were major: expansion of the national security exception, addition of executive privilege, reclassification of offenses from criminal to administrative, and allowing the defense of good faith for violations of the act.

We, citizens, not just the media, recognize the responsibility that goes with our exercise of our right to information.

To address the concerns over possible abuse of the FOI, we worked out with the Senate committee the following provision:

"No abuse in the exercise of rights and in the performance of duties under this Act. - Public officials and employees, in the performance of their duties under this Act, as well as citizens in the exercise of their rights under this Act, shall act with justice, give everyone his or her due, and observe honesty and good faith.

Public officials and employees as well as citizens shall endeavor to handle information kept or obtained under this Act with due care, to the end that inaccuracies and distortions are avoided.

Any public official or employee, or citizen who, in the performance of duties or exercise of rights under this Act, willfully or negligently causes loss, damage or injury to another, in a manner that is contrary to law, morals, good customs or public policy, shall compensate the latter for the damage incurred. This is without prejudice to other remedies available to the aggrieved party under any other law for the same acts."

We requested Rep. Antonino to consider adopting the said approach, without prejudice to the House committee taking up the Right of Reply separately to allow its full deliberation, without holding hostage the FOI bill.

But Rep. Antonino would insist on a patently unconstitutional rider to the FOI bill. Clearly, it is intended to throw a monkey wrench to the FOI bill's passage. He must now feel affirmed by President Aquino's express support for the right of reply.

My colleague in Action for Economic Reforms, Manuel Buencamino, verbalized in his recent column supporting Rep. Antonino's right of reply, what in reality has already unfolded. He says, "Let’s have freedom of information and the right of reply. Both or nothing." Every Filipino's right to information now falls victim to the administration's beef with media.

It has to be stressed that FOI is not for the media alone. It is for pensioners who seek to clarify inaccuracies in their service records, for would-be beneficiaries who follow-up on the status of their claims to government services, for students and academics who seek hard-to-obtain government data for their research, for workers and farmers who ask for texts of negotiations and decisions that affect their livelihoods, for ordinary citizens who want to know how their hard-earned taxes are spent by government.

Citizens' direct access to information - perhaps, there lies the fundamental fear of FOI.

And so we get nothing.

Pop singer Adele has the perfect words for our wake-up call: “But you played it with a beating.”

Sam Miguel
11-28-2012, 08:30 AM
In support of Right of Reply

By: Manuel Buencamino

November 23, 2012 7:03 PM

The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent. That’s power. - Malcolm X

I’ll go against popular sentiment and support Rep. Rodolfo Antonino’s proposal to include the right of reply in the Freedom of Information Bill, not only because it challenges media on a right it considers sacrosanct--the exercise of sole and absolute control over what and who will get how much printed space, airtime, or bandwidth--but, more importantly, because it guarantees fair play.

The argument of media against the right of reply is framed as a struggle between freedom of speech and oppression.

"Right of Reply is repugnant to any true democracy’s notion of independent media. A press that can be dictated upon to dedicate time and space to anybody who cries foul is as good as censored. It is not just that the finiteness of time and space makes equal time and equal space an impossibility in print, on air, or even online. More to the point, any attempt to legislate responsibility and fairness in news and commentary can only end up hijacking journalists of their editorial prerogatives. It will force editors to surrender to law the use of their own human judgment, and yes, their own scruples, their own vulnerable sense of ethics, to decide what is fit to print or air. Telling media what it must print will have the same result as telling it what it must not: It will have the effect of prior restraint, and of denigrating our Bill of Rights. Right of Reply, everywhere it has been experimented with and failed, is not manifest in fair reporting but in dictated tyranny, on a daily basis,” said a recent editorial in this website.

As an opinion columnist, the framing of the argument works fine for me. Freedom of speech gives me the editorial prerogative of writing on any issue. I can attack anybody and I am not obligated to surrender any of my column space to a response because to be legally obliged to give up some of my finite space would, in effect, be telling me what I can or cannot write.

I have the Bill of Rights to back me up. I can build or destroy as I wish. I have that power and I’m only at the bottom of the media pyramid. Above me are the editors and publishers and above them, at the top of the pyramid, are the owners. They control the flow of information and opinion, they have the last word on what to disseminate or suppress.

Media prefers to call the arbitrary power to decide what information and opinion to disseminate or suppress editorial prerogative but I call it censorship. Censorship or editorial prerogative gives owners of the largest news organizations immense power. They can set the terms and scope of the national debate because the rest of media, from second-tier outlets to hao-siao operations all the way down to blogs and tweets, feeds on their headlines and editorials.

Does the marketplace of ideas function more efficiently under a self-regulating media oligopoly than a system of laws and regulations that mandates fairness? Is it healthy for democracy to have a one-sided conversation?

Gagging speech is a crude form of censorship. The more sophisticated way is to allow everyone to speak but only a selected few to be heard. That’s what media does when it exercises editorial prerogative and denies a victim the opportunity to air his side. It mocks the Bill of Rights and it undermines the principle of fair play.

Fair play is as vital to democracy as free speech. Fairness is what Rep. Antonino’s right of reply amendment is all about. It addresses the question, why should a victim of shoddy reporting or a demolition job be denied the right to rebut the information or allegation that could damage his reputation and good name? Why should a victim have to look for another forum to air his side? Why can't he have the right to defend himself in the same forum where he was maligned?

I am not arguing for the right of reply as a cover for what closet authoritarians call responsible journalism. We all know that the meaning of responsible journalism is subjective--if you agree with the story then it's fair and balanced. And if you disagree then it’s biased and unfair--so I won’t cite numerous reports and editorials that I find irresponsible. Besides, I don’t believe a law mandating responsible journalism will work because responsibility cannot be legislated. But fairness can be.

I support the right of reply because every victim should be given the right to air his side in the same forum where he was singled out. Rep. Antonino’s right of reply amendment gives media’s victims the wherewithal to defend their reputation and good name.

"Opportunity to Reply--Any person natural or juridical who came to be involved directly or indirectly in the issue publicly obtained (meaning obtained under FOI) must be given the opportunity to account for, explain, manifest or throw light upon the issue concerned in the following manner”--give equal space or time for a reply in the same printed space, on-air segment or online post where the information appeared, not later than three days after its printing, airing, or posting.

The right of reply amendment is not an attempt to “hijack the editorial prerogatives” of journalists nor does it attack their “vulnerable sense of ethics.” It is not a prior restraint ruse or a denigration of the Bill of Rights. It is victim-oriented legislation, it mandates fairness, it levels the playing field for the victim, it is not legislated oppression.

How can giving a victim the right of reply be tantamount to the suppression of freedom of speech? How can the “finiteness of time and space” be cited as legitimate grounds to deny a victim the opportunity to defend his reputation and good name?

Media cannot tell a person who feels maligned, “We would love to have you respond but we don’t have the time and space to carry your rebuttal. Pasensiya na lang, poh.”

Time and space limitations are not valid grounds for evading accountability. If media wants to call Rep. Antonino’s amendment legislated fairness then so be it. Because if media will not play fair then it must be made to play fair. And that’s only fair.

My only criticism of Rep. Antonino’s amendment is it grants the right of reply only to those affected by the FOI Bill. There are many victims of shoddy reporting and demolition jobs who have nothing to do with government and they will continue to have no recourse. But we can leave consideration of a stand-alone right of reply bill for a later time.

For now, suffice it to say that Rep. Antonino’s amendment is about fair play. It is not against the freedom of speech because granting victims the right of reply fosters rather than stifles freedom of speech. It levels the playing field, it allows victims to be heard as loudly as those who own the means to be heard far and wide.

Let’s have freedom of information and the right of reply. Both or nothing. Democracy cannot thrive with one and not the other.

Manuel Buencamino is a fellow of the Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).

Sam Miguel
11-29-2012, 09:16 AM
Leveson inquiry: a year that called press, police and politicians to account

A look back at the inquiry into press standards that could herald the end of self-regulation and reshape the media

Esther Addley

The Guardian, Wednesday 28 November 2012

As Lord Justice Leveson prepares to deliver his report, Dan Sabbagh looks back at some of the key moments of the inquiry. Link to this video On 24 June 2011, the day before what would have been their daughter Milly's 23rd birthday, Sally and Bob Dowler stood at the Old Bailey with their daughter Gemma to describe the "truly awful experience", "mentally scarring", cross-examination they had just undergone during the trial which led to the conviction of Levi Bellfield.

It had been, said Mr Dowler, a "mentally scarring experience on an unimaginable scale" to be forced to undergo intrusive and highly distressing cross-examination, before a jury found him guilty.

Eleven days later, Milly was again in the news. The Guardian revealed that in the days following her disappearance in March 2002, while her parents and sister still clung to the hope she might be alive, the teenager's voicemail was being accessed not only by detectives, but by reporters from the News of the World.

This was far from being the first revelation of illegal mobile phone hacking by News of the World reporters. It was almost exactly two years since the Guardian reported that "numerous" individuals had had their phones hacked by the News of the World. The Metropolitan police had reopened its investigation into hacking in January 2009, admitting it had uncovered new information about many more victims.

But while the public had been prepared to overlook the hacking of the phones of actor Sienna Miller and football pundit Andy Gray – both of whom had accepted payouts – a 13-year-old murder victim was another matter.

Britain was appalled, and Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron were under pressure. Their reaction was swift. On 7 July, the magnate stunned Fleet St by declaring that the next edition of the News of the World would be its last. The next day, the former NoW editor Andy Coulson, until recently the PM's director of communications, was arrested on suspicion of hacking and corruption, and the PM announced a public inquiry.
In the five months until Lord Justice Leveson convened his inquiry, the scandal rocked the media, political and police establishment. Rebekah Brooks resigned as News International chief executive, and later was arrested over hacking allegations relating to her time as News of the World editor, along with other executives and former NoW journalists. The Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, and deputy police commissioner, John Yates, also resigned.

Scotland Yard tried to compel the Guardian to reveal the confidential sources of a number of its phone-hacking stories, but later abandoned the attempt amid press and public outrage. News Corporation withdrew its controversial bid to assume full ownership of BSkyB. And police arrested the first of what would become a number of reporters from the Sun over the alleged illegal payment of police officers for information.

Phone hacking victims give evidence

It was in this context, on 14 November, that Leveson took his seat in court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice to begin his inquiry into "the culture, practices and ethics" of the press.

On day one, he heard from the Dowlers and Hugh Grant, both of whom had cause to complain about media treatment. The mixture of pitiable pathos and stardust they brought would be echoed throughout the inquiry, which would become cult daytime viewing on its live stream.

Sally Dowler, having been told by police that Milly's voicemail messages had been deleted by reporters, told a silent courtroom of the "euphoria" she had felt, believing this meant Milly was alive. Police later said they could no longer be certain whether journalists had purposely deleted the messages.

Grant's suggestion, however, that the Mail on Sunday might have hacked his phone was met the following day not only by a furious denial but by an enthusiastic monstering in the newspaper.

One by one, celebrities and civilians took the stand to give their accounts of their dealing with the press. Kate McCann said she had felt "like climbing into a hole" after the NoW published her personal diary, obtained from the Portuguese police, detailing her feelings after her daughter Madeleine disappeared.

Sienna Miller said unexplained leaks to newspapers had left her in a state of "complete anxiety and paranoia". JK Rowling said she had been driven from her home by paparazzi. Charlotte Church said she been offered £100,000, or an agreement by NI papers to look upon her favourably, to sing at Rupert Murdoch's wedding when she was 13. She took the promise rather than the money. Christopher Jeffries, who was falsely insinuated by a number of newspapers to have been involved in the murder of the Bristol woman Jo Yeates, said he was forced to move "from safe house to safe house" to escape the press at the height of its attention.

The media is "like the mafia", the comedian Steve Coogan, one of the most outspoken celebrity critics, told the judge. "It's just business."

In defence of tabloid tactics

Other witnesses, however, mounted a robust defence of tabloid tactics. The former NoW reporter Paul McMullan was unashamed, declaring to the judge that "privacy is for paedos". "In 21 years of invading people's privacy I've never found anybody doing any good."

Giving evidence in the new year along with a parade of editors, Richard Desmond, the proprietor of the Daily Express, similarly failed to show much contrition over the paper's treatment of the McCanns, to whom it later paid a hefty settlement. "I apologise again to the McCanns etc etc etc," he said, but for all this talk of the 38 libellous articles the paper had printed, "you could argue there were 65 or 70 good ones".

Also in January, it emerged that 37 victims of hacking had reached settlements with News Group, including Lord Prescott, footballer Ashley Cole and the actor Jude Law, who received £130,000. The following month, surprising few, Rupert Murdoch announced that he would launch a new Sunday tabloid, the Sun on Sunday, to replace the defunct News of the World.

Sam Miguel
11-29-2012, 09:17 AM
^^^ Cont'd

Police investigation widens

On 27 February, Leveson heard from Sue Akers, the Met deputy assistant commissioner in charge of the widening inquiries into hacking of phones and computers, and illegal payments to police officers. She told the inquiry that through "a culture of illegal payments" the Sun had established "a network of corrupted officials". The Met's investigation had widened, however, to include the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Star and Star on Sunday titles, she said.

Paul Stephenson, the former Met Commissioner, told the court Boris Johnson's former deputy Kit Malthouse had complained to him "on several occasions" in early 2011 that the force was devoting too many resources to its phone hacking investigation.

In one of the more bizarre developments of the phone-hacking story, it emerged the Met had lent Rebekah Brooks a retired police horse called Raisa, which Cameron was later forced to admit to having ridden, neatly illustrating the questions over the propriety of their relationship.

Murdochs give evidence

But when it came to true box office draw, his lordship had saved the best until the spring. The courtroom was packed on 24 April for James Murdoch; by the end of the day, however, it was not he who was facing the hostile questions. In the most dramatic day of testimony to date, in what looked like a pointed act of revenge against the government, Murdoch junior released to the inquiry a clutch of emails revealing the intimate relationship between his own chief lobbyist Frédéric Michel and Jeremy Hunt the culture secretary responsible for adjudicating on the BSkyB bid, which led to calls for Hunt to resign.

The following day, however, Hunt successfully dodged the bullet, which instead struck his special adviser, Adam Smith, who resigned acknowledging that his activities in giving NI detailed updates on the progress of the bid "at times went too far". Hunt would later be promoted to health secretary.

Rupert Murdoch was next on the stand, in two days of gripping testimony during which the 81-year-old insisted he had "never pushed our commercial interests in our newspapers", called Gordon Brown "unbalanced", and insisted he hardly knew any politicians. Acknowledging the scandal was "a serious blot on my reputation", he said he wished he had shut the NoW "years before".

Over the following weeks, a succession of powerful and once-powerful figures were subjected to a public and, at times, exposing cross-examination by Robert Jay QC, lead counsel.

Andy Coulson made an understandably cautious appearance. He had been asked by Cameron about phone hacking only once, he said, but no one from the government had ever sought to benefit from his NI experience during the BSkyB bid. Pressed on the subject of his security vetting, which was less probing than that of his predecessors or successors, he acknowledged he may have been shown documents for which he did not have appropriate security clearance.

Rebekah Brooks told the inquiry she had discussed the BSkyB bid with George Osborne, and confirmed that she had socialised frequently with Cameron in Oxfordshire, where both live. They had exchanged texts around once a week, she said, and he had signed his "LOL", believing it meant "lots of love" (she later explained to the PM it meant "laugh out loud").

Tony Blair's appearance in May was interrupted by an intruder who declared that the former prime minister was a war criminal; he was greeted with alarm and anger by Lord Justice Leveson, and what almost seemed to be weary familiarity by the former prime minister. Rupert Murdoch was misunderstood, Blair told the inquiry. "He is not actually a sort of identikit rightwing person … you know, he has bits of him that are very anti-establishment …"

Cameron defends government handling of Sky bid

In June, the chancellor and prime minister both denied any improper contact with News Corp over the BSkyB bid. The suggestion of any deal to look favourably on the bid in exchange to the Sun's backing for the 2010 election was "complete nonsense" said Osborne.

In his evidence, Cameron made clear his view that self-regulation of the press was not a viable future option, saying an independent regulator with "real teeth" was required. The relationship between politicians and the press had got too close, he acknowledged; in future there would be "a bit more distance, a bit more formality and a bit more respect on both sides".

Whatever the future relationship of prime ministers and press moguls, hopes of ongoing cordiality as publication of Leveson's report draws near may already have proved forlorn. Even before Cameron gave evidence, Leveson had felt the need to appeal to the Conservative party to continue supporting his inquiry, conscious that losing cross-party support for the process could be fatal.

Five months on, and the party is deeply divided, with scores of Tory MPs publicly calling for statutory regulation, while similar numbers publicly oppose it. In a startling show of impertinence, meanwhile, the education secretary, Michael Gove, last week roundly mocked Leveson's comments that he didn't "need any lessons in freedom of speech". The divisions between newspaper proprietors, victims and other interested parties are scarcely less stark.

"What I do not want is to produce a report that everybody reads, either likes or rubbishes, and then it just sits on a shelf, because then I've wasted a lot of time and we've all wasted a lot of money," Leveson commented to a witness early this year. We shall see.

11-30-2012, 09:17 AM
All out

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:52 pm | Thursday, November 29th, 2012

THE ADMINISTRATION coalition surprised itself this week with suddenly decisive action on two contentious bills pending in Congress: a plenary vote approving the amendment by substitution of the controversial Reproductive Health bill, and a committee vote endorsing the equally controversial Freedom of Information bill to the plenary.

Considering the state of inaction that had claimed the RH bill in the last four months, the decision of the House leadership on Nov. 26 to put the session to immediate use by introducing a substitute bill, with provisions designed to steady wavering allies and attract new support, took the anti-RH bloc by surprise.

Afterwards, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II spoke of “parliamentary momentum” shifting to the pro-RH side. If that reading is accurate, credit both the fast action on the substitution and the fact of the substitute bill itself. It is a compromise measure that is, to use the language of the market, priced to move. Both sides of the RH divide should find something useful in the substitute bill—unless one side is not in fact interested in any form of compromise.

Elizabeth Angsioco, a prominent women’s health rights advocate, found the new bill acceptable, noting that while there have been changes, “the substitute bill retains the important provisions, albeit stated differently.” She identified several, including the measure’s propoor focus, the government guarantee of access to and information on contraceptives, and the voluntary nature of participation. Some of the most controversial features of the bill, in the view of the Catholic bishops, were dropped: The government was barred from providing any contraceptives which may “prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum,” and the parental right to opt out of “classes pertaining to reproductive health and sexuality education” for one’s children was reaffirmed.

Not perfect, but a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, a few recalcitrant anti-RH congressmen vowed once again to deploy the delaying tactics that have worked so well in the last four months. This makes us wonder: We thought the threat of a Catholic backlash at the May 2013 elections was the anti-RH bloc’s most potent weapon. How can outraged Catholic bishops and irate parish priests urge the Catholic faithful to throw out all those who voted for the bill, when the anti-RH group is working so hard to block the vote in the first place?

For the bill to finally become law after a dozen fruitless years in Congress, President Aquino must himself put his weight behind the campaign. He must invest his political capital, and certify the substitute bill as urgent. In the eyes of the majority of the members of the Catholic bishops’ conference, the die was cast many years ago; the majority sees him as indisputably pro-RH. The President might as well turn that enmity to good use, by going all out for the substitute bill.

All in

ANOTHER SMALL legislative milestone was marked when the House committee on public information, voting 17 to 3 with one abstention, managed to pass the Freedom of Information bill on Tuesday. The committee chair, Rep. Ben Evardone, said he expects to send the committee report to the plenary next week.

The surprise was the failure of the right-of-reply advocates to attach their patently unconstitutional rider to the FOI bill. Perhaps they studied the legislative terrain again, and saw they might have a better chance of attaching the rider if more members of the House were taking part in the vote. Or perhaps they saw the FOI bill had no real chance of passage in the 15th Congress, and gave the FOI advocates a tactical but pyrrhic victory.

Whatever the case, the bill that President Aquino himself committed to as a campaign promise, the same measure that complements the Aquino administration’s avowed straight path of governance, the very same law-in-the-making that would empower Mr. Aquino’s own boss—ordinary people, citizens of the republic—in the continuing struggle to create a more accountable, a more transparent, democracy, has taken the necessary next step.

What is stopping Mr. Aquino and his entire administration, voted to power on the accountability platform, from going all in on the FOI bill?

Sam Miguel
12-03-2012, 03:02 PM
FOI bill faces delay in House panel

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:41 am | Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The freedom of information (FOI) bill faces more delay and is not yet headed for the House plenary for debates this week, as earlier announced.

According to public information committee chairman Rep. Ben Evardone, his panel has to meet yet again to approve its committee report on the FOI bill before the matter can be brought to the floor for deliberations. He set the next committee hearing on Dec. 11.

One of the bill’s proponents, Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, met the development with dismay, saying that another hearing was unnecessary and would just further delay proceedings.

The House of Representatives has only nine session days remaining this year, and will

adjourn on Dec. 22. The FOI bill still has to hurdle a vote on second and third reading.

But before that, it is expected to encounter opposition from those who insist on inserting a right-of-reply provision in the measure.

Evardone, who earlier said he planned to submit the committee report to the plenary this week, explained that the rules committee reminded his secretariat that under House procedures, such reports needed to be considered in a formal meeting and approved by majority of the panel members prior to going to the House body.

At the last hearing on the FOI bill, the public information committee voted 17-3 to pass the measure, and it was only after approval that the committee report could be drafted.

Evardone said he scheduled a hearing for Dec. 11 for the approval of the report, and asked the rules committee to schedule his sponsorship speech and the debates on the FOI bill on Dec. 12.

Deliberations soon

“The rules [committee] assured me that once we approve the committee report, we will start the deliberations on the floor of the bill ASAP,” Evardone told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.

He said his initial plan was to circulate the FOI report among the public information committee members for their signatures, and submit it to the plenary once the signatures were complete. But he said he received reports that this might be questioned.

“So we will just have to go through the motion of approving it by the committee to avoid a technicality problem,” he said.

In a phone interview, Tañada said the committee report only needed the signature of the members and they could sign it this week.

Plenary submission

There was no need for another hearing, since the practice in the House committees was to have the members sign reports before submitting them to the plenary, Tanada said. Other bills followed a similar process, he pointed out.

“That can be accomplished this week. No need to hold a committee hearing for that.”

He said he would volunteer to take charge in circulating the report among panel members for their signature, adding that the 17-3 vote for the bill was unlikely to change anyway.

Calling another hearing would further stall the bill, he said.

“This act of calling for another hearing is just another delay.”

“Kung gusto, maraming paraan, kung ayaw, maraming dahilan [If you want something, you can find many ways to do it; but if you don’t want to, you can find a lot of excuses],” he said.

FOI proponents earlier said that if the bill fails to pass on third and final reading before the year ends, it is unlikely to become law. Congress members are expected to be preoccupied with preparations for the May elections next year.

The FOI bill adopts government policy the full public disclosure of transactions involving the public interest, subject to certain limitations—such as information relating to national security and defense.

Also among the exceptions were the ones suggested by Malacañang, including “official records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy formulation, invoked by the President to be privileged by reason of sensitivity or impairment of the presidential deliberative process; and data related to law enforcement and defense.”

12-05-2012, 08:20 AM
Journalism's creative destruction

by Maria A. Ressa

Posted on 12/01/2012 3:44 PM | Updated 12/01/2012 9:38 PM

Destroy in order to rebuild.

That’s “creative destruction,” coined by economist Joseph Shumpeter when he described a “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

That phrase best describes the state of journalism globally -- gleaned from Media Nation 9, an annual gathering of journalists in the Philippines, to a lengthy report on “Post-Industrial Journalism” in the US, to the much-awaited Leveson report, a damning indictment of the British press in general and News of the World in particular.

In his keynote to Media Nation 9, President Benigno Aquino III told journalists, “We are living in a period that can only be described as one of creative destruction” because of “the 24/7 news cycle, where mainstream media is no longer the sole gatekeeper of the news, and where enforcement and the spread of information can take place on the level of the common citizen because of the rise of social media.”

Nobel laureate and democracy icon Lech Walesa, former president of Poland, ended Media Nation on November 25 with a challenge to journalists: “We are before the big era of next revolutions. Our next generation will not allow such injustice to happen. We have to correct the systems. That’s why we have to change it. Who can do it? Media.”

Both leaders described a process of destroying what exists to create something new -- Aquino referred to the world of journalism; Walesa referred to the world’s economic and political systems.

A few days later on Wednesday, November 28, Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism released its latest report and outlined the process of creative destruction that’s redefining journalism: “It is a moment of both catastrophe and rebirth for institutions that house journalistic work…There is a story of institutional decline and collapse, a story of institutional rebirth, and perhaps most importantly, a story of institutional adaptation.”

“Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present” destroys old notions of journalists as “merely purveyors of facts” and redefines its new role in the age of social media: “Working between the crowd and the algorithm in the information ecosystem is where a journalist is able to have most effect, by serving as an investigator, a translator, a storyteller.”

Journalists must move up the value chain with “in-depth knowledge about something other than journalism,” wrote authors Clay Shirky, C.W. Anderson, and Tow Center director Emily Bell. “The complexity of information and the speed with which people wish to have it explained and contextualized leaves little room for the average generalist.”

Journalism is moving from the age of authority to the age of authenticity. That doesn’t mean reporters give their opinions and biases. Instead, a reporter should let his or her voice and spirit shine through the work.

“The more we feel engaged with a journalist through his persona, the more we want to hear what he has to say about the world,” the report says.

Media corruption

What the report didn’t factor in is an added complication Filipino journalists deal with daily: endemic corruption. PR practitioners, government agencies and participants in Media Nation 9 estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 Filipino journalists engage in some form of corruption.

A veteran journalist spoke of reporters who attend press conferences and brazenly demand, “Anda?” -- code for "where’s the money?"

Others described “gifted” reporters – those who accept and demand gifts, ranging from expensive dinners to a house and lot. Beat reporters spoke of raffles where everyone wins.

Younger reporters said they’re horrified when they see their elders accepting these gifts – in some instances, actually asking for them – from gift certificates to outright cash. Media corruption has become more sophisticated and is widely accepted. In fact, those who aren’t corrupt are criticized and ostracized by the majority who benefit from indirect, direct, and institutional corruption.

Still, talking about these practices means things are changing. Once whispered about but never discussed publicly, corruption is now front and center – the topic of this year’s Media Nation 9. It’s unique because it addressed the issue head-on and recommended steps forward.

Key to making it work, many agreed, is to harness collective action among news organizations.

Beyond the Philippines

“Media corruption has no place in media,” Walesa told journalists even as he urged us to question the values behind the economic and political systems being challenged today in global movements. “The world has never been as dependent on media as it is today,” he said.

While that may be true, on Thursday, November 29, Lord Justice Brian Leveson delivered a scathing, 2,000-page report on the culture, practices and ethics of the British press. It was prompted by an investigation triggered by a phone hacking scandal by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.

“Most corporate entities would be appalled that employees were involved in the commission of crime in order to further their business,” the report said. “Not so at the News of the World. When the police sought to execute a warrant, they were confronted and driven off by the staff of the newspaper.”

Leveson said the relationship between media and government in Britain is “damaging.” Over the past 35 years “and probably much longer,” politicians and the press had “developed too close a relationship in a way that has not been in the public interest,” he added.

While Leveson is harshly critical of the publishers of News of the World (which Murdoch shut down shortly after the inquiry began), he didn’t recommend criminal charges.

Instead, he outlined the formation of a new independent watchdog to be set up by a new law: “There should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system.” That’s caused much debate and controversy.

Leveson said there’s “a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course” instead of using their power to resort to “high-volume, extremely personal attacks on those who challenge them.”

The report talks about an “ethical vacuum” on the Internet, the global “network of networks" and acknowledges, "It is clear that the enforcement of law and regulation online is problematic.”

Role of journalists

Things are changing. Power structures are collapsing. Unethical practices are coming to light.

In the Philippines, media’s soul-searching is in full swing, a move to anticipate and deal with pitfalls ahead.

Some of the findings of the Leveson report could just as easily apply in this country, and the Tow Center report is a foreshadowing of problems ahead.

Will we have the courage to forge ahead: to break up cozy relationships between politicians and the press, to give up money that doesn’t belong to us, to blow the whistle on our friends?

Reforming an institution from within is harder than a scorched-earth policy. Still, I think the phoenix rising out of the ashes will bring greater transparency, and the journalist’s role will be as essential in the future as it is today.

Society will always need “a truth-teller, sense-maker, explainer” and “a cadre of full-time workers who report the things that someone somewhere doesn’t want reported.” - Rappler.com

12-05-2012, 08:21 AM
Shades of gray in media ethics

by Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Posted on 12/03/2012 9:17 AM | Updated 12/03/2012 10:10 AM

A governor of a Northern Luzon province treated reporters to a weekend in Boracay, ostensibly to show them how this island markets itself to the rest of the country and the world. This coastal province wants to be a must-see-destination and is looking for success stories to emulate.

To some outsiders, the all-expense-paid trip didn’t feel right. It was a junket, paid for by public funds.

When asked why they joined the outing, some of the reporters replied that it was a weekend break. They weren’t working on those days.

Oh! So they cease to be journalists during Saturdays and Sundays and take on the identities of simply being residents of the province.

This doesn’t happen only in the provinces. In a national daily, a reporter or two took a leave to join junkets because they were disallowed by their editors. These free trips were not meant to yield stories but were non-events to pamper journalists, say, in a Hong Kong or Bangkok shopping trip.

Oh! So these staff members think they do not represent their newspaper when they are on leave and shed off their reporter status, only to assume it when they go back to pound their beats.

Gray zone

These and other tricky situations form a gray zone in journalism, the area where the ethical rules seem unclear. We discussed this in the recent Media Nation, an annual gabfest on issues that affect the way we do journalism. This time, media corruption was the theme.

In the gray zone, journalists are not told to write stories with a certain slant or angle. They are not asked to kill any story. They are just feted with food and other freebies.

Everything here is genial and smiling. No demands made. No questions asked. No inner struggle to make decisions.

There are ways to navigate this area, of course. The easiest and clearest thing is for journalists to simply say no to junkets. It makes life less complicated. Think of our mantra: our loyalty is to the truth and the public. Nothing should come in the way of that, certainly not a fun and funded trip to Boracay or Hong Kong.

For their part, publishers and editors should sanction their erring staff members and make it costly for them when they go astray. They should make their codes of ethics work rigorously.

Ninong and ninang

Other examples came up. We were divided into groups and each zeroed in on one gray area. Here are some of them:

•making news sources and subjects of coverage ninong and ninang during weddings and baptisms;
•going to bed with sources;
•accepting free products for reviews, especially expensive tech gadgets;
•participating in raffles wherein everybody wins big say, a refrigerator (this is common during politicians’ Christmas parties)

A few words on each of these.

We’ve seen reporters covering the political beats getting high government officials, senators, and congressmen as sponsors for their wedding or for their children’s baptism. This practice is generally frowned upon because they write about these personalities.

Normally, journalists should keep a healthy distance from their sources. This is required for a fair coverage so as not to be influenced by relationships. At times, we are compared to judges and justices because of the need to be cold and impartial.

Of course, having sex with sources is a no-no. This happens not only in the movies when reporters want intimate access to gain the deep-throat kind of information. Apart from being manipulative, it colors the relationship between reporter and subject/source.

Now that the Christmas season is upon us, reporters get invited to parties where big prizes are given away during raffles—not just for the first 3 winners but for all those covering the beat. Some have won TV sets, I-pods, and tickets to a favorite destination in the country or elsewhere.

A number of news organizations have disallowed their reporters from taking part in these raffles because they are an excuse to give pricey gifts and favors.


As for product reviews, the best thing to do is to disclose that the gadget was given by the company or to return it after it is reviewed.

Disclosure is a must in many areas of the gray zone. For example, when a journalist is invited to attend a conference, he or she should include in the report that a certain NGO or company sponsored the trip. The public should know this as well.

Other examples: A columnist who is not a staff member of a publication should disclose what his or her main job is. And when writing about the business or other interests of the owners of their news organizations, reporters should say so.

Here’s the paradox of our profession: we should have empathy. We should care about issues and people so that we are able to report effectively. At the same time, we should have hearts and minds of steel—so that we do not succumb to temptation and accept payoffs, favors and live lifestyles similar to the powerful people we write about.

That’s the tension in each journalist. But, as most of those who took part in Media Nation said, the values each one holds dear still make for the best moral compass. - Rappler.com

12-05-2012, 08:23 AM
Media secrets

by Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Posted on 11/26/2012 7:26 AM | Updated 11/26/2012 2:18 PM

Are you prepared for this? Colleagues in the media estimate that 85% of us are corrupt! That’s a super majority.

They culled this figure from computations of PR people and media operatives, those who work below the radar screen to bribe us, and anecdotes from the field. That’s the low end, these sources say, because the number can reach a high of 90%, especially during election season!

I was shocked to hear this. I felt like Rip Van Winkle awakening to a new, cutting-edge world of corruption in the media after decades of slumber. Why, when I was starting out in the 1980s, it seemed like below 50% were on the take. The forms of corruption were obvious, with cash stuffed in envelopes the most common.

But the giving has evolved. The bribe offers have expanded to include a house (wow!), mutual fund investments, and as much as P5 million for sought-after TV personalities. With technology, the briber need not give the cash directly to the taker. There’s the ATM, of course, and the money is deposited directly to one’s bank account. Perhaps, this makes the transaction more impersonal and the guilt less.

We discussed these and more over the weekend, during the Media Nation, an annual gathering of multi-media journalists (broadcast, print, online). A gabfest of sorts, Media Nation gives us the time and space to dissect our industry’s problems and challenges. This year, we took out our blinders and looked hard at the elephant in the room.

Code of ethics

But before we all gnash our teeth in despair, some of the news organizations have started to address this. They’ve come up with codes of ethical conduct and have sanctioned and fired erring journalists.

A number of media entities have ombudspersons. They receive complaints about their staff, conduct probes, and resolve these issues. But do people outside our profession ever get to hear of these?

Here’s the problem. Many of these codes are not shared with the public; same with the actions taken against corrupt journalists. When readers and viewers are kept in the dark about the ethical norms of our profession, then they cannot hold us accountable. They cannot call our attention and point out that we’re not complying with our own tenets.

When the bad eggs are fired, they simply move to other news organizations because the reasons for the firing are hush-hush. Then the corruption virus remains in the industry.

The reason some media organizations have not made their ethics codes public is because, they say, these are works in progress. They are living documents. They undergo a continuous process of fine-tuning and the staff has to be continuously oriented. There’s a fear that the public will demand perfect compliance and hound the news organization no end.

I find this weird. We are at the frontlines of demanding transparency and accountability from public officials and the people we cover yet we exempt ourselves. Sometimes, I feel like we’re no different from the Supreme Court. We’re a league unto our own, beyond the scrutiny of the public.

Light and shadow

Some say that those who participate in Media Nation are all like-minded souls so we preach to the converted. It’s just us talking among ourselves without making a dent on the 85%.

But here’s the thing. Even if some people say that they know who are corrupt among us, even if they are privy to those who are on the corrupt A-list doesn’t make our working environment any better. Just because we don’t accept bribes doesn’t mean that all is well and we can go on doing our work without being affected by this reality.

Corrupt editors, reporters, columnists, producers, broadcasters cast a dark shadow on our profession. Whatever we do can be tainted by perception. Why is this so? Because we are all suspect, because our profession is still muddied by corruption.

Some of us have experienced this. And it can be bruising.

Why doesn’t the 15% get together then to do something? As a senior colleague who has seen most of it told me, “There will always be corruption. Let’s draw the line, separate them from us.”

One way to do this is to violate the 11th commandment: Don’t get found out. The public should know. How? By media writing, reporting on media. By the viewing, listening and reading public engaging us, giving us tips and leads on corruption in our ranks. This, I hope, can be one self-cleansing mechanism.

As one writer said, “Light reveals us to ourselves.” To this, if I may add: Light reveals us to others, too. - Rappler.com

12-05-2012, 08:24 AM
Diverse opinions: The essence of free media

by Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez

Posted on 11/24/2012 10:41 AM | Updated 11/24/2012 9:21 PM

(Editor's note: Philippine Daily Inquirer President and CEO Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez delivered this speech at the 9th Media Nation Summit on Nov 23, 2012 in Tagaytay City.)

I’m delighted to be part of Media Nation, this annual attempt by members of the country’s news profession to address issues of concern. And because it takes place towards the end of the year, it seems to me our reflections this weekend can be good source of valuable personal and institutional New Year’s resolutions in a few weeks’ time.

But first may I digress. Since I can’t help but notice that I’ve been asked to speak first. Surely, this is not about age. Sa mga babae, bawal pong gamitin ang age as a basis for sequence so I think Maria [Ressa] and Jessica [Soho] will object to that.

But at second thought, however, I realize that in fact, it is according to age -- age of the medium we represent. Print is the oldest of the news media and its culture influences even other news forms.

The basic questions we ask of any news story today were first asked and refined several generations ago by print journalists: Is it accurate? Is it solidly attributed? Is it fair?

Because print was first, those of us who work in it have also struggled with the problems and pitfalls of journalism the longest, including corruption.

I must tell you that from my own experience and that of others in similar situations, one of the most disheartening, disappointing and frustrating things is for one to find out that someone you’ve tried your best to support and whose independence you’ve nurtured breaks that trust by selling valuable editorial real estate.

This betrayal weakens the institution deeply and must be addressed with great conviction.

From print’s long experience have come certain remedies such as gift policies, correction boxes, performance reports, assessment in news, ombudsman. But we all know that the media landscape is changing and changing fast.

The impact on print has been dramatic. In Europe and Northern America, newspapers are in what some commentators call a death spiral but the impact of rapid change has also been uneven. In Asia, the biggest newspapers not only print in the millions but are even growing.

We in the Philippine Daily Inquirer remain confident about the medium-term prospects of print.

We recognize the dangers and opportunities that newer platforms pose and even though the right business model remains to be proven, we are moving decisively in that direction.

The cornerstone of our digital strategy is Inquirer.net, konting plugging lang po, the country’s leading news website.

But we have exciting plans for our print products, too, because we are learning the right lessons from the turmoil in Europe and Northern America and taking encouragement from our neighbors in Asia.

Despite a rapidly changing environment and despite the growing number of news platforms, however, the role of the news professional remains the same. Yes, more and more newspapers now work with so-called citizen journalists or content contributors.

This is a welcome development but those of us tasked to be stewards of news enterprises cannot lose sight of our main responsibility: to employ professional journalists who are dedicated to the canons of the profession.

It is a profession given special privileges by the Constitution because of the role that its members play in a democratic project. If democracy is best understood as government with the consent of the governed, the role of journalism is best understood in the same terms. It is to help form informed consent.

Mr President, like everyone in this room, I’m glad you have taken the time to be here. Your accessibility is humbling.

Mr President, you have sometimes spoken of being bombarded with negativity. We feel for you. When you speak in this vain, the presidency is burdened enough without the added weight of negative news.

But the Constitution grants that the press is fundamentally free as it allows the press to define negative or positive in different ways. This is the diversity of opinion at the heart of democracy.

All of the news organizations here have had their own encounters with negativity, from critics who define negative and positive in their own way. Like you I’m sure, you have often wanted to challenge someone and say, “Sige nga, kayo nga ang gumawa nito.”

I don’t know if it’s simply human nature to look at the glass half-empty but even if our own critics deny that the glass even exists, we cannot disengage with them or tune them out. They form part of a community that we choose to serve. - Rappler.com

12-05-2012, 08:48 AM
I have never been a Hugh Grant fan, thinking him too much as the befuddled Englishman, a type once endearing but killed by Grant's bungling on-screen characters, and one which I find he takes to much too closely even in real life.

I do however agree with what he said in the course of Lord Leveson's investigations in the aftermath of the news of the World scandal of over a year ago. Grant said that there is a need for an independent and powerful regulator to be created by law specifically to police the media. His own encounters with the British and other European tabloids and of course the infamous paparazzi may have all given him a rather dark view of the media. But being a celebrity he also realizes that he cannot turn his back on the media since after all film may be said to be a form of media itself. He knows he has to live with the media, and that to some extent he may even be part of it.

Therefore when he says an independent regulator is needed for media, he speaks powerfully.

Sam Miguel
12-06-2012, 08:18 AM
Crime and the mass media

By Randy David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:46 pm | Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The word “ubiquity” refers to the quality of being everywhere. It captures succinctly the perception of a whole society being engulfed by crime—that is, if one goes by the early evening news on television. Crime reports bookend the rest of the news so routinely that crime is no longer “newsworthy” in the sense of being surprising or interesting. Is this the reality we live in, or is it something that is magnified by inordinate media attention?

Crime’s ubiquity in the mass media is rivaled only by the pervasiveness of accidents of all kinds—speeding buses, motorcycles, and overloaded trucks careening out of control due to malfunctioning brakes. Indeed, the only time crimes and accidents retreat from center stage is when disasters strike. Then, the networks launch an extended coverage of the death, destruction, and dislocation caused by typhoons, killer floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires.

It is reasonable to ask if these events accurately sum up the substance of our everyday life as a nation. Having once read the early evening news for a TV station, I know it has not always been like this. I don’t recall that the news of the day unfailingly began with a litany of crimes committed.

Not certain if this is just a superficial impression, I decided to monitor for a week the news reportage of the country’s three biggest networks. What I found in all three channels was the same disturbing pattern of unrelenting “tabloidization.” I have shared this personal disquiet with some friends in the industry. Their uniform response is that this indeed is the reality.

As a sociologist, I am unmoved by such arguments. I am cognizant enough of the filtering power of the mass media to know that news reporting is inescapably a selective process. It is impossible, not to say unnecessary, for any news organization to report everything that has happened in the course of a day. There’s always selectivity in the news. What to report, from what angle, what level of prominence to give to an event, or how deep or extensive one must go in the treatment of a phenomenon—these decisions shape the mass media’s representation of everyday reality. The networks cannot say they are merely being truthful.

Neither can they take refuge in the defense that the daily news they serve the public is what mass audiences prefer to watch, as borne by the ratings. According to this view, the extensive reportage of crime merely responds to the anxieties of the average citizen who, unlike the elites who live in gated communities and commute in private vehicles, is vulnerable to all kinds of threats to personal security and property. The news thus serves as a way of informing him of the threats around him and his loved ones, and, as well, of alerting the police to the environment in which criminals lurk.

I am sure there is validity to this argument. But, I wonder if this is all there is to television news’ excessive focus on crime. For something to be newsworthy, it somehow has to be different. There is a sense in which the reporting of the same crimes day in and day out becomes so predictable that it is no longer news. So, what keeps people interested?

Two things, I think. The first is the treatment of the event—if it’s not anything new, then the reporting must be made entertaining. In our culture, the two tend to shade into one another. The second is that a crime may be so common as to draw no interest when taken in isolation. But, if placed in a series of other norm violations, it creates for the public the sensation of being swamped by rampant criminality, and for the authorities, an urgent call to action. Whether it is intentional or not, that seems to be the bent of our television news. But is it the reality? I hope not.

The point here is not to blame the media, but to get them to reflect on current journalistic practice. I don’t think the issue pertains merely to the state of editorial judgment. I am particularly concerned with the impact of current habits of reporting on our morale as a people, and with the need to explore alternative modes of presenting the news that depart from the standard ways of assigning meaning found in a moralistic society.

In his 1996 work “The Reality of the Mass Media,” sociologist Niklas Luhmann writes: “The effect of continually repeated items of information about norm violations might be the overestimation of the extent to which society is morally corrupt, especially if it is the behavior of prominent people in society who ‘set the tone’ that is reported most… Norm violations are especially selected for reporting when they can be accompanied by moral judgments … when they are able to offer an opportunity to demonstrate respect or disdain for people.”

Moralizing cannot be the function of the media, especially since they are not prepared to assume a corresponding obligation for society’s morals. Yet, moral talk is perhaps the easiest thing in the world to do, largely because, as Luhmann notes, “the media favor attributing things to action, that is, to actors.” In this, they only reproduce the facile moral sensibility of the uninformed. The few times they bother to delve into the complex circumstances behind an action, it is usually only “in order to shift credit or blame.”

It would be presumptuous for me to propose any specific recommendations on how the reporting of the news might be improved, except to say that every network can always profit from self-reflection. To those who worship at the altar of ratings and are afraid to deviate from proven habits, I can only repeat Luhmann’s reminder: “The organization fulfills its social function precisely by working differently.”

Sam Miguel
12-06-2012, 08:35 AM
^^^ "Worship at the altar of ratings" he says.

On the commerical side, there is no choice I think. To actually be able to afford a payroll, operations, logistics and other expenses, medsia outfits need to keep a healthy bottomline.

How on earth that can be reconciled with absolute fairness and balance as far as presenting the news I just don't know.

Sam Miguel
12-06-2012, 10:25 AM
Merriam-Webster’s top words of 2012 reveal that no one actually knows what socialism is

Posted by Alexandra Petri on December 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm

This is depressing.

Merriam-Webster has come out with its most-looked-up word of 2012 — the two-word pair of “socialism” and “capitalism.”

Yes, all those times we were slinging accusations of “socialism” at each other, it seems we didn’t actually, well, know what the word meant.

I suppose our ignorance should not come as a surprise, given the way we were throwing the word around. “YOU ARE A SOCIALIST NAZI FASCIST!” we kept yelling. “YOU ARE JUST AS MUCH OF A SOCIALIST AS ATTILA THE HUN AND SIGMUND FREUD COMBINED!”

Just last month I came across someone on Twitter talking about “capitalist redistribution day.” I don’t know what that is. I suspect he didn’t either.

We liked the way the words sounded, I guess.

“If I had to guess what a socialist was,” we say, turning away from the television for a moment as it announced The Dire Unfolding Of Barack Hussein Obama’s Socialist Agenda, “I would say — a Hitler-person who hates America. And so socialism, I think, is when you want to take away everything that makes America great and give it to Europe, especially French people.”

“I thought ‘socialist’ was just another way of saying ‘French,’” someone else chimes in.

“I thought a socialist was one of those people with clammy hands who won’t stop talking to you on the bus.”

“Socialists climb down the chimneys of good capitalist children and redistribute their toys. Socialists love redistributing almost as much as they hate a good day’s honest work and the American way. Sometimes they get together and redistribute for hours and hours where kids can see them, and I think it’s wrong.”

“Once,” someone adds, with emphasis, “I had a socialist in my attic, and he ate through all the insulation and was very difficult to remove, and when we finally got him out he had redistributed everywhere.”

This one-legged capitalism is not drawn to scale.

“Capitalism?” we said. “That is another word for American-ness, and we want more of it, whatever it is. Socialists are trying to chain it up, and we want to free the capitalism so it can roam at large over the hills, eating the weakest of the cattle, as it did in pre-Colonial times.”

“Socialists wear little hats, and they want to put barricades in all the streets and sing to you.”

“Are you sure that is a socialist?” someone asks timidly. “Are you sure that is not something you saw in ‘Les Miserables.’ “

“No,” you say. “I’m sure.”

And then you dart over to Merriam-Webster.

Still, it’s a little depressing that the words we kept hearing over and over and over again — on television, on Facebook, on Twitter, from old men in ill-fitting T-shirts with eagles on them — were, well, Emperor’s New Words. Everyone assumed someone else knew what they meant. “The capitalist,” we said confidently, “is a sort of shark-like creature that spits out your money if you hit it on the nose.”

“I am, I think, the socialist in this relationship,” we admitted to our friends. “But sometimes I want to be the capitalist, and I don’t know how to broach the topic with him.”

Perhaps this ignorance is for the best. So many perfectly good words are ruined by looking them up.

After all, what you don’t know won’t socialist you.

Sam Miguel
12-06-2012, 10:26 AM
Harvard’s free speech problem — in defense of the bad joke

Posted by Alexandra Petri on December 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm

That picture of Harvard you’re always supposed to use when writing about Harvard or someone from AP Style comes and yells at you and asks what the matter is.

I am always alarmed by the dogged insistence of people who cannot take a joke that, if someone ever made a good joke, they would recognize it instantly.

“It is not that I don’t like jokes,” they say. “I can take a joke. But this is plainly not a joke, or it would be worded better. This is horribly offensive hate speech, and I should not have to listen to it.”

Well, no.

Most jokes are not funny.

Most satire is not deft.

Most humor, in fact, is total rot.

For every sublime joke that makes you proud to be a human being, every punchline expressed in the most perfect words, there are thousands upon thousands of lame puns, sexist slurs, too-sooners, farts and material that someone just ripped off LordVoldemort7’s Twitter.

Nobody will tell you he hates jokes or dislikes free speech. Free speech is good, these people say. They love free speech. The more the merrier.

It’s offensive speech that’s the problem.

And satire is welcome, they say. Absolutely. They love a good joke.

It’s the bad jokes that are the trouble.

They always come for the bad jokes first. And no one says anything. And this is how it starts.

Look at what’s happening at Harvard right now.

It’s Punch Season, when mysterious letters slide under students’ doors inviting them to join a Final Club, which, depending on your opinion, is either “one of an array of (until recently) racist and (still) sexist organizations” or “a great Harvard tradition that has been preserved in its glory and purity that your friends are involved in” or “somewhere with a basement that you can drink beer in without submitting a lot of forms to the House Dean.”

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of Final Club culture (I spilled some myself, back in the day), and sure enough, some bad joker also took the time to distribute fliers inviting students to join a fake final club called the Pigeon, whose values included “inclusion,” “diversity” and “love,” with footnotes explaining “Jews need not apply,” “Coloreds okay,” and “Rophynol” (misspelled). It invited students to a first event at the frozen yogurt shop Berryline after closing, in “semi-bro” attire.

The outcry was intense.

This has been decried in the Boston Globe as an “anti-Semitic flyer.” An investigation began to root out the originators of the anonymous flier. Dean Evelynn Hammonds sent an e-mail to the Harvard community saying that, “As Dean of the College, and as an educator, I find these flyers offensive. They are not a reflection of the values of our community.”

I assumed that she was referring to the spelling of Rohypnol.

But no.

“Even if intended as satirical in nature,” she continued, “they are hurtful and offensive to many students, faculty and staff, and do not demonstrate the level of thoughtfulness and respect we expect at Harvard when engaging difficult issues within our community.”

Whoa. If that’s the standard, everyone had better throw in the towel right now.

Look, subtle, this ain’t. Jonathan Swift, this ain’t. Even the Harvard Lampoon President Owen Banks said it was “basely crass,” not “pretentiously crass.” But there is little doubt that it is intended as satire. No such club exists. If it did, it would not have its first event in semi-bro attire at a closed frozen yogurt place.

Something doesn’t have to be funny to everyone to be a joke. If it did, there would be no jokes. Even the best jokes in the world are not funny to everyone. Heck, this might not be funny to anyone. But its intent is still clear.

And this is an odd response from a college whose official policy states:

“Free speech is uniquely important to the University because we are a community committed to reason and rational discourse. Free interchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas through research, teaching, and learning. Curtailment of free speech undercuts the intellectual freedom that defines our purpose. It also deprives some individuals of the right to express unpopular views and others of the right to listen to unpopular views.

Because no other community defines itself so much in terms of knowledge, few others place such a high priority on freedom of speech. As a community, we take certain risks by assigning such a high priority to free speech. We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasant effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we are a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious ideas. We are committed to maintaining a climate in which reason and speech provide the correct response to a disagreeable idea.”

This is, to say the least, not the proper response to a disagreeable idea.

As Nicholas and Erika Christakis write in an excellent piece on the subject, “Our hyper-vigilance about campus speech does the opposite of ensuring ‘safety.’ It infantilizes students and tells them that any time they hear something that makes them uncomfortable, no matter how distasteful it may be, they have reason not only to be offended, but also to restrict the speech of others so that they can avoid their unpleasant feelings. This is not good pedagogy.

“For one thing, it denies students the opportunity to learn to think for themselves — an essential life skill without which most humans would be adrift. In the recent Harvard case, it also literally blinds authorities to more pressing problems for our students, such as the sexist and dangerous behaviors that still go unchecked behind closed doors.”

But that is much harder than rooting out a flier.

So they always come for the bad jokes first. No one wants to defend the bad jokes. If there were some way to be immune from hearing bad jokes, we would all be signed up.

But by the time you have cleared away all the bad jokes, there is no footing left for the good jokes to stand on. Pretentiously crass humor depends upon the toleration of basely crass humor. The proper response to a flier like this is to throw it away with a muffled groan and later, if you’re still upset, to write a strongly worded letter about it. To make a better joke. Not to suppress it. Not to hunt down the people behind it. In the purge of the bad jokes, no one will make it out alive.

Sam Miguel
12-10-2012, 12:15 PM
This is part of a much longer article from the Washington Post, and I've only put down here and highlighted the portions I think are germane to this thread.

Since 1979, Brian Murtagh has fought to keep convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald in prison


If you are of a certain age, the story is familiar. In the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1970, in an officer’s apartment at Fort Bragg, N.C., someone savagely attacked Colette MacDonald, 26, and her two daughters, Kimberly, 5, and Kristen, 2. The weapons were a kitchen knife, an ice pick and a piece of scrap lumber used as a club. Colette was hit so forcefully that both her arms were broken. Kimberly’s skull was split open. All three were stabbed as though in a frenzy, the wounds coming from all directions, but unerringly finding vital organs and vessels.

Military police arrived, summoned by a gasping phone call from Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, 26. He told them he’d been awakened to the screams of his family, and was immediately set upon by scruffy intruders who were chanting, “Acid is groovy — kill the pigs.” He lost consciousness, he said, and when he awoke the intruders were gone and his family was dead. “Pig” was written in blood on the headboard of a bed.

The doctor’s wounds were trivial, at least compared with those of his family. He had a small, neat incision between his seventh and eighth ribs, just deep enough to partially collapse a lung. He had a lump on his forehead, a cut on his left arm and some superficial lacerations. Only the lung required treatment.

Almost from the start, investigators focused on MacDonald, whose account of the attack seemed to contradict the physical evidence: the locations of bloodstains and spatters and of torn fibers from his pajamas, and the lack of evidence of a furious defensive struggle. Although the doctor was initially cleared by a preliminary Army hearing — “insufficient evidence” — he was prosecuted in 1979 in federal court, where he was convicted after a six-week trial. The jury was out only six hours. The prosecution’s methodical use of circumstantial evidence had overcome a signal weakness in the case: The state never presented an entirely convincing motive.

The lurid crime was an international story that became even bigger with the publication in 1983 of “Fatal Vision,” the bestseller about the case by journalist Joe McGinniss; the book would lead to a TV miniseries and, later, to an excruciating spasm of self-examination by the media. The MacDonald murders had spawned a second Big Story.

From prison, MacDonald sued McGinniss for breach of contract, alleging that the writer had betrayed him. During trial and its preparations, McGinniss had been embedded with the defense team, ostensibly to write a book about an unjustly accused man. At some point, the writer became convinced of the doctor’s guilt but never told MacDonald, fearing he would lose the doctor’s cooperation. So, as he was ingratiating himself with the convicted killer, feigning incredulity over the verdict, encouraging MacDonald to send deeply self-revealing letters from prison, McGinniss was writing a book describing MacDonald as a narcissistic, psychopathic monster. McGinniss contends he behaved ethically in dealing with MacDonald under enormously difficult circumstances.

The civil jury deadlocked — McGinniss’s publisher wound up settling out of court — but after reviewing the trial transcripts and exhibits, New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm in 1990 wrote an article that eviscerated both McGinniss and the entire profession of journalism. Its famous first line: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”

Malcolm contended that McGinniss’s tactics were symptomatic of what all journalists do, to some degree: fool people into trusting them, then betray them by spinning facts, or distorting them, to create whatever compelling narrative they wish. Every story, she implied, is on some level a con job.

The accusation rattled the prickly, inward-peering world of journalism. Reporters took sides — most in a defensive crouch, but some acknowledging an unnerving whiff of truth in what Malcolm wrote. Journalists do have agendas; their articles do marshal facts selectively. They don’t always reveal their biases. Stories are seldom completely arm’s-length. This greater journalistic debate seemed inextricably linked to the MacDonald case; it became almost impossible to write about one without summoning the ghosts of the other.

So, just to be clear:

I intend to spin you toward a certain conclusion. The process is stealthy and has already begun; it was no accident that I called Dr. MacDonald’s stab wound an “incision.”

I have come to believe that Jeffrey MacDonald murdered his family and injured himself as part of a coverup; I’ve concluded this both because I have researched the case extensively, and because, as a writer, I see exactly how Errol Morris prejudiced his account while shrewdly appearing not to do so. I admire his skill but not his book. I think the media have been careless and gullible in reviewing it, perhaps partially because the story of a grievous, enduring miscarriage of justice presents a more compelling narrative than the alternative.

I think “Fatal Vision” is among the best true-crime books ever written, but I think Joe McGinniss unattractively betrayed Jeffrey MacDonald to keep the doctor talking. Still, I do not think McGinniss deserved the national scorn he endured. The partnership between the journalist and the murderer was an exercise in ferocious, mutual exploitation, for enormous stakes, and MacDonald’s lie — that he was innocent — was a far greater deception. And, anyway, in such a freighted transaction no meaningful measure of morality attaches.

I’d never met Brian Murtagh before starting on this article, but he and my lawyer-wife worked together for years at the Justice Department. She would tell me about her friend who, 30 years after the case that would consume his life for better or worse, could not stop talking about ice picks, bloodstains, holes in pajamas, and beautiful, dead children.

Okay, I think we’re at arm’s length now. We’re good to go.


Jeffrey MacDonald and his lawyer declined to answer questions or comment for this article.

A ruling on the claims made in the evidentiary hearing in Wilmington is expected early next year. If the ruling goes against him, it will probably be appealed to a higher court. And if that court denies the appeal, Jeffrey MacDonald might be out of options, finally.

Just before this story went to press, Errol Morris and I spoke for nearly an hour; he concedes there are some things he wishes he’d written differently — for example, disclosing that there were some credible challenges to Jimmy Britt’s story. Morris allows that he may have used some facts selectively to make a case for what he believes — selectivity, he says, is part of all journalism — but adds that his belief remains solid that MacDonald did not get a fair trial. He also thinks MacDonald is innocent, but of that is less certain.

I asked Brian Murtagh if he has any regrets about sticking with this case, and he said no. I asked him if he has any nightmares about it, and he said he used to dream about the crime scene, but no more. Only one dream still visits him from time to time.

“I find myself in an emergency room, badly injured, and I look up at the doctor about to work on me, and it is Jeffrey MacDonald.”

Gene Weingarten is a columnist for WP Magazine. To comment on this story, send e-mail to wpmagazine@washpost.com.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 11:40 AM
PH most-corrupt tag makes passing FOI bill necessary–Tañada

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:46 am | Monday, December 10th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—The recent Transparency International (TI) report showing that the Philippines is perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world is one very good reason to pass the freedom of information (FOI) bill as soon as possible, according to the measure’s main proponent.

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said, “I just hope my fellow lawmakers read the report to be convinced.”

In the TI report, the Philippines scored 34 out of 100 in the corruption perception index—with 100 considered as being very clean.

TI-Philippines said the report showed the country needed to take more action to improve on how things are done. One of the steps it recommended was passing the FOI bill.

The FOI bill mandates full public disclosure of government dealings involving the public interest, subject to limitations such as that relating to national security and defense.

The bill is snagged in Congress. Its introduction in the plenary for floor deliberations and voting on second reading was put off pending another hearing ostensibly to approve the committee report.

Tañada said he was resigned to the fact that another meeting would have to be called before the bill could finally be tackled on the floor and put to a vote.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 11:42 AM
House OKs FOI bill panel report

By Karen Boncocan


3:05 pm | Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines — The House committee on public information on Tuesday signed its report on the Freedom of Information Bill.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat, vice chairperson of the panel, presided over the hearing which was attended by 10 members who approved the committee report.

Its chairman, Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone was abroad to attend the United Nations Convention and was unable to appear before the panel.

Faced with manifestations on the content of the report, the bill’s main proponent, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III, told Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez and Camiguin Representative Pedro Romualdo that their comments on the proposed measure would be considered once the bill reaches its period of amendments at the plenary.

The report will be forwarded to the committee on rules so it can be scheduled for plenary deliberations.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 11:45 AM
FOI bill finally takes 1st steps out of committee

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:51 am | Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, the bill’s main sponsor, said he expected the FOI bill to be approved when Congress resumes its session in January, at the latest, since a vote on second reading was unlikely now after the bill faced numerous delays.

The freedom of information (FOI) bill has overcome its final hurdle in the committee and is set for sponsorship and debate on the House floor which would likely happen in January.

Committee on public information members approved the report endorsing the FOI bill to the plenary Tuesday, two weeks after approving their technical working group’s version of the measure.

Committee chairman Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone was not present at Tuesday’s hearing, having left the country last week for a United Nations conference.

But Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, the bill’s main sponsor, said he expected Evardone to stick to his commitment to bring the bill to the floor Wednesday.

Tañada said the sponsorship speech would not take up too much time and could be over before the House resumes deliberations on the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill.

Tañada said he expected the FOI bill to be approved when Congress resumes its session in January, at the latest, since a vote on second reading was unlikely now after the bill faced numerous delays.

“By the time we come back in January, we will still have nine session days,” he said.

Tañada said contentious points he expects to be raised against the bill include the insertion of a right of reply provision and the inclusion of the private sector in the coverage of the measure.

Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo raised the points before the committee approved the report Tuesday. He said he would take them up again when the measure is tackled in the plenary.

Romualdo said it was important to be able to access data pertaining to private firms to prevent the public from being victimized by nefarious schemes, such as multimillion-peso Ponzi scams.

He said the right of reply provision was a legitimate proposal and meant to encourage responsible journalism.

Proponents of the FOI bill had decried the delays it has faced, including the need to convene Tuesday’s meeting to approve the committee report.

They said the common practice was to have a committee report circulated among its members for their signature and a committee hearing was never called just to approve it.

But earlier, Evardone said he was simply following House rules when he called for a hearing to approve the committee report. He said he did not want the bill to be questioned on a technicality.

The FOI bill would make it government policy to allow for the full disclosure of documents and transactions to the public who request it, subject to limitations pertaining to national security and defense the disclosure of which may imperil the nation.

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 11:51 AM
Is your representative among 117 supporting FOI bill? See list

by Carmela Fonbuena

Posted on 08/06/2012 11:48 AM | Updated 08/06/2012 12:52 PM

RUNNING OUT OF TIME: FOI authors, advocates slam House committee on public information chair Ben Evardone for failing to put bill to a vote

MANILA, Philippines - At least 117 members of the House of Representatives support the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, based on a signature campaign launched by principal authors Deputy Speaker Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada III and Akbayan Rep Walden Bello.

The FOI bill seeks to impose speedy procedures for obtaining documents of high public interest. Less than a year left in the 15th Congress, it remains in the first stage of the legislative process. It is pending approval on first reading before the House committee on public information.

FOI bill authors and advocates on Monday, August 6, criticized committee chairman Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone for failing to put the bill to a vote.

"He seems to be dribbling the FOI to certain death in the 15th Congress," said lawyer Nepomuceno Malaluan, a convenor of The Right to Know Right Now, a network of more than 150 organizations from various sectors that have long been campaigning for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act.

Sought for comment: Evardone said: "I think the accusation that I'm trying to kill the FOI is baseless and misplaced.... I would like to put it on record that I'm not against FOI. In fact, I am fully behind the spirit and intent of the FOI. It is just that there are issues and concerns that need to be resolve."

Earlier, Evardone said he planned to put the bill to a vote on Tuesday, August 7, but House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr asked him to reschedule because he wants to hold a caucus first.

"There are contending issues that need to be resolved first and I believe those issues can be hammered out in a caucus of the leaders and members of the ruling coalition. I think this will expedite the process and will prevent heated, spirited, and highly divisive debates in the committee level and in the plenary," he added.

Tañada said there's one contentious issue left that the committee has to settle. Will they include in the FOI bill the Right of Reply, which seeks to require media groups to give equal space and time for subjects of negative news to respond to allegations against them.

Tañada and Bello said they are hoping that the 117 signatures will force Evardone to immediately schedule a vote on the bill.

Is your representative among them? Here's list.

Principal authors of FOI bill

1. Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III

2. Aurora Rep Juan Edgardo Angara

3. Akbayan Rep Kaka Bag-ao

4. Akbayan Rep Walden Bello

5. Muntinlupa Rep Rodolfo Biazon

6. Bayan Muna Rep Teddy Casiño

7. Quezon City Rep Winston Castelo

8. Bayan Muna Rep Neri Colmenares

9. Cibac party list Rep Cinchona Cruz-Gonzales

10. Cebu City Rep Rachel Marguerite Del Mar

11. Sorsogon Rep Salvador Escudero

12. Davao City Rep Karlo Alexei Nograles

13. Marikina Rep Marcelino Teodoro

14. Cibac party list Rep Sherwin Tugna

Lawmakers who pledged support for FOI bill

15. Cavite Rep Joseph Emilio Abaya

16. Antipolo City Rep Romeo Acop

17. Diwa party list Rep Emmeline Aglipay

18. Isabela Rep Rodolfo Albano

19. Palawan Rep Antonio Alvarez

20. Camarines Sur Roando Andaya Jr.

21. Manila Rep Ma. Zenaida Angping

22. Bohol Rep Erico Aumentado

23. South Cotabato Rep Daisy Avance-Fuentes

24. Ifugao Rep Teddy Brawner Baguilat

25. Lanao del Sur Rep Pangalian Balindong

26. Quezon City Rep Jorge "Bolet" Banal

27. Pangasinan Rep Leopoldo Bataoil

28. Ako Bicol Rep Rodel Batocabe

29. Manila Rep Ma. Theresa Bonoan-David

30. Agap party list Rep Nicanor Briones

31. Care party list Rep Salvador Cabaluna III

32. Pasay City Rep Emi Calixto-Rubiano

33. Kakusa party list Rep Ranulfo Canonigo

34. North Cotabato Rep Nancy Catamco

35. Zamboanga City Rep Maria Isabelle Climaco

36. Ako Bico party list Rep Christopher Co

37. Batangas Rep Sonny Collantes

38. A Teacher party list Rep Julieta Cortuna

39. Benguet Rep Ronald Cosalan

40. Mountain Province Rep Maximo Dalog

41. Northern Samar Rep Raul Daza

42. Gabriela party list Rep Emmi de Jesus

43. Cagayan Rep Juan Ponce Enrile Jr.

44. Biliran Rep Rogelio Espina

45. Ilocos Norte Rep Rodolfo Fariñas

46. Laguna Rep Danilo Ramon Fernandez

47. Kalinga Rep Abigail Faye Ferriol

48. Camarines Sur Rep Salvio Fortuno

49. Camarines Sur Rep Arnulfo Fuentebella

50. Ako Bico party list Rep Alfredo Garbin Jr

51. Bataan Rep Albert Raymond Garcia

52. Iloilo Rep Janette Garin

53. AAMBIS-OWA Rep Sharon Garin

54. Albay Rep Fernando Gonzales

55. Basilan Rep Jim Hataman-Salliman

56. Bagong Henerasyon Rep Bernadette Herrera-Dy

57. Gabriela Rep Luzviminda Ilagan

58. Tawi-Tawi Rep Nur Jaafar

59. Senior Citizens Rep David Kho

60. Zamboanga Del Norte Rep Rosendo Labadlabad

61. Davao Del Norte Rep Antonio Lagdameo Jr.

62. Albay Rep Edcel Lagman

63. Masbate Rep Scott Davies Lanete

64. Tarlac Rep Jeci Lapus

65. Ating Koop party list Rep Isidro Lico

66. Negros Oriental Rep Jocelyn Limkaichong

67. Sulu Rep Tupay Loong

68. AVE party list Rep Eulogio "Amang" Magsaysay

69. Zambales Rep Milagros Magsaysay

70. Batangas Rep Hermilando Mandanas

71. Alagad Rep Rodante Marcoleta

72. Anakpawis Rep Rafael Mariano

73. Bulacan Rep Joselito "Jonjon" Mendoza

74. Southern Leyte Rep Roger Mercado

75. Cavite Lani Mercado-Revilla

76. An Waray Rep Neil Benedict Montejo

77. Guimaras Rep Joaquin Carlos Rahman Nava

78. An Waray Rep Florencio Noel

79. Manila Rep Rosenda Ann Ocampo

80. Parañaque Rep Edwin Olivarez

81. La Union Rep Victor Francisco Ortega

82. Sarangani Rep Emmanuel Pacquiao

83. Nueva Vizcaya Rep Carlos Padilla

84. Coop Natco party list Rep Cresente Paez

85. Kabataan Rep Raymond Palatino

86. Agham party list Rep Angelo Palmones

87. Lanao Del Sur Rep Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman

88. AA Kasosyo party list Rep Nasser Pangandaman

89. Camarines Norte Rep Elmer Panotes

90. APEC party list Rep Ponciano Payuyo

91. Coop Natco party list Rep Jose Ping-ay

92. Pangasinan Rep Marlyn Primicias Agabas

93. Cebu Rep Gabriel Quisumbing

94. Sorsogon Rep Deogracias Ramos Jr

95. Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos

96. Cavite Rep Jesus Crispin Boying Remulla

97. San Jose Del Monte City Rep Arturo Robes

98. Abante Mindanao Rep Maximo Rodriguez Jr.

99. Cagayan de Oro City Rep Rufus Rodriguez

100. Bataan Rep Herminia Roman

101. Pasig City Rep Roman Romulo

102. North Cotabato Rep Jesus Sacdalan

103. Sulu Rep Nur-ana Sahidulla

104. Leyte Rep Andres Salvacion Jr

105. Catanduanes Rep Cesar Sarmiento

106. Western Samar Rep Mel Senen Sarmiento

107. Maguindanao and Cotabato City Rep Bai Sandra Sema

108. Palawan Rep Victorino Dennis Socrates

109 Bulacan RepMa Victoria Sy-Alvarado

110. Negros Oriental Rep Pryde Henry Teves

111. Cagayan Rep Randolph Ting

112. Taguig City Rep Sigfrido Tinga

113. ACT Teachers party list Rep Antonio Tinio

114. Oriental Mindoro Rep Reynaldo Umali

115. Davao City Rep Isidro Ungab

116. Tarlac Rep Susan Yap

117. Compostela Valley Rep Ma Carmen Zamora-Apsay

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 11:52 AM
Finally, FOI moves to House plenary

by Rappler.com

Posted on 12/11/2012 4:30 PM | Updated 12/11/2012 5:38 PM

RESURRECTED. Seventeen members of the House committee on public information voted to adopt the consolidated Freedom of Information Act.

MANILA, Philippines - The Freedom of Information bill (FOI bill) finally moves to the House plenary after the House committee on public information approved its final report on the bill Tuesday, December 11.

It's a technicality that delayed the bill. The committee approved the bill on November 27. In other ocassions, the report would just be circulated among members for their signatures. But committee chair Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone opted to call another committee hearing to approve the final report.

Evardone told reporters in a text message that he plans to sponsor the bill before the plenary “hopefully by next week.”

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada, one of the authors of the bill, wants it sponsored on Wednesday, December 12.

“We will submit it for sponsorship on December 12. I hope Cong Ben will honor his commitment and support the bill,” Taňada said.

With only 4 session days left before Congress pauses for the Christmas break, Tañada said the integrity of Evardone will be put into question if he fails to sponsor the bill by Wednesday. He did not attend the hearing,

Tañada said FOI could be approved on second reading when House members return to work in January.

When the bill failed to hurdle the committee level on November 13, FOI advocates declared the bill as "dead."

Camiguin Rep Pedro Romualdo expressed his opposition to the bill before the committee report was signed, saying that provisions concerning private sectors should be incorporated in the bill.

Romualdo was also the same lawmaker who raised the question of quorum when the House was about to ratify the FOI in the 15th Congress. - Rappler.com

Sam Miguel
12-12-2012, 11:54 AM
With no objection, Senate OKs FOI on 2nd reading

by Ayee Macaraig

Posted on 12/11/2012 7:54 PM | Updated 12/11/2012 8:58 PM
'EASY PART.' Sen Gregorio Honasan II said the easy part is getting the Senate to pass the FOI bill, the "other part" is educating the public about its importance.

MANILA, Philippines – The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill breezed through the Senate, which approved the measure on second reading.

In a voice vote, the Senate passed the FOI bill on second reading on Tuesday evening, December 11. The vote was done after the Senate ratified the sin tax reform bill.

Sponsor Sen Gregorio Honasan II said passing the bill on second reading was the easy part. The Senate version of the FOI bill is formally called the People’s Ownership of Government Information (POGI) Act of 2012.

The POGI bill aims to institute transparency and accountability by giving the public access to government records and information, and recognizing the people’s right to know.

Compared to the contentious sin tax bill, Honasan said the POGI bill was passed with no objection.

“I’m relieved. That was the easy part. The other part is communicating this to the people, the intended beneficiaries,” Honasan told Rappler in a phone interview.

The next step will be to approve the bill on 3rd and final reading, possibly by next week.

“Except for some constitutional issues that were validly raised by Sen Santiago, there seems to be some groundswell of support. I’m happy and we have to communicate this to our advocacy groups, to the bigger house that is our people. We should move this,” Honasan added.

Honasan was referring to the questions raised by Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago during the period of amendments.

Last week, Santiago expressed concern that the bill may limit the President’s privilege to keep matters confidential such as issues on foreign affairs, and violate the separation of powers.

Honasan said Santiago’s concerns can be addressed.

“Those were not really serious objections. She graciously converted the questions into concrete amendments, most of which we accepted.”

Honasan added that he “politely declined” Santiago’s request to change the title of the bill back to FOI.

“FOI seems to continue to be abstract in the eyes of the people. This does not apply to the media only. We want to concretize it by strategically emphasizing that people’s ownership should be underscored so to catch everybody’s attention, we use the acronym POGI,” Honasan said.

“There are comments that the acronym is presumptuous. If there are insinuations, I’m no longer competitive in that department,” the senator said in jest. In his heyday as a rebel colonel, Honasan was referred to as "pogi" (handsome) by his military peers.

Ball in House’s court

With the Senate’s approval, all eyes are on the House of Representatives, where the bill has met rough sailing. The House version is finally ready for plenary debates after the Committee on Public Information approved its report on the measure.

Compared to the House, the POGI bill had an easier time in the Senate. Honasan has repeatedly said that almost all senators are supportive of the bill.

In the House, so-called killer provisions like the right of reply, and procedural and logistical delays pushed back the approval of the measure. Committee Chairman Eastern Samar Rep Ben Evardone has been accused of “dribbling the bill.”

Honasan though said he will not comment on the House’s dynamics “out of inter-house courtesy."

“Okay lang iyan (It’s okay). There’s a sense of impatience on the part of advocacy groups. These are people who have kept vigil with this particular bill for several congresses.”

A question of priorities

Asked how the FOI bill will fare considering the many other bills Congress has been tackling, Honasan said it was a matter of priority. Other than the recently approved sin tax and budget bills, both houses of Congress are also tackling the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill. The President wants the RH bill voted on soon.

“To me this is just a question of a sense of priorities, not only of both houses of Congress but the executive department. Because of so much democratic space we are enjoying, no administration, especially this one should be worried about the implications of the POGI bill," Honasan said.

President Benigno Aquino III has made it his campaign promise to push for the bill’s passage but advocates said his support has wavered. They call on him to certify the FOI bill urgent.

“[This bill] will really make the present administration look good, put substance to daang matuwid (straight and narrow path), convergence, private-public partnership and give life to the principle of transparency, and motivate our people to be more interested in our country,” Honasan said.

The Palace has come out with its own version of the FOI bill and proponents in both the Senate and the House said they have adopted this in their bills.

In the Senate, Sen Alan Peter Cayetano and Loren Legarda are co-sponsors of the POGI bill. They delivered their co-sponsorship speech last week. – Rappler.com

12-19-2012, 09:21 AM
No Palace blessing, no smooth sailing for freedom of info bill

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:29 am | Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Don’t expect an express vote on the Freedom of Information bill (FOI) in the House of Representatives this December.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said the House leadership is not planning to ask President Aquino to certify the FOI bill as urgent like what it did with the reproductive health measure. He said the FOI bill would begin moving in the House in preparation for a possible second reading vote in January.

The Senate has already approved the FOI bill on third and final reading.

Belmonte, who personally supports the FOI bill, said the measure would go through the legislative mill first, as this was what happened with the reproductive health bill.

“As far as we’re concerned we’d like to see [the FOI bill] go into the process first,” he said in a press briefing.

According to him, House leaders only asked Mr. Aquino to certify the reproductive health bill as urgent after the House managed to get it through the lengthy second reading vote, and they did it to ensure that the bill would not be killed on a technicality.

Initially, the President was reluctant to certify the matter and asked the House to try its best to get the bill moving without his intervention, he recalled.

But after the bill was passed on second reading in the House following a five-hour, suspense-filled vote, House leaders sought Mr. Aquino’s certification so that the bill would get moving in the Senate, he said. It did. The Senate approved the reproductive health measure on second and third reading on Monday.

Belmonte also said the House could possibly put the FOI bill to a second reading vote in January, after it resumes sessions following a month-long holiday break.

He said he expected lawmakers to question certain aspects of the bill.

Several lawmakers earlier manifested their intent to introduce amendments to the FOI bill in plenary, and these proposals could be controversial.

Among the amendments they want is a right of reply provision requiring the media to give equal space to people who are going to be the subject of reports of data gathered through the FOI law, as well as the inclusion of the private sector in the coverage of the measure.

One of the bill’s main proponents, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, earlier said he wished the House would show the same political will as the Senate and pass the bill soon.

The FOI bill adopts a government policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations such as information relating to national security and defense, the disclosure of which may imperil the country.

Also among the exceptions were the ones suggested by Malacañang, including official records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during decision-making or policy-formulation, invoked by the President to be privileged by reason of sensitivity or impairment of the presidential deliberative process, and data related to national security and defense.

12-21-2012, 08:58 AM
Tañada says FOI ‘back in ICU’

By Karen Boncocan


2:52 pm | Thursday, December 20th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines — The Freedom of Information Bill is back in critical condition, its main proponent deplored on Thursday.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III in a text message to reporters, said that the FOI Bill was now back in the intensive care unit (ICU) after it failed to be tackled at the plenary Wednesday, the last session day before the House of Representatives went on its Christmas break.

When asked why the FOI Bill was not taken up, House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II said that the ratification of the controversial Reproductive Health Bill took the spotlight Wednesday night.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, a co-author of the FOI Bill, said that another issue was the uncertainty of when the House delegation for the bicameral conference committee on the RH Bill would be back. He said seven sponsorship speeches were lined up for the FOI Bill.

“If the FOI were to be introduced after the RH ratification, there was fear that few people would remain to hear sponsorship speeches and even the Speaker’s closing speech,” he said.

True enough, Gonzales said that many of the legislators present during their last session wanted to leave right after the RH Bill bicameral report was ratified.

Despite having little time left, Bello was confident that the FOI Bill would be “introduced first thing next year and there will be a sharp debate on amendments.”

“I am still hopeful that we would get it to third reading before the session ends in February but a certification by the President as urgent would guarantee its passage,” he added.

Lawmakers resume session on January 21 next year and Tañada said that he really hoped the FOI Bill could finally be tackled by then.

“We are running out of time with nine session days left before the campaign begins,” he said.

12-21-2012, 09:00 AM
FOI took back seat to RH bill, says Evardone

By Christian V. Esguerra, Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:17 am | Friday, December 21st, 2012

Groups looking to blame someone for the delay in the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill in the House of Representatives should look no farther than another equally contentious measure—the reproductive health (RH) bill.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, on Thursday said the FOI bill “took a back seat” when the lower chamber focused on getting the RH bill passed after it was certified urgent by President Aquino.

Feeling pressured

Evardone admitted feeling some “pressure” to get the FOI bill rolling in the House, after the Senate passed its version of the measure on Monday.

“Of course I feel the pressure, but we can’t do anything because the RH bill was certified as urgent so the FOI had to take a back seat,” he said in a phone interview.

Evardone was supposed to deliver his sponsorship speech for the FOI bill on the floor on Tuesday, the day after the chamber passed House Bill No. 4244, the RH measure, on its third and final reading. The session was adjourned early, however, partly because there were few representatives present.

Evardone said he again failed to bring the bill to the floor on Wednesday because the House had to wait for the bicameral conference committee report on the RH bill. Since a faxed copy arrived late, HB 4244 was ratified by the House only after 7 p.m.

Not urgent bill

While they were waiting, however, a number of congressmen were allowed to deliver privilege speeches. One lawmaker expressed his support for the RH bill and was interpellated by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

With Congress now on Christmas break, Evardone said the FOI bill would have to wait until the session resumes on Jan. 21.

“The FOI bill will have to go through the usual process, meaning it has to be sponsored on the floor, there will be a period of debates and amendments, and then voting,” he said.

He noted that Malacañang had announced the President would not certify the FOI bill as urgent. Doing so would have allowed the House to pass the measure on second and third reading on the same day, which was the case with the RH bill in the Senate.

Inclusion of ‘right of reply’

Evardone said he was anticipating a more heated debate on the proposed “right of reply” (ROR) provision being pushed by Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino. It was one the contentious issues that delayed the measure in Evardone’s committee.

“This time, I would leave it to the plenary to decide whether or not to include the ROR in the FOI bill,” he said.

The RH bill took 14 years to pass. How long will the FOI bill, now languishing for 20 years, have to wait?

In a separate interview, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said the FOI bill had the distinction of being one of the longest—if not the longest—stagnating bills in Congress, having been filed in 1992.

Now Tañada and the bill’s proponents will be racing to have the measure approved in the nine session days left to the House in January and February, before the representatives go on election break.

Public access

He remained hopeful though. “We still have nine session days and of course I think by then the focus would be on the FOI bill,” he said.

The FOI bill would make it the law to allow public access to government documents and transactions, subject to limitations such as information relating to national security and defense.

Among other exceptions were suggestions by Malacañang to include records of minutes and opinions expressed during decision—or policy-making meetings deemed by the President to be privileged by reason of sensitivity or impairment of the presidential deliberative process, and data related to law enforcement and defense.

12-21-2012, 09:04 AM
^ As a writer and journalist myself, I wonder what it is about the (mostly) mainstream media's aversion and lothing to the right of reply. Seriously, and speaking sans facetiousness, I find that the right of reply is only fair and just. We in this profession have so much power, unregulated power at that, and like all such power it is subject to abuse. Without naming names I can think of three guys right off the top of my head who are already long-time editors in established mainstream media who have a minimum price of P50,000 to stop writing bad things about pinpointed individuals / institutions, and a P100,000 price tag to right good press about them. Established media editors, mind you, two of who work for the Big 3 broadsheets. One beat reporter taking a Christmas gift already does not sit well with me, what more three editors with known price tags.

12-24-2012, 09:54 AM
Absenteeism imperils FOI bill in House

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:20 am | Monday, December 24th, 2012

Proponents of the freedom of information (FOI) bill are worried that the expected absenteeism of lawmakers next year would derail debates on the measure and its passage in the House of Representatives before it goes on break for the May elections.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said the House has no recourse but to act on the FOI bill since the Senate has already passed its own version. He wondered, however, whether the nine remaining session days next year would be enough to see the measure through to the end.

Congress is expected to go on an early break in February next year in time for the campaign period for the midterm elections in May.

Tañada said the question is whether lawmakers would be returning to the Batasang Pambansa to attend sessions when Congress reopens on Jan. 21. If there would be enough warm bodies on the floor, he sees no problem for the bill.

Danger signs

But in the absence of a quorum, he said the only chance for the measure to move forward is for the House leadership to allow the sessions to continue for the debates to be recorded.

“These are the danger signs, whether people would be coming to the sessions,” he said.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, another coauthor of the measure, said the absenteeism of lawmakers, which leads to a lack of quorum, is a “perennial problem of an election year.”

Lawmakers are expected to be busy with preparations for the election campaign next year. In an earlier interview, Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II said he expected fewer lawmakers to show up in the January and February sessions.

But Baguilat said there are still ways to address this issue.

He said lawmakers could be prompted to attend sessions if the House leadership would exercise its political will to get them to show up. Another thing that could push lawmakers to arrive in the plenary is a strong public sentiment in support of the FOI bill, he said.

Palace certification

A certification from President Aquino may also be needed to “clinch the FOI passage,” he added.

Mr. Aquino had supported the FOI bill as far back as the 2010 presidential campaign period.

Earlier, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said he was not going to ask the President to certify the FOI bill as urgent. Belmonte said he wants it to go through the regular legislative process, similar to what was done with the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill.

Mr. Aquino only certified the RH bill as urgent after the House passed it on second reading.

Belmonte also expects the FOI bill to be put to a second reading vote in January next year.

But the FOI bill has yet to be sponsored on the floor, even before debates and period of amendments could begin.

Back in ICU

The speech of its designated sponsor, public information committee chair Ben Evardone, was supposed to be delivered last week. But a lack of quorum on Tuesday, and the ratification of the bicameral conference report on the RH bill during the last session on Wednesday, derailed the bill’s introduction on the floor.

Evardone earlier said he was ready to sponsor the bill and has prepared his speech, wherein he will urge colleagues to approve the measure.

Tañada yesterday said with the constant delays it has faced, the FOI bill is “back in the ICU (intensive care unit),” noting the lack of committee hearings in 2012.

Tañada said he was ready to help Evardone defend the bill on the floor when it is questioned by colleagues.

Among the contentious points expected to be raised are the inclusion of the right of reply provision in the FOI bill and the inclusion of the private sector in its coverage.

LP has no position

The President’s Liberal Party has no position yet on the FOI bill, but its leaders have spoken of supporting the measure, Tañada noted.

The FOI bill is expected to promote transparency and accountability in government, by removing the shroud of secrecy covering its transactions.

It aims to make public access to government data easier. It adopts a government policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations such as information relating to national security and defense, the disclosure of which may imperil the country.

Sam Miguel
12-26-2012, 09:35 AM
Enrile files P31-M damage suit vs ad veteran

by Carmela Fonbuena

Posted on 12/21/2012 3:19 PM | Updated 12/21/2012 5:02 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has filed a P31-M damage suit against veteran advertising executive and Philippine Star columnist Yolanda Villanueva-Ong for a supposedly libelous article that he claimed "besmirched" his reputation and caused him "mental anguish, serious anxiety, wounded feelings, moral shock, and social humiliation."

Enrile was offended by Ong's October 16, 2012 column "Like father, like son," which he said had "malicious objective."

"The article characterizes JPE [Enrile] as liar, fraud, and manipulator. It accuses JPE of attempting to "revise history" with a devious purpose of enticing the electorate to support his only son, Juan Castañer Ponce Enrile, Jr (popularly known as Jack Enrile), an incumbent congressman in the province of Cagayan and a candidate in the upcoming senatorial elections," according to Enrile's complaint.

Ong's column exposed inconsistencies in claims Enrile made in his book Juan Ponce Enrile: A memoir. Ong cited various accounts of how Enrile admitted after the 1986 "People Power" revolution that the assassination attempt against him - which was one of the reasons used to justify martial law - was staged. He recants this in his book.

The column moves on to discuss the senatorial bid of his son and namesake Cagayan Rep Juan "Jack" Ponce Enrile Jr. She cited the "intrigues" involving Jack - the "urban legend" that he killed the late actor Alfie Anido and the Enriles' supposed involvement in smuggling in Cagayan.

"Defendant Yoly, instead of giving fair comments on JPE as a public official, deliberately focuses on attacking his character with false and defamatory accusations and intrigues affecting his family and personal life," the complaint added.

Enrile asked the court for P30 million in moral damages, P1 million in exemplary damages, and P500,000 in attorney's fees.

The civil case was filed before Branch 118 of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.

Ong's old anti-Enrile ads

Ong is the managing director of one of the country's leading advertising agencies Campaigns and Grey. The agency produces political advertisements for high-profile politicians, among others.

Ong has her own political advocacies. In 2010, she volunteered her services to the campaign team of President Benigno Aquino III.

In 2001, she was recognized for producing negative advertisements against re-electionist senators who were perceived to be protecting President Joseph Estrada during his impeachment trial then. They voted against the opening of an envelope that supposedly contained crucial evidence against Estrada.

Enrile was among those senators. Ong used old footage of Enrile's involvement in the martial law regime and allegations that he plotted coups against the late President Corazon Aquino. At the end of the ad, this slogan was added: "Ibabalik pa ba natin siya?"

Enrile lost in that elections. But he would return to the Senate in 2004.

Ong: 'I spoke the truth'

Ong stood by her column.

"Initially I was unnerved because this is the first time I was ever sued for anything. But after reflecting and processing, I know I spoke the truth and that made me a bit braver," she told Rappler.

Besides, she wasn't the only one writing about Enrile's inconsistencies, she added.

"All the lawyers I've consulted said there was no libel. Many wrote about Enrile's latest verion of the real or fake assassination attempt. But as far as I know I'm the only one he sued. As a friend said, I have 'arrived,'" Ong added.

The column

Enrile took offense in the following paragraphs in Ong's article. (Emphasis supplied in Enrile's complaint.)

• Just when we were about to forgive-and-forget Juan Ponce Enrile's checkered past, he himself reminded us of what a wily, shifty chameleon he truly and naturally is.

• In Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir, and bio-documentary 'Johnny' that aired in ABS-CBN --- he recants his previous recantation of the assassination attempt on him, which Marcos used as one more reason to justify Martial Law xxx Did he expect national amnesia to afflict Filipinos who know the truth?

• In his attempt to leave an acceptable legacy for posterity and bequeath a Senate seat for junior, the nonagenarian is sanitizing his recollections instead of asking for absolution. Stem cell therapy can deter dementia but it cannot regenerate an innocent man.

• We are being wooed to perpetuate the 40-years-running Enrile saga. Every night we should pray: Dear God, Make all who want our vote, be the men we want them to be.

• Another misdeed associated with father-and-son is the alleged rampant car smuggling in Port Irene. In 1995, the Cagayan Export Zone Authority (CEZA) was established through Republic Act 7922, authored by Cagayan native JPE xxx Despite EO156 issued in 2008, which prohibited such importations, smuggling continued. Enrile countered the CEZA is not covered by the prohibition because the imnporters pay the correct duties and taxes. Ford reportedly pulled out its manufacturing business to protest the nefarious activities in CEZA.

The court issued the summon to Ong on December 13. She has 15 days to respond. - Rappler.com

12-28-2012, 09:20 AM
FOI, antitrust bills top House agenda

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:50 am | Friday, December 28th, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—The House of Representatives will try to focus on the freedom of information (FOI) bill and the antitrust bill in the nine session days it has left before it breaks for the election campaign period.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Thursday said the House was reviewing the measures it could pass early next year before it adjourns in February ahead of the May polls.

“We have the FOI bill before us, we have the antitrust bill before us and a few other bills. We will see if we can successfully tackle them in the remaining days,” Belmonte said.

The House is currently on a monthlong break and will resume its session on Jan. 21. It will adjourn on Feb. 8 for the campaign period.

The FOI bill has yet to be sponsored on the floor, which means the period of debate and interpellation could not yet begin. These steps are necessary before a measure could be put to a second reading vote.

The FOI bill would make the government more transparent by allowing citizens who demand access to official documents and transactions, but with certain limitations, like those pertaining to national security matters.

Several lawmakers are expected to propose amendments to the measure, which are deemed to be contentious, such as a right of reply provision and expanding the scope of the bill to cover private entities.

The bill has not been certified as urgent by President Aquino and the House has no intention of asking him to certify it as such. But Belmonte has said he supports the measure.

As for the antitrust bill—which would penalize anticompetitive agreements and mergers as well as the abuse of a dominant position—it is near a second-reading vote.

The bill was actually approved on second reading on Aug. 8, 2011, but its approval was retracted a few days later, on Aug. 15, after some lawmakers said they wanted to interpellate its sponsors some more as well as introduce additional amendments.

Belmonte earlier said he saw no reason for the House not to pass the antitrust bill.

12-28-2012, 10:39 AM
Freedom of information bill hits the doldrums

By Amando Doronila

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:59 pm | Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Now, it’s the turn of the freedom of information bill to languish in the doldrums after the passage of the reproductive health bill in Congress.

President Aquino pledged to back the bill during the 2010 elections, but the political will to push the bill through Congress has lagged far behind the promise, as the administration chalks up results of its legislative agenda during the past three years. The bill was touted as a benchmark of the Aquino administration’s commitment to transparent and open government. It is now ensnared in the traps of legislative delays in the congressional mill.

He refused to certify the bill as urgent to Congress, in contrast to the heavy-handed actions the President made in pushing the RH bill, riding roughshod over the opposition of the politically influential Roman Catholic Church.

In refusing to certify the bill as urgent to Congress, the President is sending powerful signals to his cohorts to put up countless excuses to strangle the legislation on its path, eventually leading to the scaffold of the guillotine for execution. He has also expressed reservations about the bill. All these signs have served as a cue to kill the bill by a docile Congress, which steamrolled the RH bill and the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Sponsors of the FOI bill fear that the expected lack of quorum would hamper debates on the bill and its passage in the House of Representatives, before it goes on break for the May 2013 mid-term elections. The Senate has already passed its own version of the bill. Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, who introduced the House version of the bill, HB No. 53, has expressed doubts over whether the nine remaining session days next year would be sufficient to complete the process of passing the bill in the House.

There is doubt whether congressmen would be returning to the House to attend sessions when it reopens on Jan. 21. Tañada said there would be a problem in having a quorum if there are no warm bodies. Another lawmaker said absenteeism, which leads to lack of quorum, is a “perennial problem of an election year.” He said lawmakers could be prompted to attend sessions, if the House leadership would exercise political will and crack the whip on them to show up, and if there is a strong public opinion in support of the bill. A certification from President Aquino, said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a coauthor of the bill, may be needed to clinch the FOI bill’s passage.

But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has said he was not going to ask the President to certify the measure.

Rep. Ben Evardone, chair of the public information committee, failed to deliver his sponsorship speech a week ago, but lack of quorum and the ratification of the bicameral conference report on the RH bill derailed the bill’s introduction on the floor. Tañada said that with the constant delays encountered by the bill, the measure is “back in the ICU.” The bill is claimed to promote transparency and accountability in government, by removing the veil of secrecy shrouding its transactions. It seeks to make public access to government data easier. It declares a government policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations, including information relating to national security and defense.

These proponents received a boost from President Aquino who on Nov. 16 told the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas meeting in Tagaytay City that journalists should not fear the right of reply if they practice balanced reporting.

The claim that the general public would benefit from the bill has a dubious basis. Most of the complaints about access to newspaper or broad cast space emanate mainly from politicians. They are the foremost users of this space, especially the President, who is the No. 1 newsmaker in the country. They have access to media more than other sectors in society because public officials are the main sources of news, arising from the fact that they deal in public business.

It’s hard to understand why public officials still want to have guaranteed space in media to reply when they, among other sectors, have priority to space on account of public interest issues invested in their occupation. They are the most over-represented occupier of media space. What they want is a special legislation allowing them more space than they already have access to.

It is already second nature to journalists to seek the side of offended citizens, offended by adverse publicity in controversial issues, to achieve balance in the news. But the proponents of the right of reply seek to determine what is balanced news instead of independent journalists deciding this. Balanced news is a tricky issue. Who determines what is balance? The interests of fair and free publication of news and opinion are, according to experience, better served when left in the hands of trained and independent journalists and news media.

Put this in the hands of politicians and public officials, and we are closer to censorship and bad newspapers, echoing government propaganda, than you think. Defamatory malicious journalism can still be countered by laws on libel.

But what is the defense of ordinary citizens from character assassination and defamation through privilege speeches, especially when accompanied by demands for publication under right of reply?

Never trust any politician who demands the right to muzzle the press and who claims to be the incarnation of incorruptibility in public office.

12-28-2012, 10:49 AM
On board a bus on my way back from a business trip in Batangas yesterday, I caught part of the program of Raffy Tulfo on 92.3 FM. His guest in the studio was a man who said he was a reformed drug dealer who was "hulidap" by cops in the KAMANAVA area. Tulfo named the guy he said was the precinct commander of that area, a certain Major Santos, after which he then berated and cursed and called Santos all sorts of names ON AIR. He called a Gen Pagbilao in Camp Crame and endorsed this Major Santos to the general.

Here's the thing: Tulfo did all that on the mere say-so of a former drug dealer. Granted cops in these parts aren't exactly paragons of professional conduct, never mind virtue, but still, Tulfo basically slandered this Major Santos on nothing more than the mere "sumbong" of a former drug dealer.

These are precisely the actions of certain media people that convince me no end that there ought to be a Right of Reply law. Imagine it: no formal complaint yet, no information filed, no case, no nothing, and already the great Raffy Tulfo sees this as open season on a man who has not been convicted, much less tried.

Mr Tulfo, papano kung mali pala, o nagsisinungaling pala ang drug dealer na kinampihan mo? Papano kung wala palang sala itong si Major Santos? Milyong nakikinig sa iyo ang narinig ka nang inalipusta at niyurakan ang buong pagkatao ni Major Santos.

What was it you said... "Kapag ngayon namatay itong si Major Santos, dederecho siya sa impyerno, at tatakbo na si Satanas kasi mas masahol pa sa dimonyo si Major Santos" or words to that effect.

Sabihin natin mapatunayan na wala naman palang sala si Major Santos, papano mo pa babawiin ang mga masasakit na salita na binitawan mo laban sa kanya? At ang pagkasira niya, at kahihiyan niya at ng pamilya niya?

You, Raffy Tulfo, are exactly the kind of media person against whom society in general should be protected with a right to reply law.

Sam Miguel
01-02-2013, 11:29 AM
Prospects appear to be dimming for FOI bill in House

By Christian V. Esguerra

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:51 am | Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

MANILA, Philippines–Will the administration-dominated House of Representatives see the light of day in the freedom of information (FOI) bill with only nine session days remaining in the 15th Congress?

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on Tuesday said he was “still evaluating [the] chances” of the FOI bill being passed, given the tight legislative calendar.

But Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chair of the House committee on public information, was more optimistic, saying there was still hope for the FOI bill.

“Yes naman. I want it debated and voted on the floor when we resume,” he told the Inquirer in a text message.

There was, however, no mention of the FOI bill in the yearend statement of Belmonte, who described 2012 as a “historic year of trials and triumphs,” mentioning the sin tax, kasambahay and reproductive health bills, which were promptly passed by both chambers of Congress after President Aquino certified them as urgent.

There appeared to be no such intention by the President to certify the FOI bill as urgent, according to some lawmakers.

Congress will resume its session on Jan. 21 and adjourn on Feb. 8 to prepare for the campaigns for the May elections.

The bill would give the public access to all records of government documents and transactions, with exemptions such as those pertaining to national security.

Freedom of information is provided for in the 1987 Constitution but it needs an implementing law. Congress has conveniently sat on passing a law on this constitutional right for the past quarter of a century.

Unlike the House, the Senate passed its version of the FOI bill on third and final reading late last year.

Evardone, who has yet to submit the bill for plenary debates, said one of the issues hounding FOI bill is the proposal to include a “right of reply” provision.

Press groups have denounced this as an attempt to abridge the freedom of speech and of the press by placing “conditions” on the people’s right to freely comment, or launch campaigns to persuade others to join their various causes—within the limits already set by libel and national security laws.

Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada fretted that a quorum may not be achieved for plenary sessions and appealed to his colleagues to allow the FOI debates to continue.

Sam Miguel
01-04-2013, 09:01 AM
Bill decriminalizing libel filed

By Christina Mendez

(The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A bill seeking to decriminalize libel has been filed in the Senate.

In Senate Bill 3374, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental and cherished freedoms in a democratic society.

“This bill proposes to remove imprisonment as a penalty for libel because the threat of jail time sends a sufficient chilling effect on the freedom of expression,” he said.

The bill aims to repeal Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code criminalizing libel.

Guingona said a democratic and free country must promote and protect the right of the people to express themselves.

“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances,” he said, quoting the Bill of Rights.

Guingona said Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights supports the Bill of Rights.

Under the Covenant, everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference; everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, and this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

Sam Miguel
01-04-2013, 09:04 AM
^^^ I think the good senator has totally lost it on this one.

The only portion of Article 335 and other statutes pertaining to libel as a crime that should be removed is the "truth is not a defense" provision.

If something is true AND A FACT then by all means it can be published. Fact can be easily established with physical evidence or direct testimony anyway.

01-05-2013, 07:55 AM
Sotto dares Aquino to certify FOI bill

By Norman Bordadora

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:15 am | Saturday, January 5th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Friday dared President Aquino to certify the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill as urgent just like what he did for the highly contentious Reproductive Health bill which was recently enacted into law.

Sen. Francis Escudero, a close ally of President Aquino, expressed optimism that Mr. Aquino would do so when the FOI measure reaches the plenary in the House of Representatives.

“In the case of the RH bill, half of the country was opposing it. With the FOI, almost the entire country wants it,” Sotto said in a text message.

Sotto cited the urgency of the passage of the FOI bill since the House of Representatives only has nine session days left to approve the measure before Congress goes on recess for the election period.

While the Senate has already approved its version of the FOI bill—the People’s Ownership of Government Information or Pogi Bill—on third and final reading before the Christmas break, the transparency measure has yet to reach the House plenary.

“[They] have only nine days and it’s not yet even in the plenary as I understand. Certifying it will send a signal to the House of Representatives that he wants it passed,” Sotto said.

Asked whether he was calling on the President to certify the FOI bill in the House as urgent, Sotto said, “Yes, because our countrymen are clamoring for it.”

Escudero, chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said the President might just be waiting for the proper timing to certify the FOI bill as urgent.

“It would definitely help but Malacañang can only do that after it has been reported out to the plenary. Certification signifies that the Palace is behind the measure and carries a lot of political weight,” Escudero told the Inquirer in a text message.

FOI proponents in the House have expressed concern that floor deliberations on the FOI could be derailed by absenteeism since many lawmakers would already be in their respective districts to prepare for their election campaigns.

The FOI bill passed the House committee on public information before the Christmas break but it has yet to be reported out in the House plenary.

Asked if he would call on the President to certify the bill as urgent, Escudero said, “I believe he will. Perhaps, [he’s] just awaiting the version that will reach the plenary.”

In December, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chair of the Senate committee on public information and sponsor of the People’s Ownership of Government Information, already called on the House to prioritize its version of the FOI bill and suggested that President Aquino certify the transparency measure as urgent.

“I want to inhibit myself from commenting on the dynamics of the bigger house… but having said that I think they should develop a sense of priority not only from the House but from the executive department,” Honasan said in a phone interview after the Senate passed the Pogi bill, the Senate version of the FOI.

Sam Miguel
01-10-2013, 01:59 PM
Why I never voted for Barack Obama

Yahoo! News – Tue, Jan 8, 2013

By Jeff Greenfield

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama last November. I didn’t vote for him in 2008, either. And I can prove it.

No, nobody violated the sanctity of a voting booth. I can prove it because I didn’t vote at all those years. In fact, I haven’t voted in any election since 1996. What began as a logistical issue—I had to be in Atlanta for CNN, and neglected to ask for an absentee ballot in time—became a deliberate decision. It became a way to distance myself, however inadequately, from choosing sides in a contest I was reporting and analyzing.

It’s also one way I have of answering a question posed by Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times’ “public editor”—a job known in other places as “ombudsman”—about how much consumers are entitled to know about the viewpoints that journalists bring to their work.

In Sullivan’s piece on Sunday, she offered the view of NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. She wrote:

“[Rosen] believes that traditional notions about impartial reporting are fundamentally flawed. For starters, he thinks journalists should just come out and tell readers more about their beliefs: ‘The grounds for trust are slowly shifting,’ he told me recently. ‘The View from Nowhere is slowly getting harder to trust, and ‘Here’s where I’m coming from’ is more likely to be trusted.’”

Rosen is certainly right when it comes to opinion columnists. There’s no “hidden agenda” when you’re reading George Will or Paul Krugman, or watching Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow, because telling you what they believe and why is the essence of what they do.

But what about a reporter or, as I’ve been for 30-plus years on TV, an “analyst”—someone who tries to put news events in a broader context, but who is not offering conclusions about the right choice for president or the right course for policy? Don’t I approach stories with a basket full of opinions, preferences, prejudices (in the non-bigoted sense)? Wouldn’t it be self-delusional to think otherwise?
An example from the past might shed some light on this perennial issue.

In 1984 and again in 1990, I covered the campaign of North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, whose views on race led distinguished Washington columnist David Broder to label him “The last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country.” Based on Helms’ history—suggesting that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Communist, railing against “Negro hoodlums” during his years as a TV commentator—Broder’s judgment was dead-on.

So what do you do if you were a reporter for ABC’s “Nightline,” as I was? Do you offer that opinion as a conclusion? I did something else: I tried to explain why North Carolina, with its relatively progressive track record on race, repeatedly sent Helms back to the Senate. I tried to show how he managed to convince just enough voters that he was a man of conviction, willing to stand up to “the elites” of both parties, protecting taxpayers’ money, and standing up for their values.

As for race, I followed the maxim of “Show, don’t tell.” In Helms’s case, that meant showing the infamous 1990 ad that had white hands crumpling a rejection letter while an announcer said, “You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.”

But what of my own personal views and background? Was it relevant that I had participated in the March on Washington in 1963 (and two previous, much-smaller civil rights marches)? Or that I had worked, years before those Helms’ pieces I did, in the Senate and on Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign?

Would it have been important, when I covered the impeachment of President Clinton, to know that I had voted for Ross Perot in 1996 because I didn’t want Clinton to win 50 per cent of the popular vote that year? (It worked—he got 49 percent).

The problem for me is that it’s hard to know where this approach ends. Look up a member of Congress in the Almanac of American Politics and you’ll find a voting record, and ideological “scores” from a raft of organizations left and right. Does it really make sense to attach such scores to a reporter’s story? What if I’ve changed my mind over the years (as I have on all sorts of matters)? And how trustworthy are those “ratings” of journalists, given that much media criticism assumes that any critical note about a candidate or policy inevitably reveals a bias?

Look, some of these questions are easy to answer. A journalist with a family or financial stake in the outcome of a controversy should either stay away from that story, or fully disclose his or her interest. The Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee had it right when he said (more or less), You can get intimate with an elephant, but don’t cover the circus. (Bradlee himself faced questions about how much he knew about the extra-marital affairs of his friend John Kennedy).

But it’s rarely that easy. The one obligation any reporter has is to acknowledge his or her beliefs, and to ask, “Why do the people I’m covering believe otherwise?” I did not have to believe in the literal truth of the Bible to cover a Southern Baptist Convention. I did not have to believe in a virtually limitless right to bear arms to cover the National Rifle Association. What I tried to do was to report as honestly as I could what they believed and why. And even as a Yahoo News columnist, with a lot more freedom to offer judgments, I try to maintain that approach.

I know many of you just don’t believe that’s possible. But here’s one of my opinions I’m happy to reveal: I think you’re wrong.

Sam Miguel
01-15-2013, 10:55 AM
EDITORIAL - Last chance for the FOI bill

(The Philippine Star) | Updated January 15, 2013 - 12:00am

When the 15th Congress returns to work on Jan. 21 after a month-long holiday break, it will have only nine session days left to pass the Freedom of Information bill. The Senate has passed its version of the measure on third and final reading. A similar move is awaited from the House of Representatives before the two chambers can go into bicameral conference and hammer out the final version of the FOI bill.

If the measure fails to hurdle the bicameral conference committee, it reverts to first base when the 16th Congress opens in July. The same arguments will be raised, and the same reservations presented by opponents. The proposal has been kicked around in Congress for many years.

FOI proponents had hoped that the administration that won on an anti-corruption platform would give its full support to a measure that promotes transparency and good governance. Instead the debate on the FOI has become bogged down in lawmakers’ attempts to insert a self-serving quid pro quo – a right of reply, which would allow them to dictate editorial policy to the media and effectively impose a restraint on press freedom.

The right of reply – a monkey wrench thrown into the FOI debate – would be on top of other existing legal avenues for redress for those wronged by unfair or maliciously erroneous media reporting. Libel is a criminal offense in this country and its victims can also seek civil damages.

An FOI law could deter lying in the annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth of public officials. It could compel transparency in government spending and the award of contracts. Transparency rules can help deter the illegal accumulation of wealth by public servants.

President Aquino’s support for the FOI has been tepid. Perhaps he has been busy with other legislative priorities requiring his investment of political capital. Now that several of those priorities have been realized, he can put his weight behind the FOI. It is not yet too late for the 15th Congress.

Sam Miguel
01-15-2013, 10:57 AM
^^^ Ayaw ng libel, ayaw din ng right of reply.

Is there anything else Big Media thinks should be done to leave it to its own devices?

Sam Miguel
01-21-2013, 12:57 PM

| Take a stand, don't cop out on FOI


January 21, 2013 9:11 AM


The online news portal of TV5

The following is a joint editorial released by the the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the Philippine Press Institute, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. InterAksyon.com endorses the call for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill.

It is the season of elections and all political parties and candidates are wont to spin a slew of promises yet again in their drive for votes.

But before they start courting voters yet again, the first order of business is this: Political parties and candidates must deliver on a promise they've made in elections past by taking and making known their party and personal stand on the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

Over the last 15 years, from the 11th to the 15th Congress, the FOI bill has been stuck in the legislative wringer for lack of clarity and coherence in how lawmakers and their political parties stand on the issue. Even as President Aquino himself as a candidate in May 2010 had promised to push the FOI into law, members of his ruling Liberal Party and its allies in the majority coalition of the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist People's Coalition, and the National Unity Party have separately come out as either the most ardent champions or the most strident critics of the FOI bill.

Between the pros and the cons in the FOI bill equation, that is where these political parties are: fence-sitting with neither leadership nor clarity of purpose with respect to the constitutionally guaranteed state policies of transparency and accountability that the FOI bill upholds.

Political will from all the political parties could yet assure the passage of the FOI bill in the remaining nine session days from January 21 to February 8, 2013, or before Congress adjourns for the elections. Calling for a conscience vote on the FOI bill is a clear cop-out by political parties and candidates now aspiring to be elected into office.

All voters must carefully scrutinize how these parties and their candidates for the 2013 elections will stand on FOI in their remaining nine session days. The countdown begins today. How they stand on the FOI bill, and if at all they will take a stand on this all-important reform measure, will give us an idea whether or not they deserve our vote in the coming May elections.

Sam Miguel
01-21-2013, 12:59 PM

| FOI, HR reparation bills will be passed in 9 remaining session days – Sotto

By: Karl John C. Reyes, InterAksyon.com

January 20, 2013 12:14 PM


The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Sunday assured the immediate passage of important bills now pending before the Bicameral Conference Committee during the remaining nine session days before Congress adjourns for a four-month long recess for the campaign period.

Sotto, in a radio interview over DzBB, said that among the priority measures to be tackled in the resumption of the session on Monday are Freedom of Information Bill (Peoples’ Ownership of Government Information or POGI), Human Rights Reparation Bill, and Land Use Act and Anti-Trust Bill, but he gave no assurance on the Anti-Money Laundering Act amendments.

He said lawmakers from both Houses of Congress listed down the bills pending in the House that have been approved by the Senate, as well as those pending in the Senate already approved by the House, and came up with a list of those that may be passed within the last nine session days of this Congress.

“We have laid our cards on the table. Mas maganda na iyon, talagang maliwanag, walang bolahan, ano ang kaya, at ano ang hindi (That’s better, for clarity, no joking around. We talked about what’s possible, what’s not),” the Senate majority leader said.

Sotto said the meeting was initiated by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, and attended by House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales III, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Gregorio Honasan, and the secretariats of the two Houses.

“Pinag-usapan namin ang nakabitin, particularly ang Anti-Trust Bill. So ang pinag-usapan, pipilitin namin na ipasa ang nakabitin sa Senate at sila naman pipilitin na ipasa ang nakabitin sa House. Hanggang kaya, hanggang anong kayang tapusin at pinag-usapan na rin namin ang may mga kuwestiyon, para matapos (We talked about those that are hanging, like the Anti-Trust Bill. So, it’s been agreed that Senate will push for those that are on the brink of passage, and likewise for the House. Whatever we can pass, we will exert all effort to pass by answering all the pending questions),” he explained.

On the FOI Bill, Sotto said the House leaders did not commit to passing the measure due to questions raised by its members. The Senate version on FOI bill, which is the POGI bill sponsored by Senator Gregorio Honasan, is now pending in the bicameral conference committee.

On AMLA, Sotto said Senate will finish deliberation on the bill already approved by the Lower House as Senators Joker Arroyo, Manny Villar, and Bongbong Marcos finished their interpellation.

Sotto said that both Houses are also committed to pass the Land Use Act, which is badly needed by the country.

Earlier, Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice, assured the passage of the Human Rights Reparation Bill in the bicameral conference committee by Wednesday.

Further, Sotto said that under the Constitution, both Houses can extend session days up to Fridays without informing each other through a resolution.

“But the only problem is the quorum in the House if the session will be extended to 2 to 3 days,” he said.

Sotto said that if there are bills approved on third reading during the remaining nine session days, they will be ratified by both Houses in June before they adjourn for the next Congress.

He said Congress has two days in June to ratify those committee reports.

Sam Miguel
01-22-2013, 08:28 AM
FOI proponents in House withdraw as bill’s authors

By Jocelyn R. Uy, Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:17 am | Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Another challenge emerged on Monday for the freedom of information (FOI) bill, which has a narrow eight-day window to get through final reading in the House of Representatives.

Militant lawmakers on Monday said they would withdraw their coauthorship of the FOI bill in the House, noting that the latest version would impose more restrictions than propagate transparency and accountability in the government.

Seven members of the Makabayan coalition warned that the substitute bill currently pending in the House incorporates proposed exemptions to full disclosure put forth by Malacañang, which would dilute the essence of the measure that is intended to make the workings of public officials transparent to the people.

Among the contested exceptions are those pertaining to matters to be invoked as executive privilege and internal or external defense or law enforcement matters.

The House is expected to tackle the FOI bill Tuesday, giving it only eight session days to be discussed and voted on until Congress adjourns for the campaign period. Disappointed supporters of the bill walked out of the plenary yesterday when they learned it was not in the order of business.

The Senate has already passed its version of the bill.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said in a press conference the inclusion of executive privilege as an exception has very broad parameters, especially when it comes to classifying data as sensitive. It could just be dependent on the personal preference of the Chief Executive, he said.

“We know that during the time of (former President) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, executive privilege was used to hide pieces of evidence on the NBN-ZTE contract,” he said, referring to the scuttled National Broadband Network deal with China that was later found to be overpriced.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said exceptions for law enforcement operations could be also used to cover many police activities.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said the bill’s provision giving heads of agencies the discretion to determine if a piece of information should be kept secret could prove restrictive especially if the official would choose to be cautious.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares also warned that the many exceptions would just allow many government officials to find a way out of disclosing important public matters.

Sam Miguel
01-22-2013, 08:30 AM
^^^ Grow the hell up Congressman Casino.

You surely do not mean to have state secrets all out in the open. Why, if that be the case one would be tempted to think ill of you and your ilk, as if you wanted the enemies of the state, such as your commie brethren engaged in banditry and extortion, to have very advantage in their made-up fight against the government.

Sam Miguel
01-23-2013, 08:20 AM
Another setback for FOI bill

By Leila B. Salaverria, TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:50 am | Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

The much awaited introduction of the freedom of information (FOI) bill on the floor of the House of Representatives was delayed anew after a controversy over another matter—a local government measure—sparked the suspension of Tuesday’s legislative session.

“This does not look good,” said Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, one of the FOI bill’s advocates, but he said he still held out some hope the bill may yet pass muster even with only seven session days left before Congress adjourns to give way to the election period.

Before the FOI bill could be introduced on the floor, Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas sought an adjournment to prevent the House from reading into the records the new law creating the province of Davao Occidental.

Tañada said he would have objected to Cagas’ motion, but there was no quorum. There were not enough lawmakers around, he explained.

Davao Occidental was carved out of Davao del Sur, and Cagas had opposed the move, which was authored by his political opponent.

Tañada said he and other lawmakers tried to prevail on Cagas not to move for adjournment, but the latter was adamant in opposing the reading of the republic act on Davao Occidental.

Absurd situation

The House leadership could not have postponed the reading of that law into the records because it was listed in the order of business, Tañada added.

“It’s very absurd that a parochial issue stops a bill we can all agree a bill of national importance such as the FOI,” he said.

The FOI bill adopts a government policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations or exemptions on the disclosure of information related to national security and defense.

Tañada had said that if the bill was not sponsored on the floor Wednesday, prospects for its passage may dim. He earlier criticized Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, public information committee chairman, for not introducing the bill earlier so the period of debates and amendments can begin.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t look good for the whole house,” he added.

“We will try again tomorrow,” Tañada had said.

The Senate has already passed its version of the FOI bill on third and final reading.

[I]Earlier setback

Earlier, the bill seemed to suffer a setback when members of the party-list coalition Makabayan announced it was withdrawing its co-authorship of the FOI bill because it did not agree with the exemptions introduced by Malacañang.

The exemptions Makabayan wants removed include matters of executive privilege, data pertaining to military and police operations, drafts of executive orders, and minutes of meetings. The militants said they would try to remove these exceptions during the period of amendments.

Malacañang defended these exemptions, saying public disclosure of all discussions (in minutes of meetings) may inhibit Cabinet members and other participants from expressing their views frankly and candidly.

When asked if the President would certify this bill as urgent as he had done in the case of the reproductive health bill, Undersecretary Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, replied:

“Perhaps at this point it’s not about the importance (of the bill) but whether the discussions have fully threshed out the issue at hand.”

Extensive deliberation

If anything, it needs “extensive deliberation,” she said.

Responding to arguments that the exemptions on executive privilege were “too broad,” Valte said Malacañang had in fact eased up earlier proposed exemptions.

“In some of the versions, executive privilege extended up to local government officials who would have interaction with the President. We said it should not reach that level. It could be up to the rank of undersecretary, or a sub-Cabinet post,” she said.

As to the exemptions on national security, Valte said details of an ongoing operation by law enforcement agencies could definitely not be divulged. But she said the bill provides for a declassification of documents after a certain period.

Valte said the exemption of national security matters from public disclosure was recognized by the country’s jurisprudence, and by other countries enforcing similar FOI laws.

She said Malacañang was pushing for an FOI bill granting people access to information vital to public interest “without hampering necessarily the work of government.”

Sam Miguel
01-25-2013, 09:01 AM
Only Aquino can save FOI bill—lawmaker

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:21 am | Friday, January 25th, 2013

After failing to be sponsored on the floor of the House of Representatives for three days, the condition of the freedom of information (FOI) bill is now “terminal” and it would need a “major miracle” from President Aquino to revive it, according to the bill’s coauthor, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr.

Baguilat said he was not pronouncing the FOI bill dead at this point because technically, the measure could, by a very slim chance, reach final passage in the six remaining session days.

He said he would want to prepare for another battle for the bill in the next congress, should it fail to hurdle the current 15th Congress.

“It’s realistic to say it’s in the terminal stage. In comatose [condition] since last week. But I would not pronounce it dead. That’s not a wise thing to do for a legislator,” he said.

Bill’s savior

He believes Mr. Aquino could be the bill’s savior. “Only a major miracle such as a presidential certification can save it now,” he said.

The bill’s plenary sponsor, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, said the bill would be unlikely to pass if it is not yet approved on second reading by next Wednesday.

Evardone, the public information committee chair, thinks the three session days next week might just be enough to finish with debates on the measure if no lawmaker would filibuster.

The FOI bill was not sponsored on the floor during the House’s three session days this week. A sponsorship speech formally introducing the measure to the plenary is necessary before debates and amendments can commence in preparation for a second reading vote.

Absence of a quorum

The bill was not in the order of business on Monday, and was only included in the House agenda on Tuesday. But the Tuesday session was suspended without the FOI sponsorship speech after another lawmaker threatened to question the quorum because he did not want the new law creating the Davao Occidental province to be read into the record.

Because of this, and the apparent absence of a quorum, House leaders decided to just suspend the session.

It was the same on Wednesday. Saddled with a nearly empty session hall, the House adjourned the session with the FOI bill not being tackled.

Baguilat said it would be “simplistic” to blame the FOI bill’s lack of progress to the quorum problem alone.

“In our experience, quorums and longer session hours with few procedural blocks can be mustered through will,” he said.

Still, Baguilat said he still wanted to pursue FOI debates on the floor in the remaining session days as the discussions would be valuable if the bill does not pass and have to be taken up again in the 16th congress.

“Sponsorship and interpellations would clarify unfounded fears of our colleagues on the FOI,” he said.

“The anticipated support for FOI from the representatives who would listen to the debates could be our springboard for another try in the 16th congress,” he added.

For a bill that no lawmaker has actively or openly opposed, and which Malacañang insists continues to have the President’s support, the FOI measure has seemingly met with roadblocks at every turn.

It was not immediately passed by the public information committee because, according to its proponents, Evardone scheduled very few hearings on it. It was only approved by the committee toward the end of 2012. But with the House preoccupied with the reproductive health bill, the FOI measure was not immediately sponsored on the floor.

The FOI bill seeks to make government transactions and data open and accessible to the public in order to promote good governance and accountability.

Full public disclosure

It would make full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, subject to certain limitations, official policy of government.

The bill’s militant proponents have protested some of the exceptions to full public disclosure written into the bill, including exceptions that Malacañang has proposed. They said some of the exceptions would actually dilute the bill’s essence by making it harder to obtain data related to executive functions and military and police operations.

Sam Miguel
01-25-2013, 09:03 AM
^^^ That last paragraph is precisely why I hope this friggin' bill never becomes law. Military and police operations? Really? Why the hell would the general public, especially the media, ever need to know details of those? And coming from the militant lawmakers, they can all go suck it, swallow it and choke on it.

Sam Miguel
01-28-2013, 09:07 AM
FOI: Waiting for the Hail Mary Pass

By Walden Bello

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:14 pm | Friday, January 25th, 2013

While the Senate has passed the Freedom of Information Bill (before its members descended into a deadly knife-fight), the House of Representatives still has to bring the FOI bill to the plenary for debate. Why the bill seems to be headed for a fiasco similar to what happened to it on the last day the 14th Congress, when a quorum call was made to scuttle its ratification, is traced by some of the bill’s advocates to the lack of enthusiasm for it on the part of key players in the House and Malacanang. Others fault the majority of House members, who, they say, would much rather engage in early electoral campaigning than attend session to assure a quorum. Whatever the reasons, the bill’s sponsors in the House are still hanging on to the Speaker’s observation that in that chamber, “things usually come together in the last three days.”

At this juncture, here are some thoughts, of a more reflective, theoretical kind, on the importance of having a Freedom of Information Act.

The state predates democracy, and at the heart of the state is the bureaucracy. Thus it is not surprising that the development of the modern state has been marked by a struggle between the bureaucratic principle and the democratic principle. In the Philippines, we embraced democracy as our principle of governance, but the Philippine state at independence also carried the baggage of the authoritarian bureaucratic state of the Spanish and American colonial periods.

Public information has been one of the battlefields between bureaucracy and democracy. Bureaucracy thrives on secrecy. For authoritarian bureaucrats, secrecy is essential to their practice of governance from the top. From their perspective, the less the people know, the better for governance and public order.

The democratic revolution turned this authoritarian maxim on its head. The more people knew, the better they could govern themselves. The practices of bureaucracy, however, die hard, and bureaucratic elites have been loath to yield knowledge, for they realize that knowledge is power, and the less the masses know, the less powerful they are.

This is why democracy is a constant struggle not only for self-government, but for transparency, for gaining knowledge of the affairs of the state without which citizens cannot effectively govern themselves. This is why the fight for the Freedom of Information Act is a necessary step in the struggle for a mature democratic state. This is why transparency is intertwined with democracy. This is why authoritarian elites fear transparency, for they are, at heart, suspicious of and fear democracy.

With the passage of the FOI Act, the Philippines will join the ranks of the 95 countries that Wikipedia claims now have Freedom of Information legislation. Many of these countries became democracies later than the Philippines, yet some of these late-democratic states have overtaken us and become more mature democracies than we are.

Passing the bill is our passport to joining the ranks of mature democracies. Not passing it means we remain in the company of bureaucratic authoritarian states like the People’s Republic of China, which have erected non-transparency as a principle of their systems of authoritarian governance.

The bureaucratic elite says that the FOI will compromise national security. On the contrary, it will make the Philippine Republic a stronger republic. The bureaucrats say the FOI will make it hard for them to govern. On the contrary, it will force officials to govern correctly and without the seduction of corruption, which thrives in the dark. The bureaucrats say the FOI is not necessary. On the contrary, without the transparency that the FOI sheds on the affairs of state, our democracy will eventually come under threat.

In football, there is a phenomenon called the “Hail Mary pass,” a long, desperate pass in the last few seconds that results in a winning goal. Will the quarterback finally unleash that pass to the many receivers waiting to score the touchdown for FOI that will be one of the crowning glories of the 15th Congress?

Sam Miguel
01-29-2013, 09:09 AM
‘Bum weed’

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:38 pm | Monday, January 28th, 2013

Like the proverbial mala yerba, proposals to clamp mandatory “right of reply” (RoR) rules on media keep cropping up. The latest “bum weed” is Commission on Elections Resolution No. 9615: “Candidates aggrieved by press reports can demand to have their side published in the same prominence or in the same time slot as the first statement,” says this implementing rule for the “Fair Elections Practices Act.”

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Cebu Citizens’ Press Council, among others, slammed the stitching of RoR provisions into rules for the May 13 elections. If need be, they’ll challenge this rule before the Supreme Court.

The RoR resolution is “not Comelec’s invention,” bristled Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes. “It is in the Constitution.” Will Brillantes flag that at the Inquirer’s editors and direct them to “stand aside”? The Comelec during the 2013 campaign decides what font to use for RoR gripes, which Inquirer pages they must appear, and how often. Or else?

Commissioners Rene Sarmiento and Grace Padaca are cut from a decent bolt, too. Will they shuck editorial prerogatives and order ABS-CBN or GMA Network to air RoRs? Prime time or graveyard shift? When do Comelec regional directors stride into newsrooms of, say, Mindanao Cross in Cotabato, Cebu Daily News, or Mabuhay in Pampanga, to arm-twist the publication of RoR gripes?

We’ve not discussed Resolution No. 9615 with editors and broadcast executives. But our aging bones say if Brillantes et al. surface at newsrooms, they’ll be politely—but firmly—ushered out the door. That rebuff wouldn’t well up just from bile.

The basis is RoR’s track record of serial rejection. In the Inquirer issues of June 1, 2009 and Nov. 18, 2012, constitutional scholar Joaquin Bernas called attention to the overarching 1974 US Supreme Court’s decision in Miami Herald vs Tornillo.

“We follow American tradition in speech jurisdiction,” Father Bernas wrote. The US Supreme Court unanimous (9-0) decision struck down Florida’s RoR right statute as an infringement of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. That “can be said about right of reply bills here.”

Candidate Pat Tornillo demanded that Miami Herald print his reply to scathing Herald criticism. A 1913 Florida law required a newspaper to provide free reply space to any candidate whose personal character or official record the newspaper would assail. Miami Herald refused, so Tornillo sued.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel, Bong Revilla Jr. and Francis Escudero, with Rep. Monico Puentebella, cloned the Florida RoR in House Bill No. 3306 and Senate Bill No. 2150. Congress junked both.

A “responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal,” the Court said. “But press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and, like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated.” An RoR could impose intolerable financial costs. It’d force newspapers to omit material they wished to publish to make room for replies. Worse, it could spur papers to avoid publishing “anything that might trigger a reply, and constitute an unwarranted intrusion into the editorial process.”

The power of a privately owned paper is bounded by only two factors: (1) Acceptance of a sufficient number of readers—and hence advertisers—to assure financial success; and (2) journalistic integrity of its editors and publishers. “The clear implication is any compulsion to publish that which ‘reason’ tells them should not be published is unconstitutional.”

“The choice of material to go into a newspaper, and the decisions made as to the limitations on the size and content of the paper and treatment of public issues and officials—whether fair or unfair—constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgement,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote.

“Government may not force a newspaper to print copy which, in its journalistic discretion, it chooses to leave on the newsroom’s floor,” Justice Byron White added in a concurring opinion.

“The press has no quarrel with fairness (But) only dictatorships barge into newsrooms to usurp editorial functions,” Cebu Citizens’ Press Council stressed in a position paper (Dec. 14, 2007) then bucking HB 3306 and SB 2150.

However a legislated RoR “operates as a command. (It resembles) a statute forbidding the newspaper to publish specified matter,” added the Cebu Media Legal Aid group. “This is prior restraint. If media cannot be told what to publish, it cannot be told what not to publish.”

Like the proverbial mala yerba, RoRs sprouted again at the 15th Congress to bedevil the freedom of information bill. Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino snuck an RoR provision into the FOI bill as a rider. Already approved by the Senate, the FOI bogged down in the House, abetted by President Aquino’s “cartwheels.”

From an election crusader for FOI, P-Noy backpedaled into stolid silence as a Malacañang neophyte, then extended grudging support—only to relapse into stolid indifference. It spurns his parents’ stance on a free press.

“It is true you cannot eat freedom and you cannot power machinery with democracy,” Corazon Aquino said. “But then neither can political prisoners turn on the light in the cells of a dictatorship.” Ninoy Aquino began his journey toward martyrdom as a 17-year-old journalist.

Congress adjourns this week. An FOI in extremis will go the way President Gloria Arroyo ensured the FOI’s demise by getting her supporters to skip the 14th Congress’ closing day session. Would P-Noy and Glo then be peas in a mala yerba even as the press grids to beat back Resolution No. 9615?

Sam Miguel
01-29-2013, 09:21 AM
^^^ What arrant nonsense!

And what happens to a man already publicly maligned and vilified via headlines and banner stories on major media outfits? Especially if he is later on vinidcated, acquitted or otherwise proven to be in the right after all?

He got the banner over five days on the Inquirer's front page, then his case goes into the belly of the justice system, and in the meantime, thanks to the Inquirer, his family, friends, neighbors, associates, colleagues, clients, all think he's the devil incarnate or close to it. Over 12 to 15 long months his case drags on until finally it is settled with finality that he was in the clear after all.

The Inquirer, in all its balanced news-iness and fearless views-iness gives him the bottom half of the front page and only 600 words, and hardly anybody notices. His life is now in tatters, thanks to the Inquirer. Yet life goes on for the Inquirer, still the nation's leading daily, and the poor man now has to pick up the pieces of his shattered life, a life shattered mind you by the Inquirer.

If you tear down the likes of a Johnny Enrile, or an Imelda Marcos that's probably all well and good, as certainly they and their ilk have gotten away with far too much for far too long.

But what if you tear down a once-ordinary man, what if by your headlines and banners and column inches you turn a man previously unknown or barely known into the equivalent of Lucifer? And later on you are proven wrong, what then? Hide behind "constituional guarantees of a free press"?

Surely destroying a man cannot be an "editorial prerogative" or a "constitutionally protected right"?

Surely then, the only fair thing to do - and yes my dear sirs we actually can legislate fairness as our State's police power is plenary according to the same constitution invoked by the press for their protection - is to give equal space in making certain the man you once destroyed will have equal opportunity to prop himself up at your expense. It is the least any self-respecting media outfit could do.

Sam Miguel
01-29-2013, 09:27 AM
Taking a swipe at the Cardinal?

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:35 pm | Monday, January 28th, 2013

A Jesuit friend I esteem cried foul recently over Karen Boncocan’s characterization of a major homily given by the new Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle. (The homily, on the occasion of the Feast of Jesus the Nazarene, was read, or rather extemporized, on Jan. 9, but I read my friend’s e-mail to me only the other day.)

My friend wrote: The “news report about Chito Tagle taking a ‘swipe’ against the RH Bill makes gratuitously speculative assertions that I think are inappropriate for a news report. If she [the reporter] were an opinion writer, one could let that pass. But she is supposed to be reporting news and what she does is make assertions here that cannot, in my view, be squared with the actual text of Chito’s homily. Would you know anything about whether this is just a lapse or according to some kind of editorial policy?”

I think the answer is neither—but I am aware that other journalists, from within the Inquirer Group or without, may have other perspectives. Allow me to share my view, for what it’s worth.

Karen’s story was uploaded to Inquirer.net at 9:05 am, or about three hours after the Mass started. “Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle took an apparent swipe at the newly enacted reproductive health law as he officiated Mass during the Feast of the Black Nazarene Wednesday,” the story began. The succeeding paragraphs then ran quotations from the homily, some in English translation only, others in both English and the original Filipino version. And that was it.

This means that the burden of the lead, the “apparent swipe,” rests entirely on the quotations selected. I would have been more comfortable with the story if interviews with others present at the Mass were used to support the lead, but given the story’s nature—it was breaking news—it seems to me the quotations from the homily were sufficient.

But do the quotations in fact serve to support the “apparent swipe”? What is the “actual text” that the story itself offers to the reader as evidence?

There are, in particular, two sets of excerpts from the homily which bear the bulk of the lead’s weight. (I am using the text of the homily found in the archdiocese’s official website.) I will quote them at greater length than in the original story, and use my own translation.

The first is related to the idea of false witness. “Alam po ninyo si Hesus nagdusa dahil sa mga huwad na saksi. May mga binayaran para magbulaan at gumawa ng kaso laban kay Hesus. Itigil na ang kabulaanan. Nagdusa si Hesus dahil sa mga bulaan, mga huwad na saksi. Ang tunay na nanalig kay Poong Hesus Nazareno lalabanan ang kabulaanan na sumisira hindi lamang sa tao at lipunan, kundi sumira sa anak ng Diyos. That should not happen again!” [You know Jesus suffered because of false witnesses. There were those who were paid to lie and make a case against Jesus. Stop the lies. Jesus suffered because of the lies, the false witnesses. The true believer in our Lord Jesus the Nazarene will fight the lies which harm not only man and society, but harm the son of God. That should not happen again!”]

Anyone familiar with the Gospel narratives would understand this passage without necessarily referencing the controversy over the RH Law. But in the context of the event—Cardinal Tagle’s first major address after the passage of the law, and to a massive congregation at that—wouldn’t it be natural for those closely following the RH controversy (such as reporters covering the Church beat) to think that the archbishop did have the new law in mind?

The second set of excerpts is related to the idea of opportunity cost, of what a given amount of funds might buy. “Ang dami-daming reports tungkol sa mga patayan. Mas dumami sana ang sumaksi sa katotohanan na ang buhay ay sagrado. Patotohanan natin yan. Ang dami dami sa mundo ngayon, giyera. Ang pera na dapat sanang gamitin para pakainin ang tao, magtayo ng mga bahay at eskuwelahan na nagagamit para sa pagpatay.” [There are many reports about killings. We hope more will give witness to the truth that life is sacred. Let’s testify to that. So much in the world today [is] at war. The money that should be used to feed people, build houses and schools is used to kill.]

This is no longer a gloss on the Gospel, but a reading of modern-day reality. Again, it is possible to think that the use of certain resonant words, such as the sacredness of life, does not refer to the RH Law. But, given the context, isn’t it also reasonable to assume that those following the RH controversy will think that the reference does in fact exist?

It pains me to disagree with my friend, whose opinion I value highly and whose distress over the story gave me much pause. But I hold with those who favor giving journalists the necessary freedom to write their stories. Reporters covering an event, we like to say, shouldn’t be mere stenographers; they should not simply record what they hear but actively engage with it. And sometimes, engagement means taking the next step of interpreting the meaning of a subject’s words. That, too, is news.

* * *

Sam Miguel
01-30-2013, 08:09 AM
Poll season blamed for FOI bill delay

By Christian V. Esguerra, Jocelyn R. Uy

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:43 am | Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

There’s a new reason why congressmen can’t seem to pass the freedom of information (FOI) bill.

House Deputy Majority Leader Miro Quimbo on Tuesday blamed the campaign season for the absence of many of legislators from the deliberation of key measures such as the FOI bill on the floor.

“The problem really today is it is already the campaign period and many of our colleagues are already campaigning, especially those who are running for other positions,” he said in Filipino.

Session was suspended on Tuesday without the FOI measure being taken up. The chamber now has five session days left. Candidates for local positions are not allowed to campaign until March 30, while the campaign period for national bets will start on Feb. 12.

The FOI bill reached the plenary only last Monday but has remained stuck at the sponsorship stage.

The Senate passed its version of the FOI bill last year.

Quimbo urged the public to pressure their respective representatives to pass the bill.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Tuesday joined mounting calls for the passage of the FOI) bill.

In a pastoral statement, the bishops attributed the continuing corruption and abuse of power by public officials to the public’s lack of access to information or possibly, the deliberate hiding of pertinent information by those in the government.

“It is ironic that the government that prides itself of treading the daang matuwid fears the FOI bill because of possible discovery of wrongdoing by public officials. Why are they afraid to entrust the citizens with the truth of their governance?” stated the CBCP.

The Church hierarchy noted that without the FOI bill, many public officials guilty of corruption both in the present and past administration would remain free and not prosecuted for their wrongdoings.

CBCP President Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes and Manila Auxiliary Bishops Broderick Pabillo, and Bernardino Cortez took turns reading from the statement.

Sam Miguel
01-30-2013, 09:24 AM
FOI Bill sponsors gearing up for tough debate

By Karen Boncocan


2:41 pm | Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines — Sponsors of the Freedom of Information Bill are gearing up to begin the period of interpellation and debates on Tuesday.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, principal author of House Bill 6766 or the Freedom of Information Act, told reporters in a press conference that sponsors of the measure “hope to proceed with interpellation and debates today.”

They are also hoping for the presence of a quorum later, just like Monday when they were able to muster a quorum with 186 members present.

It was the first time this year that the House conducted a roll call and Tañada hoped “sana ma-sustain ang quorum (the quorum will be sustained).”

“Handa si Ben (Evardone) at ako na i-close na (Ben Evardone is ready and I’ll close the) sponsorship today and to proceed with interpellation and debates,” said the legislator.

On Monday, Tañada voiced worries that there might not be enough lawmakers left to constitute a quorum by the time they tried to sponsor the bill.

Despite the presence of a quorum, he said that members were going in and out of plenary and that they might not be able to sustain the needed number for a quorum.

The campaign period was affecting the attendance of lawmakers, said Marikina City Representative Miro Quimbo who said that it might be time for constituents themselves to urge their districts’ representatives to show up during session.

Sponsorship pushed through on Monday with the bill’s main sponsor, public information committee chairman and Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, delivering his speech at past 6 p.m. followed by Tañada’s sponsorship speech.

Several FOI co-authors wanted to deliver their sponsorship speeches but only two were allowed in keeping with the agreement between the majority and minority blocs.

But aside from quorum problems, Tañada admitted that the lack of public awareness on the benefits of an FOI Law also has to be addressed.

“(This is being) taken for granted. They are not aware of their rights under the Constitution. They lack awareness on how this right can be used to improve their lives,” he said in Filipino.

Sam Miguel
02-01-2013, 08:06 AM
KBP opposes rule for radio, TV to notify Comelec about interviews

By Philip C. Tubeza

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:10 am | Friday, February 1st, 2013

The Comelec wants radio and television stations to notify it before interviewing candidates, but the policy has drawn opposition from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP).

Rudolph Jularbal, a lawyer for the KBP told Comelec commissioners in a public hearing Thursday that the requirement of “prior notice” would violate the constitutionally protected right of freedom of expression.

But Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. insisted that the policy was necessary to ensure that the Comelec would be able to determine whether the interviews were “bona fide” news or the candidates were campaigning.

“We are still taking the position that even prior notice…is unconstitutional,” Jularbal told the election commissioners.

“What we are pointing out, Your Honor, is that this has a chilling effect on the media….considering that prior approval or prior notice is required in order for the news report to be considered bona fide,” Jularbal said.

Brillantes said that TV and radio stations should notify the Comelec so that it could monitor interviews with candidates.

Why unconstitutional?

“What’s so unconstitutional about you notifying us? How do we monitor local radio stations calling only a single candidate every day. How do we know if you are not going to notify us that there is going to be such an interview to be done,” Brillantes asked.

“Do you expect the commission to be monitoring all radio stations all over the country 24/7?” he added.

Jularbal replied that ultimately the actions of the media would be “subject to the scrutiny” of the Comelec.

“That’s right. (But), how will we know if we don’t even know that you are airing something because you don’t want to notify us. How can we monitor what you are doing?” Brillantes replied.

“Notice is informative. That’s just an FYI and yet you still don’t like it. There seems to be a distrust in the implementation of our fair election laws. You are thinking of unconstitutionality when what we are asking is notice. What is wrong with notice?” he said.

“Why do you interpret it in the most negative manner,” Brillantes added.

Right to reply

Jularbal also insisted that the so-called right to reply of candidates who had been slighted by their rivals in interviews was likewise unconstitutional.

Brillantes replied: “The right to reply is provided for by the Constitution to the Comelec. Do you mean to say the Constitution is unconstitutional?”

Jularbal said the Comelec was not the proper venue to determine the constitutionality of the right to reply and instead suggested that the commission set a “prescriptive period” for complaints for candidates who feel slighted in interviews.

Brillantes said the Comelec would take up Jularbal’s suggestion during its full session set for Thursday afternoon.

Talking to reporters after the hearing, Brillantes said the Comelec would revise its resolution on political ads and it was up for discussion by the afternoon session.

Clarifications will be announced next week, he said.

Sam Miguel
02-01-2013, 08:08 AM
House: Hello, good-bye to FOI bill

By Leila B. Salaverria, TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:15 am | Friday, February 1st, 2013

A few days after finally sponsoring the freedom of information (FOI) bill on the House floor, public information committee chairman Rep. Ben Evardone is waving the white flag, saying there is simply not enough time left to pass the long-pending measure.

Evardone made the statement Wednesday night as he noted that debates on the measure had not even begun.

“[I’m waving the] white flag,” he told reporters.

The bill finally reached the plenary on Monday by way of sponsorship speeches by Evardone and Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada, the bill’s main author. Supporters said lack of a quorum was the reason the debate did not push through.

Even if it is passed on second reading next week, the bill would need another three days before it could undergo a third reading vote. Only three session days remain before Congress adjourns for the election campaign period.

June meet slated

Congress will meet again, but for only one day in June, before adjourning for the final time and Evardone does not think a vote could be taken then. There may even be a lot of lawmakers absent then, he said.

Evardone said the bill could be revived only if President Aquino certified it as urgent. Certification would allow a second and third reading vote on the bill on the same day.

“If Erin Tañada can secure a certification, this might revive the FOI bill,” he said.

Presidential spokesperson Secretary Edwin Lacierda, however, said Thursday the bill should be subjected to a “healthy debate,” the kind that attended the responsible parenthood and reproductive health bill and the sin tax reform measure before they were passed into law.

Both bills were approved by Congress late last year and enacted into law by President Aquino, after several years of debate.

“Whether this Congress or the next Congress, we want a healthy debate to take place. That’s what we want and, in fairness to all constituents, let’s have a healthy debate,” Lacierda said in a Palace briefing.

‘Healthy debate’

Asked if President Aquino wanted the FOI bill approved before he steps down in 2016, Lacierda said the Chief Executive was interested in seeing how the House debate would turn out.

“What we want right now is a healthy debate and let’s take it from there,” he said.

The Senate has passed its version of the FOI bill.

Lacierda said the FOI bill proponents themselves had indicated that they had “no qualms” about the Aquino administration’s transparency, but were worried about the next administration.

“I say this without lifting our own bench. The FOI proponents believe and this is what they said, what they mentioned to us: ‘We are not afraid that this administration will not be transparent.’ In fact we have been very transparent and, in fact, we intend to show you the list of measures that we have done to show that we have been transparent in our transactions,” Lacierda said.

But another of the bill’s proponents, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, said he was not surprised by Evardone’s “surrender,” adding that it was the latter who appeared to be holding the bill back in his committee with numerous delays and his apparent lack of will to push it in the plenary.

Baguilat said he considered the bill to be in “limbo.”

“I don’t like calling it dead. I’d like to think the FOI is Snow White slumbering and waiting for a prince to resuscitate it,” Baguilat said.

“If no Aquino certification comes as a last-minute lifeline, then we will continue the fight in the next Congress,” he said.

Advocates of the FOI bill have also blamed Evardone for its delay, accusing him of “dribbling” the measure and not scheduling committee hearings so that time would run out on it.

Evardone denied the allegations, saying he had waited for comments from the bill’s stakeholders before coming out with the final version of the measure.

As for the 117 lawmakers who signed the statement of support for the FOI bill, Evardone said lawmakers usually signed such statements as a gesture of goodwill to their colleagues. But he did not think that most of them really supported the measure.

“Otherwise, they would have shown up and pushed for it,” he said.

FOI in a nutshell

The bill would allow public access to government dealings and documents in line with a policy of full disclosure. It is intended to foster good governance and promote transparency and accountability in government.

Tañada, however, refused to pronounce the measure dead.

He said that if Evardone thinks it won’t progress, he should delegate his authority as the bill’s sponsor to him, Baguilat or Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello so they could pursue the FOI debates in the plenary.

“I would rather try to push the FOI as far as I and the sponsors can and let it be known that it was again the House members, including the minority, who killed the FOI due to a lack of quorum,” he said.

02-03-2013, 05:19 PM
P-Noy can still save FOI bill, lawmakers say

By Jess Diaz

(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 3, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Certifying the Freedom of Information bill as urgent may be the only option left for President Aquino to have the measure passed before Congress adjourns next week, lawmakers supporting the proposed law said yesterday.

San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the President should give the proposed FOI law the same importance as the reproductive health bill, which the Senate and the House passed after Aquino certified it as urgent.

“The FOI bill aims to promote transparency, accountability and good governance, which are the President’s core advocacies,” he said.

However, Ejercito pointed out that even with a presidential certification, consideration of the measure could still be stalled if the House fails to muster a quorum and the minority bloc continues to derail debates.

Last week and this week, members of the minority prevented the House from going into floor debates on the bill by questioning the quorum.

At one time, Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Douglas Cagas threatened to raise the quorum question because he did not want a law dismembering his district read and sent to the archives.

Authors have so far succeeded only in delivering their sponsorship speeches.

Rep. Sherwin Tugna of the party-list group Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption urged all Filipinos supporting the FOI bill to plead with the President to certify it and to appeal to their representatives to attend the last three days of session of Congress next week.

“This we have to do if we want the bill to pass before the 15th Congress adjourns next weekend,” he said.

“We need to double our efforts in pushing for this important piece of legislation. Not only do we need to contact and compel members of the House to attend the remaining sessions days, let us also channel a certain portion of our efforts in convincing the President to certify it as urgent as well,” he said.

“The FOI is not just a step towards daang matuwid. It is a big leap. The FOI bill would open up the government to public scrutiny and would expose anomalous deals and contracts. It would hold public officials accountable and usher in a new era of good governance where transparency and accountability reign supreme,” he added.

Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, one of the authors of the proposed FOI law, has indicated that the President might be open to certifying the measure as urgent.

In a television interview, Tañada said Aquino is monitoring deliberations on the measure in the House of Representatives.

“He is watching how the process will go. If we can get the bill to a second-reading vote, I think he will act appropriately,” he said. He said a presidential certification would definitely expedite the approval of the measure.

“Even if we have only four session days to go until next week before we adjourn for the elections in May, we can still do it because we have more sessions in June when we reconvene,” he added. The Senate has already passed its version of the FOI bill.

Congress will go on a long four-month recess for the election campaign next weekend, reconvene on June 3 before adjourning again four days later until the new set of members elected on May 13 convene on July 22 as the 16th Congress.

‘Most effective modality’

Even Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is pushing for the swift passage of the measure, which she called, “the most effective modality to prevent corruption.”

In a speech before delegates to the 5th Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (Gopac) conference in Pasay City last Friday, De Lima also stressed the need for the President to certify the measure as urgent to ensure its passage before Congress’ election break.

In batting for the pending measure, De Lima stressed that “a well-informed citizenry could and would meaningfully participate in the governance of a country.”

She said greater public access to government records as well as greater accountability for public officials are “anticipated fruits of political maturity.”

“But it is noted that certain conditions have to be engendered in order for the right to information to be meaningfully practiced,” she said.

Meanwhile, former Manila congressman Benny Abante Jr. said that without an effective FOI law, billions of taxpayers’ money would be lost to corruption annually.

Abante cited statistics from international watchdog Transparency International that showed an estimated 20 percent of the national budget getting lost to corruption due to lack of transparency in government. – With Edu Punay, Sandy Araneta

Sam Miguel
02-04-2013, 09:57 AM
‘Still no plan to certify FOI bill as urgent’

By Alexis Romero

(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 4, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - With only three days to go before Congress goes on an extended break for the upcoming May elections, President Aquino’s stand on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill remains.

Malacañang reiterated yesterday that the President has no plan to certify the bill as urgent at this time despite clamor from several lawmakers supporting the proposed measure.

“I think the President has already answered that question. I understand that they spoke about that in Davos and since then, the President has not advised us of any change in that position,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said when asked to react to statements by some lawmakers that a presidential certification may be the only option left to have the measure passed before Congress adjourns next week.

Last month, Aquino told reporters in Davos, Switzerland that he could not certify the FOI bill as urgent since the House of Representatives has yet to debate on the measure.

Critics have scored Aquino for his inaction on the bill, noting that he can persuade his allies in Congress to support the measure if he wants to.

They said that Aquino played a key role in the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona and the passage of the reproductive health law.

The FOI bill, which aims to provide greater public access to government records and transactions, is still pending at the House of Representatives. The Senate passed its version of the measure last December.

Valte said the executive branch has been implementing transparency measures since Aquino assumed office.

She cited the setting up of an advocacy site by the budget department, the involvement of various stakeholders in the crafting of the budget, and the efforts to come up with an electronic system for military and police pensions.– With Christina Mendez

Sam Miguel
02-05-2013, 10:35 AM
SC expected to rule on TRO vs Cybercrime law

By Tetch Torres


9:11 am | Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court this Tuesday will determine whether to extend the 120-day temporary restraining order against the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

Petitioners, during the oral argument, requested the high court to extend the TRO. The last day the TRO is today, Tuesday.

Lawyer Harry Roque, one of the petitionersn told the high court that an extension of the restraining order was needed to prevent the law’s implementation while the high court was still determining its constitutionality.

During the oral argument, Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza conceded that Section 19 was unconstitutional.

Section 19 known as the Take Down provision allows the Department of Justice to block and restrict a website without court warrant.

Jardeleza also admitted that Section 12 of the law which authorizes government authorities to collect traffic data was “barely constitutional.”

He admitted that traffic data was not thoroughly defined under the law and would feel better if there would be judicial intervention.

Sam Miguel
02-07-2013, 07:58 AM
House goes on recess without tackling FOI bill

By Karen Boncocan


9:31 pm | Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The Freedom of Information Bill remained hanging in its sponsorship stage until the last session day before the House of Representatives went on recess for the campaign period for the May elections.

Authors of the bill in the lower chamber of the 15th Congress pushed to keep the measure alive but said that passion without quorum and later on, Malacañang’s support, was just not enough.

“The advocates have been let down by the people we thought were our allies,” said Akbayan Partylist Representative Walden Bello, a co-author of the FOI Bill.

He said fighting for the bill’s survival became difficult without the President’s certification.

“We are passionate about FOI, but passion is not enough at this point,” said the lawmaker.

Delays punctuated deliberations on the FOI Bill from the committee level up to its introduction at the plenary.

Sponsorship speeches alone, took several session days, with authors trying to work out a way around the consistent lack of quorum and the minority bloc’s efforts to delay the measure’s passage.

But with the election fever high in Congress, more and more lawmakers failed to show up at session, adding to the authors’ frustration.

On Monday, even Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. admitted that there was little hope left for the bill.

Cibac Partylist Representative Sherwin Tugna in a recent interview said he found it frustrating that they could not defend their moves to tackle the bill since there would always be fear that quorum would be questioned.

But Bello said there would definitely be efforts to revive the FOI Bill in the 16th Congress.

Its principal author for the 15th Congress, Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, would no longer be in the House but Bello said he and the advocates would continue pushing for the measure.

“I am certainly committed to filing it in the 16th Congress if reelected. We will carry on with Cong Erin Tañada’s fight,” he said.

Advocates closed their campaign for the bill in this Congress with a heavy heart, saying they had “exhausted all avenues that we thought were open to us to get positive, decisive action from the leaders of the House of Representatives and from President Aquino no less.”

“Yet they turned a deaf ear to our summons for leadership. Instead they caved in to their fears of an informed and empowered people. They gave us the lie to their avowed claims of transparency and good governance,” the FOI Youth Initiative said in a statement.

The biggest disappointment they said was their belief that the bill had the President’s support since “three years ago he had promised he would accord the bill top priority.”

They lambasted the Malacañang spokespersons’ “curt” response to their appeals for the measure to be certified as urgent, telling them that he “wants to see a ‘healthy debate’ on the FOI bill in the House.”

“Our sad lesson: Words are to candidates cheap, and Presidents lie, indeed,” said the advocates.

“Today we do not bury the FOI Billl. Instead we keep it alive and recommit ourselves to push it in the 16th Congress—despite or in spite of Aquino and his allies,” they said.

Sam Miguel
02-07-2013, 07:58 AM
FOI backers: Never say die

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:11 am | Thursday, February 7th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The defeat of the freedom of information (FOI) bill in the House of Representatives does not mean the measure is already dead and buried, according to its authors.

President Aquino still has time to fulfill his campaign promise of putting an FOI law in place when a new Congress convenes in July, and advocates of the measure will surely intensify their efforts to push for the bill’s enactment into law, said Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said another defeat for the FOI in the next Congress could be bad for the President’s Liberal Party in 2016, a presidential election year, while its passage would wipe out all doubts about the Aquino administration’s commitment to transparency.

Aquino’s tepid support

Other supporters of the bill have expressed dismay at what they believe to be the President’s tepid support for the measure, especially when compared to his backing for other bills like the sin tax and reproductive health measures that successfully hurdled Congress after Aquino certified them as urgent.

Party-list member Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna) said Aquino’s refusal to certify the bill as urgent “practically lays waste to any credibility left to his anticorruption drive.”

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, which closed its campaign for the FOI bill in the 15th Congress on Wednesday, said it committed a big error in putting their trust in Aquino.

“Our sad lesson: Words are to candidates cheap, and presidents lie,” it said in a statement.

But Tañada, Aquino’s’s Liberal Party mate, puts his faith in the President.

“I believe he will follow through. We will see an FOI law before he steps down,” he said.

President’s surprise

Baguilat thinks the President will surprise his critics and follow through on his campaign promise.

The alternative would place the President’s party, which leads his campaign for transparency and good governance, at a disadvantage, he warned.

“Not passing (the FOI bill) in the next Congress will be more damaging for our party in 2016,” he said.

“If we succeed in the 16th Congress, it might wipe the slate clean for those who have lost their trust in the sincerity of the administration to be transparent,” Baguilat said.

Tañada prefers to think that the FOI bill is just in “hibernation,” after it failed to be debated upon and put to a vote during the last few sessions of the House of Representatives.

“For those who believe in the afterlife, it will resurrect itself in the 16th Congress. Advocates will be there to continue to push for FOI,” he said.

Tañada said he is also holding on to a statement from the Office of the Press Secretary saying that it wants to see an FOI law before Aquino steps down from office in 2016.

“With that assurance, there will be movement in the FOI bill in the next Congress,” Tañada said.

‘Democracy vanguards’

Baguilat said he is positive that the LP will support the FOI’s passage since its members take pride in calling themselves “democracy’s vanguards.”

“There are enough elements in the P-Noy administration who are for FOI. We just lost out to those who fear transparency. It will not happen again in the next congress,” he said.

Baguilat, a reelectionist and an LP member, said that if he wins, he and other advocates will start their drive for the bill’s passage early.

One of the things they will do is enlist public support through a more aggressive information campaign to make people understand the bill and its relevance to their lives, he said.

Baguilat said the bill’s congressional supporters have learned their lessons in legislative warfare. He said they will court the support of fellow legislators early and take control of the public information committee and its agenda.

They will also continue to engage Malacañang and move heaven and earth to get the House leadership to make the bill a priority “not just on paper, but by will,” Baguilat said.

The proposed FOI law would have put in force the constitutionally guaranteed right to information. It aimed to empower the public by giving them better access to government data and transactions, and lift the shroud of secrecy over many official dealings.

Sam Miguel
02-07-2013, 08:22 AM
KBP to question Comelec’s airtime limits, prior notice, right of reply rules

By Kristine Felisse Mangunay

Philippine Daily Inquirer

7:27 pm | Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—Saying the public interest, editorial independence, and even the health of political candidates would be at stake, the president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas said on Wednesday that it would contest the Comelec rules on airtime limits, prior notice and the right to reply in the Supreme Court within the week.

Herman Basbaño, KBP president, said at the weekly forum at Club Filipino in San Juan City, that the association of broadcast companies would ask the high court to issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of Comelec Resolution 9615, even if some of its provisions were amended following a presentation of opposing arguments from the KBP and GMA-7 on Jan. 31.

Under the amended resolution signed by the Comelec en banc on Thursday, the provision on “the prior notice rule—which requires television and radio stations to notify the poll body before conducting interviews of candidates—was reworded to reportedly allay fears from several members of the media that the rule would infringe on editorial independence.

The provision on the “right to reply” rule—which previously gave “all parties and bona fide candidates” who claim to have been attacked by rival candidates in the media equal media exposure—was also modified so it would not apply to all who complain.

The only provision that remained unchanged was the one imposing limits on the airtime of political advertisements of candidates—120 minutes for television, and 180 minutes for radio.

Basbaño said the organization decided to continue opposing the resolution, even with its amendments, because it did not address the organization’s primary concerns.

If the limits on airtime remain, for example, less information about running political candidates would reach the public, who would then be unable to make an informed decision about their votes during the elections, according to Basbaño.

“The public wants to hear the qualifications of candidates again and again…Arresting (excessive) spending (of political candidates) should not lead to the right of the people to get information from their candidates being sacrificed,” he said.

He added that the imposition of the limits would also affect the health of running candidates, who, unable to gain as much exposure in broadcast media, would then be forced to travel across the country to reach out to the voting population.

Despite the changes in the provisions on “the right-to-reply” and “prior notice,” Basbaño said that the provisions still “infringed on editorial prerogative,” an act tantamount to prior restraint.

He said members of the KBP board would meet during the day at the group’s headquarters in Makati City to discuss the details of the content of the TRO.

Sam Miguel
02-08-2013, 08:17 AM
Looks like there is no need for an FOI Law after all. Who needs it when the media can just get even uncleared, confidential information even before the President of the Republic does?

NBI to probe media leaks in Atimonan case

By Christine O. Avendaño, Nancy C. Carvajal

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:47 am | Friday, February 8th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The National Bureau of Investigation will investigate the leak to the press of its report on the police killing of 13 alleged criminals in Atimonan, Quezon, on Jan. 6.

NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas said Thursday the leak embarrassed the bureau, as President Aquino had given strict orders to keep the results of the investigation confidential.

Rojas did not say whether heads would roll but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who submitted the report to Malacañang Thursday, said the source of the leak faced penalties ranging from suspension to dismissal for insubordination and misconduct.

“Suspension can be one day, one week, one month, six months, one year or two years and the maximum penalty is, of course, dismissal,” De Lima told reporters.

She said that while the government recognized the right of the press to access to information, as well as the reporters’ right to access to sources, she was leaving it to the NBI to decide whether to summon journalists who reported information leaked from the investigative report.

Were leaks correct?

Asked whether the leaks were faithful to the report, De Lima said “certain portions” that were published tended to show someone leaked the report.

“But I’m not confirming that’s contained in the report,” she said.

De Lima reiterated an earlier statement that the leak could be aimed at undermining her and Rojas’ leadership.

It was just an “impression,” she said, but added: “What does that mean, they want to embarrass the leadership of the NBI? Or they just want to give information despite repeated instructions from superiors [not to prematurely disclose the report’s contents]?”

“We will do our investigation and the negligence of our people and we will address this concern as we go on,” Rojas said.

The scope of the investigation has yet to be determined, he said.

Rojas said several units of the NBI were involved in the investigation and in the preparation of the report.

Actual pages from report

Measures were laid down to ensure confidentiality, including a ban on cell phones in closed-door discussions, De Lima said.

Still, images shown on television on Wednesday and Thursday indicated a leak of actual pages from the report.

“This is something very unfortunate. I am sad and really angry about how things have developed,” Rojas said.

“Despite our efforts to keep this probe [confidential], a leak still occurred and the media got some info,” he said.

“It is sad, it puts the NBI in an embarrassing situation,” he added.

A source in the bureau told the Inquirer that drafts of the report were shredded and moving copies of the report even inside the NBI complex was done under escort.

What leak?

But an agent involved in the investigation questioned the investigation of a supposed leak.

“We could not understand what kind of leak they are talking about. It was an open investigation, all the people involved and their names were already known even before the NBI started its investigation,” the agent said.

All the agents involved in the investigation and in the preparation of the report are demoralized, the source said.

“It’s demoralizing because after working so hard this past month, and now instead of focusing our energy on other cases or the next phase of the investigation, which is the filing [of charges] and preliminary hearing, we have to face a probe that will also sap our time and energy,” the agent said.

But Virgilio Mendes, NBI deputy director for regional services and head of the Atimonan investigation, said the investigative group would respect De Lima’s order.

Rojas made it clear that there was no news blackout on the Atimonan investigation.

“It’s just that we did not want to disclose the results prematurely,” Rojas said.

Sam Miguel
02-08-2013, 08:20 AM
^^^ Well Mr Agent if only you had kept your people's mouths shut, none of this would have befallen you. The only sad thing about this is that once again media has let its scoop-happy reputation get the better of it. While the investigation itself was public and transparent, the findings contained in the report still had to go to the President first, not to the headlines.

And so it must be asked again: in light of these "journalistic" practices, what do we need an FOI Law for?

Sam Miguel
02-08-2013, 08:34 AM
I must also ask: when a journalist is able to go to the lair / hideout / corporate headquarters of the Abu, the NPA or any of the other bad guys, do they not have an obligation to inform the authorities as to this location? By failing to do so, I think that is aidning and abetting criminals. Or, once again, is the scoop mroe important than the country finally being rid of the bad guys?

Sam Miguel
02-08-2013, 09:17 AM
Long road to passage

By Rina Jimenez-David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

8:26 pm | Thursday, February 7th, 2013

It might strike many, particularly supporters of the freedom of information bill, as mere “consuelo de bobo” (cold comfort) to say that the fate of this piece of legislation is but par for the course of many other bills making their way to enactment into law.

The FOI bill failed to make it in time for passage before the end of the 15th Congress, marking the second time the bill has been stalled in the House of Representatives. If you will recall, in the 14th Congress, the bill was passed by the Senate but was left in limbo in the House, despite a last-minute push. In the 15th Congress, supporters were initially optimistic, especially since P-Noy had come out publicly in support of this measure during the campaign. But there was a palpable softening of support on the part of the President eventually, with P-Noy citing the concerns of “the national security sector.” Despite calls from the bill’s sponsors, particularly Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, the President refused to certify the bill as urgent, and showed what some critics described as “tepid support” at best for the measure.

Now the same sponsors, partymates of P-Noy, assure us that passage of the FOI bill can be expected in the next Congress. Representative Tañada even confidently declared that “we will see an FOI law before [the President] steps down.”

Frustrating it might be, but the FOI supporters should realize that it does take more than the life of one Congress to pass a bill into law.

* * *

At a recent recognition ceremony for Rep. Edcel Lagman, who was the main sponsor of the reproductive health bill in the last two (or was it three?) Congresses, former Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani recalled that the RH bill was first filed in the eighth Congress.

This means that the RH bill took eight—count ’em—eight Congresses before finally being signed into law, the pace of enactment speeded up by a cliff-hanger certification from Malacañang.

Recall, too, that many times the RH bill could not even make it out of committee, with the executive and legislative leadership at various times intimidated by Catholic bishops and conservative groups who threatened hellfire and damnation should the RH bill progress. It was only in the 14th Congress, in fact, that the bill managed to be reported out of committee. But then Speaker Prospero Nograles, despite his promises to act promptly on the matter, proceeded to dilly-dally, constantly assuring Lagman of timely action; it turned out that then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had already instructed him to “kill” the bill.

If any of the reproductive health proponents, not just legislators but also NGOs, had thrown up their hands and given up on the passage of the RH measure, then we would probably still be a society quibbling over when life begins and whether contraceptives are abortifacients or not. Well, come to think of it, those debates are still being heard (most notably in the petitions filed in the Supreme Court), but we now have the RH Law that assures services for poor women who need them and sex education for young people, among other things.

* * *

As Sen. Pia Cayetano, who defended the RH bill at the Senate, told me, it was signed into law simply because “its time had come.” A function of the decades that passed since the first bill was introduced was that it gave enough time for public opinion to build up in support of the measure. Developments in information technology, such as e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, made it easier and faster for proponents to share information and opinion, and for these to reach legislators and policymakers, while all sorts of creative protests and actions dramatized the issue before the public.

And maybe, too, it helped that public opinion had, since the 1980s, been solidly in support of family planning in particular and of reproductive health in general.

Maybe that’s what those pushing for the FOI bill need to do: study the lay of the land and determine if there is sufficient public-opinion support for the measure. In the first place, do ordinary people know what “freedom of information” is all about? Do they realize what it will mean to them in their day-to-day lives? If it is, as proponents say, a significant anticorruption measure, maybe they need to explain in detail how access to documents can “modify the greed” of politicians and officials.

* * *

Already, we are hearing good things from FOI champions in the House.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, likewise a champion of the RH bill, says that in the next Congress (assuming he and his ilk win reelection) they will work early to “enlist public support through a more aggressive information campaign to make people understand the bill and its relevance to their lives.”

And despite—or because—of their frustrations in the last two Congresses, Baguilat says they “have learned their lessons in legislative warfare.” One of these lessons is the need to “court the support of fellow legislators early and take control of the public information committee (under which the FOI bill falls) and its agenda.”

For Representative Tañada, belief in the afterlife is a necessity. Supporters, he said, should keep faith that the bill “will resurrect itself in the 16th Congress” and “advocates will be there to continue to push for FOI.”

Still, this doesn’t fully explain why P-Noy changed course after his swearing-in and turned half-hearted in his support for the FOI bill during the first half of his term. I’m curious to know what turned him around on the issue, and what reforms and amendments to the bill he would require before signing it into law. I hope he won’t play brinkmanship on FOI like he did with the RH Law.

Sam Miguel
02-12-2013, 09:11 AM
Law and behold

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:54 pm | Monday, February 11th, 2013

A couple of things show how sifting through things can help us avoid problems. One is Pia Cayetano filing a bill that calls for the repeal of an “antiquated” law that curtails freedom of expression. Two is the Supreme Court issuing a new TRO stopping government from enforcing the Cybercrime Law. I warmly applaud the second, I’m not so sure about the first.

Cayetano explains her initiative thus: “[Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code] punishes anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful…. Freedom of speech and expression is essential to a sovereign state…. A person living in a democracy cannot expect that his beliefs will be free from all criticism.”

In fact freedom of expression has little, if nothing, to do with it. The confusion stems from the reason the courts gave for sending Carlos Celdran to jail, which is offending religious sensibilities. This is not a case of offending religious sensibilities, this is a case of violating the right to worship. I agree the latter is not a crime deserving of jail, which means I also agree with Cayetano’s move to remove it from the Penal Code, which prescribes criminal sanctions for it. But I do not agree that one is well within his rights to do something like this, a right covered by freedom of expression. It is a transgression, and though it does not deserve jail, it deserves censure.

The matter becomes clearer if you look at the case of Mideo Cruz. Cruz has not been prosecuted or jailed, and for good reason. He has offended religious sensibilities, far more than Celdran. He has painted religious icons in ways that the pious have called blasphemous and sacrilegious, but that is his right. That is how he sees things as an artist. That is freedom of expression. The Church has called him names, one Cultural Center official has resigned, the faithful have reviled him: That is their right, too. But they may not do anything else.

Invading a church or interrupting a religious service is another matter entirely. That is not a right, that is a wrong. Of course it offends religious feelings, but that is not all it does. It interrupts a person in the middle of communing with his God. That is foul. Proscribing it quite incidentally is not just for the protection of the worshipper, it is for the protection of the transgressor. Try doing that in the middle of a Black Nazarene or Our Lady of Peñafrancia procession and see if you live to tell the tale, or live to be in jail.

You want to abrogate Article 133, or remove it from the Penal Code, on the ground that the punishment is worse than the crime itself, that’s fine. But you want to abrogate it on the ground of freedom of expression, that’s dangerous. People have as much right to worship as they have to express themselves.

The principle is still live and let live, and not, as Ian Fleming, James Bond, and Paul McCartney put it, live and let die.

From the other end, I laud the Supreme Court for preventing the Cybercrime Law from taking effect. I will laud it even more if it prevents it permanently from taking effect by declaring it unconstitutional. At least in its present form with all those libel provisions. Those things infringe on free speech, those things infringe on free expression.

It’s not true at all that if you do not overstep the bounds of truth, you’ll have nothing to fear from the law. At the very least, P-Noy will not be President forever. The law will, unless it is amended, abridged, or revoked, which will require some doing after inertia sets in. You have a law like that under a Gloria Arroyo-type, you’re going to be in deep organic fertilizer.

At the very most, even under P-Noy’s rule, it will be open to abuse. It will be the hardest thing to call anyone corrupt, or hint at it. Not Erap, who has been convicted of it; not Gloria, who will be prosecuted for it; not Juan Ponce Enrile, who has written a book saying he is the opposite of it; not Renato Corona, who continues to remain free despite having been ousted as chief justice under the weight of it; not even Ferdinand Marcos, who gave whole new dimensions to it. The law is on their side. We saw during the Erap and Corona impeachment trials how law functions in this country: It is the magic wand that makes black white and white black.

The Cybercrime Law takes effect, you’re going to have libel suits flying all over the place. From the same crowd that shrilly wants “right of reply.”

Do we have recklessness and irresponsibility in cyberspace? Yes. In the same way we do in mainstream media—radio, TV, and the tabloids are full of it. But jailing the offenders, like jailing Celdran, doesn’t solve the problem, it makes it worse.

Far, far worse in the case of media, social or mainstream. That’s so because for all the excesses of cyberspace, it has been an enormously potent force for people empowerment. The social media in particular have allowed ordinary citizens, and not just pundits, reputable or self-appointed, to weigh in on issues of national importance, particularly corruption. Something they have not been able to do in the past. We need it if we are going to fight corruption, or want to succeed in it. Government can only do so much, the public has to do the rest. Public opprobrium helps, public revulsion helps, public excoriation helps, the way it does in other countries where public officials sullied by scandals are forced to take their leaves, if not take their lives.

That should be encouraged, not dissuaded. That should be embraced, not scorned. That should be cherished, not threatened.

Some laws make you feel lofty, some just make you say:

Law and behold.

Sam Miguel
02-20-2013, 09:41 AM
Is bingo an illegal numbers game or not?

By Neal H. Cruz

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:29 pm | Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Politics has transformed bingo, that numbers game popular in low-income communities, into a heated controversy between Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and the Manila police on the one hand, and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay on the other. Moreno and his councilors had lately been holding bingo games in various communities, obviously to court votes for the May elections. The bingo cards being distributed had the names of Moreno and several councilors printed at the back.

A few days ago, the Manila police raided one such bingo game in the Blumentritt area. The police grabbed pieces of evidence, such as the tambiolo from which the winning numbers are taken, and cards, in the process of which there was a scuffle and the uniform of a policeman and the T-shirt of a Sangguniang Kabataan chair were torn. Several other villagers, including a woman councilor, claimed they were manhandled by the police and slightly injured.

The councilors phoned Moreno for help. He came running and BINGO! The police arrested him. As policemen were taking Moreno to a police car, the villagers grabbed him to prevent his being taken to headquarters. There was another scuffle, but the police eventually won the tug-of-war.

At headquarters, Moreno et al. were confined in a room, not in a detention cell, while they were being fingerprinted and the charges against them prepared. Estrada, Moreno’s running mate in the May elections, arrived to intercede. Later came Binay, the first of the UNA triumvirate (the others are Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile). Moreno and the councilors were charged with illegal gambling nine hours later. The city prosecutor subsequently released them for further investigation, for “insufficiency of evidence.”

Last Monday, Erap, Moreno, Manila councilors and their supporters, were at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel to give their versions of the incident.

The crux of the issue is this: Is bingo illegal? The police say it is. Presidential Decree No. 1602 issued on June 11, 1978, considered bingo as an illegal numbers game that is prohibited. Erap, Moreno et al. say it is legal. RA 9287, passed on April 2, 2004, delisted bingo as an illegal numbers game. Mayor Lim also holds bingo games, they said.

Police: Those games have permits from City Hall.

Moreno et al.: In a decision on the Association of Barangay Councilors vs. Sison promulgated on May 18, 2012, the court authorized the operation of “Bingo sa Barangay” without need of securing permits from any national or local government agency.

Police: If there is betting, then it is illegal. How can you play bingo without paying for your card? That’s where the prize moneys come from

Moreno et al.: The cards were distributed free to the villagers, prizes were not money but household appliances.

Police: The cards have the names of Moreno and some councilors printed at the back. That’s premature campaigning. The campaign period for local candidates does not begin until next month.

Verdict: The culprit is politics. The contest for the top positions in Manila has become bitter, pitting friend against friend, splitting apart former running mates.

Later at the Kapihan, Erap was asked: “You are the kingpin of San Juan. Why did you decide to run for mayor of Manila?”

Erap: “I was born in Tondo, I grew up there. It is now the most decayed part of Manila. I want to help my Tondo brethren.”

Question: “You and Lim were close friends. You even appointed him to your government. His term as mayor is ending in three years. Why did you not just wait for his term to end so your friendship would not be destroyed?”

Erap: “I can no longer wait. Manila is decaying; the people are suffering. I have to do something.”

Question to Moreno: “You are the vice mayor of Mayor Lim; you were running mates in 2010. What made you turn around and fight him?”

Moreno: “Because he refuses to listen to us, the city council. We have given him everything that he asked for in the form of ordinances. But he does not want to reciprocate.”

Question: “Mayor Lim said Manila is being bypassed by developers because of an ordinance limiting the height of buildings there. The developers said they would lose money if they confined themselves to the height limit. Is there such an ordinance?”

Moreno: “Yes, but we will repeal it if he asks us to.”

* * *

KAPIHAN NOTES: Press forums are being invaded by fake journalists, poseurs and pretenders, those we derisively call the “hao shiao.” Yesterday, after I left the Kapihan, Erap called me and said somebody had approached him and told him that I had sent him, obviously for you-know-what.

I told Erap that I had not sent anyone, and to have the impostor arrested. It was a good thing Erap had the presence of mind to verify with me; otherwise, the impostor would have gotten away with his scam.

This is happening not only at the Kapihan sa Manila but also at other press forums. Not only do the hao shiao eat the free food and drink the free coffee, they also follow the guest panelists when they go to the rest-rooms and ask them for “something for the boys.” The polite ones are deceived.And if the one who had approached Erap was foiled, imagine how many could have succeeded.

For this reason, we are limiting admission to the Kapihan to legitimate journalists. Hao shiao, stay out.

Warning to everyone: Be wary of people claiming they were sent by journalists. They must be impostors. No respectable journalist will do that. If they show you a press ID, ignore it. If it is a National Press Club ID, the more you should be wary. The NPC is not the respectable club that it used to be. And the bigger the press ID, the bigger a fake the holder is. Legitimate journalists don’t even need press IDs.

Sam Miguel
02-20-2013, 11:43 AM
Not a local media story, but relevant nonetheless...

David Axelrod and the media’s dying credibility

Posted by David Ignatius on February 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Reading NBC News’s announcement Tuesday that it was hiring David Axelrod, a top adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, as a “senior political analyst,” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach: No wonder the American public increasingly mistrusts the news media. We are obliterating the line between the political players and the people who are supposed to act as commentators and referees.

NBC boasted in its news release about how “for nearly three decades Axelrod guided successful campaigns at every level on the ballot.” Once upon a time, that would have been a disqualification for a news organization.But now, NBC brags that Axelrod “will contribute frequently across all broadcasts and platforms.” And he won’t just be a “senior political analyst” for MSNBC, the broadcaster’s more ideological affiliate, but also for the NBC mothership.

Just a week ago, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow introduced Robert Gibbs, the former Obama White House spokesman and campaign operative, as a new contributor. Politico reported that Gibbs would also appear on NBC News.

This trend is hardly new. It’s commonplace these days for television news operations to hire former political advisers or campaign operatives as analysts. Fox has a stable of them, including former George W. Bush aides Karl Rove and Dana Perino, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and, until recently, that modern-day Edward R. Murrow, Sarah Palin. ABC News’s budding superstar is George Stephanopoulos, who has adapted so well to journalism that people forget he was once a top White House aide to President Bill Clinton.

You could argue that the Post’s Opinions team is doing something similar online with running commentary from three longtime campaign operatives — Republican Ed Rogers and Democrats Carter Eskew and Hilary Rosen — whom The Post has dubbed “The Insiders.” The trend everywhere in the news business is toward more openly, avowedly partisan commentary, and away from the plain vanilla, down-the-middle variety (which has biases of its own).

I was taught that there’s a dividing line between politics and journalism and that people wouldn’t trust the news media if they began to fuzz this boundary. And guess what? That bromide from a passing generation of newspaper editors and network executives was right.

Sam Miguel
02-20-2013, 11:46 AM
^^^ SO what does that say about ABS CBN when its Big 3 talents are a former Vice President for a discredited and loathed Administration, a former (one-term only) Congressman, the wife of the Secretary of Trade / head honcho of the ruling Liberal Party and openly declared 2016 presidential candidate? With yet another lady news talent of theirs now apparently running for pubic office as well, on the heels of another former reporter of theirs now Mayor of a town in Rizal!

03-06-2013, 08:22 AM
The Lopez Family’s environment war

Wednesday, 06 March 2013 00:00


‘Gina, the pseudo eco-warrior, and her bunch of noisy allies are now meek as lambs.’

SAGITTARIUS Mines Inc. (SMI) waited three years for an Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) before it could start its $5.9 billion copper-gold mine project in Tampakan. This, despite the fact that SMI was the country’s single largest foreign direct investment ever. SMI is already two years behind schedule, and still no one knows when it can expect to start operations in Tampakan, a small, impoverished town in South Cotabato.

When a portion of a mining pit in Semirara Island collapsed and left five workers dead and five others missing last February, the President told the Department of Energy (DOE) to suspend the operations of Semirara Coal and Mining Co.

When a typhoon-induced accident led to a non-toxic leak in one of the tailings ponds of the Padcal mine in Benguet last August, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje ordered its closure and directed the operator, Philex Mining, to pay over P1 billion in fines. The Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) also dunned Philex another P92.8 million in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act for a non-toxic leak!

Clearly, this government is not large-scale mining’s best friend!


So, why is government being soft on the Energy Development Corp (EDC)? A landslide last week in its geothermal power facility in Leyte left at least five of 45 workers dead and nine others missing.

A statement issued by EDC, a corporation of the Lopez family, says that a landslide occurred in its Upper Mahiao geothermal project in Barangay Lim-ao, Kananga, Leyte where its contractor, First Balfour Inc., was doing civil works.

First Balfour is also a Lopez-controlled firm. The dead and injured were employees of First Balfour’s subcontractor.

The Upper Mahiao plant is one of four production wells belonging to EDC’s Leyte Geothermal Production Fields, considered to be the biggest wet steam field in the world with a geothermal reservation spanning 107,625 hectares. EDC’s three other wells are Tongonan 1, Malitbog and Mahanagdong.

Acting Leyte Gov. Mimiette Bagulaya, albeit indirectly, implies that force majeure could not have been the cause of the EDC landslide.

She says that the province will investigate to find the real cause of the landslide. She says that the area is not landslide-prone and points out that “this is the first time” for the area.


If Government, as it should, cracks down hard on EDC, civil society groups should also join in with their fiery rhetoric usually reserved for companies they demonize as scourges of the environment.

The incidents in Padcal and Semirara brought out “pro-environment” groups denouncing these accidents as the latest evidence of Big Mining’s being a bane to the environment. Even when the DENR finally issued an ECC to SMI, they still accuse SMI not only of destroying the environment but also of dislocating indigenous communities and sponsoring military atrocities in the area.


Using outdated or skewed data and misleading information, left-leaning activists, with lots of support from civil society groups led by self-styled “eco-warriors,” go against the mining sector as its favored bete noir.

Human rights violations and military bashing being no longer in vogue, militants need whipping boys to bash during their street protests to justify the continued flow of foreign funds to their so-called “foundations” and “civic organizations.”

But intriguingly, these armies of activists and eco-warriors are now silent on the Kananga landslide when they should be marching on the streets denouncing the EDC.

Five people died and nine other workers are still missing. Why don’t we hear one peep from this army of “eco-warriors?” Could it be because among these “eco-warriors” is Gina Lopez of the powerful Lopez clan, which owns the EDC?


If Gina, the pseudo eco-warrior, and her bunch of noisy allies are now meek as lambs, can we, at least, expect something from the Senate, considering that Sen. Sergio Osmeña III had earlier called for an exhaustive probe of the mine tailings spill in Padcal? Right?

Wrong? The Senator is married to a Lopez–Isabel “Bettina” Mejia Lopez. So, maybe not!

Even in the Lopez-controlled ABS-CBN network, the EDC landslide has not merited the reportage the network gave other similar disasters with human casualties. On its website, ABS-CBN posted just one story per day on the EDC landslide compared to as many as two to three stories daily on the Semirara incident immediately after the landslide in Antique.


The government should not hesitate to impose a heavy fine on EDC, as it did with Philex.

EDC can well afford a hefty fine. After all, its revenues continue to grow at a steady pace, despite the Kananga incident and the temporary closure of its 150-megawatt Bacon-Manito plant in Bicol. “We know there will be steady growth until 2017,” EDC finance officer Nestor Vasay proudly proclaimed last weekend as he projected EDC’s gross revenues to soar to an aggregate of P30 billion this year from P26 billion in 2012.


Government regulators ought to watch EDC like a hawk on this matter in view of the Lopezes’ dismal record in ecological protection despite Gina Lopez’s image as a poster girl for the environment..

Consider the following examples:

1. The Northern Negros Geothermal Power Plant (NNGPP) in Mt. Kanlaon, another firm managed by EDC cut down thousands of trees and dislocated wild flora and fauna in the area.

The Save Mt Kanlaon Movement has asked the President to order the closure of NNGPP!

2. Then, there is the continuing nightmare of occupants of the West Tower Condominium in Bangkal, Makati City due to a blunder of yet another Lopez-owned company–the First Philippine Industrial Corp. (FPIC).

FPIC says that the fuel leak in its pipeline buried under the condominium is now down to “contaminant plumes”, even as the building’s residents claim otherwise.

FPIC’s claims are prominently reported by ABS-CBN and FPIC has made it appear that there is now nothing to worry about.

An expert, Dr. Carlo Arcilla of the UP Diliman National Institute of Geological Sciences (UPNIGS) says otherwise. While the FPIC commissioned a third party to clean up the contaminated water underground, 25-30 percent of the leaked fuel remains as a gas cloud of contaminants that cannot be easily removed. (Makati City sought the help of UP-NIGS as consultants in handling this environmental disaster). Dr. Arcilla describes the residents’ situation as a case of “what-you-cannot-see-could-really-hurt-you.”

Even as the leak occurred three years ago, the leak continues to pose a threat to the health and safety of the unit owners in West Tower Condominium and other residents of Bangkal. This even becomes a bigger threat in the future because the “principal causing force” in this disaster is still present even if remediation and cleanup are ongoing.

3. Brooke’s Point in Palawan is yet another example of the Lopez double standard.

Gina Lopez has been ranting about protecting our environment from mining firms, yet her own ABS-CBN Foundation Bantay Kalikasan has been accused of illegally occupying an area considered as sacred tribal ground in Brooke’s Point. Gina’s resort in Sabsaban Falls has cut down trees to build cottages without the consent of the indigenous peoples in the area.

At least four lodging structures have been put up in Gina Lopez’s resort, which she calls a Glamping (glamour camping) project. The ABS-CBN Foundation, of which Lopez is managing director, has reportedly been charging P25,000 for a day’s stay in the resort, on top of collecting fees for crossing a bridge that tribal groups built long before Gina and the Lopez foundation invaded Brooke’s Point.

Gina claims to have secured the appropriate local government permits to desecrate Brooke’s Point and turn it into a socialite’s idea of a camping site.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) disagrees and wants Gina’s resort padlocked because of the absence of a permit from the Council. Republic Act 7611 which created the PCSD, mandates that a Strategic Environment Plan (SEP) clearance from the PCSD is required for any private or government project in Palawan’s forest areas.

The DENR has ordered a probe into the reported tree cutting and takeover of ancestral lands in Brooke’s Point without the approval of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), but that’s the extent of the national government’s action in protecting the environment against the likes of Gina and the family Lopez’s environmental misdeeds.

Sam Miguel
03-26-2013, 10:00 AM
Gender and the media landscape

By Rina Jimenez-David

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:54 pm | Monday, March 25th, 2013

When you read a newspaper, turn on the radio or switch on the TV set (or log on to the Internet or check your cell phone), does it ever occur to you to check for gender balance in the contents, the depiction of the characters, or the composition of the reporting staff and management?

Gender what? Maybe we in the media should be grateful you care about the news at all, instead of zoning out and narrowing your field of interest to gossip about you and your friends, and what some random stranger ate for breakfast (complete with a food shot).

Such is the news field these days—pushed in large part by the advent of new technology—that ordinary people can make their world as wide or as narrow as they wish. It was once assumed that with global developments at our fingertips, our field of interest would correspondingly widen, allowing us to check out what’s happening anywhere in the world, keeping us in touch with global developments.

But the broad range of choices available to media consumers has also enabled them—us—to pick and choose what we read, listen to or watch. And in many instances the go-to option has been to opt out, to narrow down our choices to topics, persons or concerns that interest us and our highly personal, highly specific interests.

I remember American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, during a TV interview, speaking of the great influence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the American people during his term. At the time, she said, one could walk down a street and follow a radio broadcast of FDR as one walked past one house after another. It seemed FDR united the nation at those moments, transfixing households who got their political education and their news from their radio sets—all at the same time. It seemed what Roosevelt initiated was not just a “fireside chat” but no less than a national conversation, involving all living Americans, who inevitably continued the commentary and debate in the days that followed, thus forging a national consensus.

* * *

Well, maybe those days of “fireside chats” are over. Presidents, and that includes our own P-Noy, continue to schedule national TV addresses, requesting national networks to interrupt their prime time broadcasts to air their message.

But even if the networks comply—and they don’t always—there’s no guarantee that everyone will be tuning in. There are too many other options today if all channels choose to air the President’s address at the same time. People can watch movies (on DVD or data sticks or even streamed), play computer games, or check their phones for Twitter updates.

So to go back to my opening paragraph: Maybe it’s a good thing the audience still invests time and attention on current events, still seeks out the news.

Does it matter, really, whether the news is gathered, written, published, shot, aired, commented on and analyzed most commonly by men, and very rarely by women?

* * *

Well, as it so happens, yes, it matters. Objectivity may be a cherished value in the news business, but biology and culture—and thus gender—are not at all objective.

It does matter how a man or a woman would report a certain event. It matters if it’s a man or a woman commenting on that event. It even matters if a man or a woman holds the camera that shoots a scene. The choice of subject alone would be dictated by the news gatherer’s gender.

This is why the Magna Carta of Women, a law that covers the basic rights and protection of Filipino women, mentioned the need for “non-discriminatory and non-derogatory portrayal of women in media and film.” The law requires that the “State ensure allocation of space, airtime and resources, strengthen programming, production, and image-making that appropriately present women’s needs, issues and concerns in all forms of media, communication, information dissemination and advertising.”

At the same time, the law requires the Office of the Press Secretary to create a “gender equality committee” to flesh out the rules to guide the creation of a “gender fair” media. The committee is composed of the Philippine Commission on Women, the National Telecommunications Commission, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, Film Academy of the Philippines, the Optical Media Board, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, media self-regulatory bodies (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas and the Adboard) and women’s media NGOs (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and Women’s Feature Service).

* * *

The committee launched last week three documents that can be used to guide both government and private media in creating this gender fair environment. They include a Code of Ethics for Media, Guidelines to Protect Women from Discrimination in Media and Film, and a Gender Equality Guide.

Olive Tripon of the Women’s Feature Service showed in her presentation that there is indeed urgent need for gender equality in media content and in decision-making.

International media monitoring projects, for instance, record that “women represent only a third of the full-time journalism workforce in the 522 companies surveyed”; while 73 percent of top management jobs in media firms were occupied by men. At the reporter level, nearly two-thirds of the jobs were held by men.

Indeed, “men outnumber women 4 to 1 across the Asia and Oceana region,” noted Tripon.

The situation is little better in the Philippines, Tripon added, even if major media institutions (including this paper) are headed by women. Filipino women in the media, she said, need to step up efforts to increase the presence of women in the media, in their reportage and contents or in their numbers.

Sam Miguel
03-27-2013, 11:33 AM
By Paul Farhi, Mar 26, 2013 10:10 PM EDT

The Washington Post Wednesday, March 27, 6:10 AM

The Red Bulletin is a handsome Web and print magazine that practically oozes testosterone. Recent issues have featured stories on the world’s deepest free diver, human-pyramid building in Spain and a guy who rappels into volcanoes. All of it is embellished with photography worthy of Sports Illustrated.

The printed Red Bulletin reaches 3 million readers a month, according to a spokeswoman, which almost matches Sports Illustrated’s subscriber total. Not bad for a publication that’s barely five years old.

The most interesting thing about the Red Bulletin, however, may not be what it is but who publishes it. The magazine is owned and edited by Red Bull GmbH, the Austrian-based marketer of Red Bull, the ubiquitous “energy” drink. The company started the magazine to help reinforce its self-created image as a live-at-the-edge brand for the young men who guzzle its primary product.

So is the Red Bulletin marketing or journalism? The answer: both.

Dozens of companies, including Boeing, General Electric, Pepsi, American Express and Verizon Wireless, are becoming their own publishers, creating and distributing “content” — articles, videos, photos — that would be right at home in a traditional newspaper, magazine or TV program.

American Express, for example, publishes Open Forum, a Web magazine that offers tips and advice for small businesses (“7 Things Customers Want But Won’t Tell You,” “The Number One Way to Motivate Employees,” etc.). Verizon serves up an ever-changing menu of “lifestyle” articles about mobile communications. Qualcomm, which makes processors for smartphones and tablets, produces Qualcomm Spark, a webzine on science and technology that looks and reads like a junior version of Wired magazine.

Even a deodorant, Unilever’s Degree Men, has gotten in on the action with a site called the Adrenalist that features an endless array of videos of action sports, such as rock climbing and cliff diving. The subtle message: Dangerous sports and sweat go hand in hand.

The “brand publishing” trend doesn’t just blur the line between journalism and product promotion — it all but obliterates it. There’s no overt product plugging in most of what the companies create and aggregate. But the goal is ultimately promotional. The idea is to engage would-be customers and enhance the sponsor’s image by offering useful information.

“We don’t see our jobs as being P.R. people anymore. We see our jobs as publishers,” says Torod B. Neptune, a Verizon spokesman. “Under the old [media] model, we used to pitch [story ideas] to you at The Washington Post and hoped you’d write about us. Today, we compete against you.”

Advertisers have been offering “content” for decades, of course; John Deere created the Furrow magazine in 1895 to dispense advice and information about the latest farming techniques. (The magazine is still published.) In the early days of radio and television, detergent companies created soap operas — hence the name — to reach customers, mainly women, who were at home during the day. Newspapers and magazines have long carried advertorials, those looks-like-real-news-but-isn’t ad supplements.

Brand publishing puts a digital-age spin on all that. Thanks to social media, a brand-published story like the Red Bulletin’s profile of free diver Herbert Nitsch can go viral, drawing enormous attention to its publisher — and to the publisher’s product. It can also help a company overcome “banner blindness,” the tendency of busy Web surfers to ignore display ads, says Jay Lauf, publisher of the Atlantic magazine, which has hosted Boeing’s brand-published material on its site.

“Consumers don’t care who made [the content] as long as it’s awesome,” says Shane Snow, co-founder of Contently, a company that acts as a middleman between freelance journalists and brands. “There’s an arm’s race to create stories that are better than their competitors and even better than general-interest publications. If you tell great stories, people will do the work for you by distributing it. There’s a social media army out there.”

Making the brand the content provider flips the inherent premise of conventional advertising, points out Chris Perry, president of digital for Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm. Rather than pushing the company’s message, as advertising does, brand publishers are pushing what readers have already shown they’re interested in, says Perry, whose company is advising about 100 clients on their publishing strategies.

At the very least, brand publishing has been a boon for journalists when employment at newspapers and magazines has been falling like the cliff divers featured on TheAdrenalist.com. The rates for brand-published freelance stories vary widely, from as little as $150 for a 500-word blog post to up to $3 per word for a magazine-quality feature article, says Snow. The latter rate is comparable to what traditional magazines pay. Most writers earn between 50 cents and $2 per word for their articles, depending on the writer’s reputation and the quality of the work, Snow says.

Verizon’s mobile lifestyle Web site is produced by 75 full-time editors, writers and videographers — roughly the same number of journalists it takes to produce a mid-size daily newspaper. The operation is housed within Verizon’s headquarters in Basking Ridge, N.J.

[B]But can “brand” journalism be trusted, considering the corporate imperative behind it? Although many articles produced on corporate-run sites are solid, it may be what brand publishers don’t tell you that could be problematic.

Would a brand publisher tell readers anything negative about its product or its industry? Will Verizon, for instance, discuss rising prices, consumer complaints about service outages or the potential health hazards of smartphones on its site?

Well, actually, no, says Verizon’s Neptune.

“We want to be as relevant and authentic in our content as we can be,” he says, “but that has to be balanced against the realities of our business interests.”

So, reader beware, says Amy Mitchell, the acting director of the nonprofit Project for Excellence in Journalism. Corporate publishers need to be transparent, she says, so that people “can figure out who is producing [the information], what their interests may or may not be [and] what funding supports it.” After they know all that, readers can “decide for themselves the value they want to place on it.”

With many companies vying to disseminate journalism, or at least their version of it, it may become harder to tell where the news stops and the promotion and salesmanship begin. The brand-published information age could be a confusing one. As Perry puts it, “Everyone is a media company now.”

Sam Miguel
05-03-2013, 09:00 AM
Impunity vs media: Phl is 3rd worst

By Jose Katigbak/STAR Washington Bureau

(The Philippine Star) | Updated May 3, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - On the 20th World Press Freedom Day today, the Philippines isn’t faring well in terms of media freedom.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in its 2013 Impunity Index, ranked the Philippines the third worst country, next only to Iraq and Somalia.

Reporters Without Borders, in its 2013 Press Freedom Index, also ranked the Philippines a low 147th out of 179 countries, behind many of its Southeast Asian neighbors.

The CPJ reported that despite President Aquino’s vow to reverse impunity in journalist murders, the Philippines ranked third worst worldwide for the fourth consecutive year.

Other countries cited by the CPJ in its Impunity Index included fourth ranked Sri Lanka, followed by Colombia, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria and India.

The CPJ noted that the murders of 55 journalists in Maguindanao have remained unsolved since 2009. The multiple murder charges filed against several suspects in the Maguindanao massacre are still pending in court.

CPJ noted that the 2011 murder of radio broadcaster and environmentalist Gerardo Ortega reflected the “politically inspired nature” of many Philippine killings, along with “the general breakdown in the rule of law” that has allowed the killings to continue.

Ortega, a radio talk show host who exposed corruption, was shot in the back of the head while shopping in a Puerto Princesa City clothing store. Police soon made arrests and traced the murder weapon to a provincial governor’s aide. But the case suffered a severe blow in 2013 when an alleged conspirator who had turned state witness was killed in prison.

The CPJ Impunity Index Rating for the Philippines was 0.580 unsolved journalist murders per million inhabitants. Last year the country also ranked third with a rating of 0.589.

The CPJ said Iraq has the world’s worst record on impunity.

No convictions have been obtained in 93 journalist slayings in the past decade with 95 percent of the victims identified as local journalists.

The CPJ said Somalia, a country with a long history of media killings, recorded 2012 as the deadliest year on record for the press.

Twelve journalists were murdered in reprisal for their work in 2012 despite relative calm in the capital, Mogadishu.

With the ouster of Al-Shabaab insurgents from Mogadishu in 2011, the killings raised concern that reporters were being targeted by politically motivated antagonists.

Some 23 murders of journalists nationwide have remained unsolved over the past decade.

CPJ’s Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. For this index, CPJ examined journalist murders that occurred between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2012, and that remain unsolved. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on this index.

CPJ defines murder as a deliberate attack against a specific journalist in relation to the victim’s work. Murders make up more than 70 percent of work-related deaths among journalists, according to CPJ research.

This index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or while carrying out dangerous assignments such as coverage of street protests.

Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained. Population data from the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Indicators were used in calculating each country’s rating.

Democracy good for press

The World Press Freedom Index showed that the same three European countries that headed the index last year hold the top three positions again this year.

Finland has distinguished itself as the country that most respects media freedom for the third year in a row. It is followed by the Netherlands and Norway.

Although many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions. Again it is the same three as last year – Turkmenistan (177), North Korea (178) and Eritrea (179).

“The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

The countries that ranked higher than the Philippines included: Papua New Guinea (41), Taiwan (47), South Korea (50), Japan (53), Sierra Leone (59), Serbia (63), East Timor (90), Libya (130), Zimbabwe (133), Indonesia (139), India (140), Democratic Republic of Congo (142), Cambodia (143), Bangladesh (144), Malaysia (145), and Palestine (146).

The Philippines ranked better that other countries such as Russia (149), Singapore (149), Iraq (150), and Burma (151).

Phl rated ‘partly free’

Freedom House has rated the Philippines as a partly free country in its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries around the world.

The Washington-based, non-governmental organization gave the Philippines a score of 3 in both political rights and civil liberties and grouped it among 58 partly free countries, home to 1.6 billion people, or 23 percent of the world’s population.

One point represents the most free and seven the least free rating.

It was the third straight year that the Philippines retained its status as a partly free country.

Published since 1972, the report examines the ability of people to exercise their political and civil rights around the world and assigns each country a status of free, partly free or not free based on their scores in key democracy indicators.

Among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Indonesia was rated as a free country with 2 points for political rights and 3 for civil liberties.

Four countries were rated partly free with the Philippines at the top. The others were Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand who all had 4-4 scores.

Vietnam, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia and Laos were rated not free.

Sam Miguel
05-15-2013, 10:28 AM
Damage to press freedom likely outweighs national security gain

By Editorial Board

May 15, 2013 12:32 AM EDT

The Washington Post

Wednesday, May 15, 8:32 AM

WHEN THE Justice Department launched its investigation of alleged leaks of national security information by the Obama administration a year ago, we were skeptical. The history of such probes is mainly a tale of dead ends and unintended negative consequences. That this effort to criminalize a leak was launched amid an election-year uproar seemed especially inauspicious.

Our forebodings have been borne out with the revelation that federal prosecutors have undertaken a broad sweep of the Associated Press’s phone records. Whatever national-security enhancement this was intended to achieve seems likely to be outweighed by the damage to press freedom and governmental transparency.

The Justice Department’s apparent purpose is to track down the person or persons who told AP about the Central Intelligence Agency’s disruption of a Yemen-based terrorism plot. Federal prosecutors subpoenaed records for 20 separate office, home and cellular phone lines belonging to the AP and its reporters or editors. The subpoenas covered a two-month period in the first half of 2012. Crucially, they did not follow the usual Justice Department policy, which is to give news organizations a chance to negotiate or contest such a subpoena ahead of time.

That policy is rooted in sound respect for the First Amendment. It’s not legally binding — in part because the Justice Department and the press have recognized a mutual interest in resolving such matters without potentially counterproductive Congressional or judicial intervention.

In a letter to AP President and CEO Gary B. Pruitt yesterday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole explained that the department had no alternative means of gathering essential information. He also intimated that Justice had kept AP in the dark until a few days ago so as to avoid “a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who recused himself from the investigation after he was interviewed by the FBI, fleshed that assertion out at a press conference Tuesday, saying at issue is one of “the top two or three most serious leaks that I have ever seen” which “put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole.”

Perhaps that’s so — we have no independent means of verifying Mr. Holder’s claim, though we hope reporters are working on it. As Mr. Pruitt responded Tuesday, “We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed. Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.”The usual reason for keeping a subpoena secret is that the target would otherwise try to destroy documents. In this case, AP could not have done so even if it wanted to, since the relevant records were in the possession of its phone service providers. Without even giving AP a chance to weigh in, we don’t see how the department could intelligently weigh its prosecutorial needs against this broad subpoena’s chilling effect on reporters and their sources

Of course, if Justice Department officials are overreacting, they aren’t alone. The investigation of AP began in response to Republican outrage about the purported fact that White House officials were leaking secret information and spinning it to make President Obama look good for reelection purposes. In response, the Obama administration launched the present investigation, on top of the six (mostly unsuccessful) ones it had attempted previously — which, judging on costs and benefits visible to date, was probably six too many.

Below are comments responding to this editorial - - -

wjc1va wrote:

8:56 AM UTC+0800I am sympathetic to AP "outrage." On the other hand the US Press has repeatedly and cynically targeted its own government for espionage, a soft target by the way, in the hope of winning "Pulitzers"...you know the prize given by the News Business to the News Business.... and the damage has been incalculable...from revelation of the Stutnex worm to reveal AQ prisons in Eastern Europe.....to actual murder of US intelligence agents. Try that on Iran and the "Press" might have a little bit of pucker factor.

A lot of this comes from Congressional leaks. Some from other sources. So, unless/until we have an official secrets act, and I'd like to see that, then prosecution of the leakers is the only way to stop this News Business sport; i.e. destroying your own government and pretending that is journalism.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that being part of the "News Business" doesn't give a "correspondent" the right to hide a murderer if you interviewed him. This is a case in point. WaPo has played this game...more than once hand in hand with the internal security service of the USA, the FBI. It cannot continue.

charlesalaska responds:

9:07 AM UTC+0800Ah, Yes let us protect the Bushes, the Nixons. now the incompetent and ineffective Obamas as well as the corrupt congress. But I guess, wjciva, you have no concern of the lost lives in our several wars, the lives currently being taken by our Dronemaster vs a maybe somebody in Iran. Well, you are comforable so why not

wjc1va responds:

9:10 AM UTC+0800No Charles...have at domestic policy all you want...but when you go after State secrets abroad...and yes they do matter...people get killed if they are revealed; we lose major intelligence...then there has to be some adult judgement. Revealing that Yemen information put people into danger. The Stutnex worm stuff never should have been mentioned....wait 25 years to get your holies.

Sam Miguel
05-16-2013, 09:40 AM
The false god of ‘narrative’

E.J. Dionne Jr. May 16, 2013 12:00 AM EDT

The Washington Post

Thursday, May 16, 8:00 AME-mail the writer

“What if the government starts enforcing the espionage statute whenever there’s a leak?” Steve Roberts, a former New York Times journalist who teaches at George Washington University, observed to the Baltimore Sun. “It’s going to have a tremendously chilling effect on this interplay between sources and reporters.”

But Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) insisted that stopping leaks should be a very high priority. “When national security secrets leak and become public knowledge,” he wrote in a letter to the president, “our people and our national interests are jeopardized. And when our enemies know our secrets, American lives are threatened.”

As it happens, these two quotations are separated by seven years. Roberts was speaking in 2005 about the furor over Dana Priest’s important story in The Post revealing that the CIA was maintaining a series of “black sites” abroad where terrorism detainees were interrogated. For this, Priest came under searing attack from allies of the George W. Bush administration.

Smith’s letter was sent to President Obama in 2012. It complained about national security leaks that set off the very investigation which this week prompted fury over the Justice Department’s seizure of two months’ worth of telephone records from a group of Associated Press reporters.

Isn’t it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for? Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus even called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, saying he had “trampled on the First Amendment.”

It’s a funny thing about media leaks: They are either courageous or outrageous, depending on whether they help or hurt your political party.

Forgive me for feeling cynical and depressed about our nation’s political conversation. Scandalmania is distorting our discussion of three different issues, sweeping them into one big narrative — everything is a “narrative” these days — about the beleaguered second-term presidency of Barack Obama.

What’s being buried under a story line?

On leaks, I don’t believe that the media have unlimited immunity. But I am very pro-leak because such disclosures are often the only way citizens in a free society can find out things they need to know. The Justice Department’s actions in the AP case seem to go way beyond what is justified or necessary. There was no need to ignore guidelines suggesting that news organizations should usually have the chance to negotiate or challenge subpoenas.

Holder recused himself from the case, and the White House, which is, in effect, a subject of the investigation, can plausibly claim it was unaware of the decision.

Nonetheless, liberals have reason to contest the Obama administration on civil liberties questions. What’s entertaining is to watch so many Republicans (let’s exempt the consistent libertarians) reverse a decade of hard-line positions on national security matters and speak now as if they were card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then there is the IRS’s targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny in applications for 501(c)(4) status. Of course this was wrong — and stupid. Liberals were incensed when the IRS questioned the tax status of several progressive groups during the Bush administration. The IRS needs to be ultra-scrupulous about political neutrality, period. That’s why Obama came out late Wednesday to announce a shake-up at the agency.

But the other scandal — as The Post’s Ezra Klein and Ruth Marcus and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell have all suggested — is that any groups involved in partisan electioneering are being granted standing as “social welfare” organizations, allowing them to hide the identity of their donors. A bad mistake could compound the IRS’s timidity on the 501(c)(4) issue.

And finally, Benghazi, the “scandal” that seems to be all smoke and no gun. The House could have spent its energy trying to figure out what led to this tragedy, why diplomats were in such a dangerous place and how to protect brave Foreign Service officers in the future. Congress could even have asked itself whether it’s providing enough money for the task. But focusing on the narrow concern of who did what to a set of talking points (and bloviating about this episode as a new “Watergate”) takes what could be a legitimate inquiry and turns it into a political carnival.

I know, I know: This “confluence” of “scandals” spells “trouble” for the Obama administration. Well, sure, this has been hell week for the president. But what spells trouble for our country is our apparent eagerness to avoid debate about discrete problems by sacrificing the particulars and the facts to the idol of political narrative. It’s a false god.

Sam Miguel
05-28-2013, 08:17 AM
FOI bill will live or die in panel, says proponent

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:24 am | Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The next chair of the public information committee in the House of Representatives would determine the fate of the stalled freedom of information (FOI) bill, especially after the measure was “killed” in the chamber.

“FOI advocates are hoping the next committee chair would be supportive of the measure and committed to fight for it,” said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, one of the proponents of the measure.

The 16th Congress convenes in July.

“The chair is important because he or she can retard or facilitate the bill’s progress with calculated intention. Usually, the House leadership doesn’t interfere much during committee deliberations. So it’s really the chair’s baton that matters in the committee,” Baguilat said.

“I think the chair should be an FOI advocate. It’s probably going to be the most significant bill that will ever come out of that committee,” he added.

Baguilat said he would support for the post any lawmaker who would commit to hasten the measure’s progress in the committee and to defend it before the plenary “with genuine gusto and not be dictated by the whims and positions of the upper echelons.”

Baguilat said he wanted to be part of the public information committee and had asked Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who is expected to retain his post in the 16th Congress, to include him as a member. He also plans to refile his version of the FOI bill.

According to the Ifugao lawmaker, it is the Speaker’s prerogative to appoint the heads of committees. The current public information chair, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, has the inside track for the post if he still wants it, he added.

Evardone had not been popular with FOI advocacy groups, which accused him of blocking the bill’s progress. But Evardone denied their allegations, saying he was supportive of the bill.

On Monday, Evardone said his reappointment as chairman of the public information committee would depend on the Speaker’s decision, but he would like to participate in the next debates and would be filing his own version of the FOI bill.

“I will be proposing a middle ground without losing the spirit and intent of the principles behind the measure,” Evardone said.

Baguilat, a member of the ruling Liberal Party who has been reelected to a second term, said fellow FOI supporters have been convincing him to make a bid for the public information committee chairmanship.

The FOI bill, touted as a tool for transparency in government to battle corruption, would have put in force the constitutionally guaranteed public right to government information. It aims to empower the public by giving them better access to government data and transactions and lift the shroud of secrecy over official dealings.

The Senate passed its version of the FOI bill last year, but the bill stalled in the House of Representatives.

President Aquino promised to push for an FOI law when he campaigned for the presidency in 2010, but advocates said his support for the measure had been tepid

Sam Miguel
06-04-2013, 07:55 AM
Who’s ‘hao-siao’ or legit journalist? BOC confused

By Jerry E. Esplanada

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:52 am | Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Believe it or not, but this reporter was mistaken by the blue guards of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for one of the many “hao-siao,” or bogus journalists, stalking the premises of the agency.

This reporter had gone to the BOC complex to attend Monday’s media forum but was told that the Inquirer was not on the list of accredited media outfits, and refused entry.

On a list prepared by the BOC’s public information and assistance division and posted at the main Customs gate were the names of nearly 100 media people, including some said to be hao-siao. The Inquirer had been covering the BOC beat for years.

A BOC lawyer, one of several customs personnel manning the gate, interceded and let me pass so I could attend the Kapihan media forum.

When contacted, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon pointed out it was “Day 1 of the strict implementation of the bureau’s policy against hao-siao reporters.”

“It’s part of the organizational reform we’re doing. There will be birth pains at the start but in the end, it will be good for the bureau,” he said.

Media men of dubious affiliations have long been suspected in the bureau of serving as fixers, middlemen or public relations agents of smugglers and unscrupulous BOC personnel. They have come to be known as hao-siao journalists.

Principal targets

In a text message, Biazon said he had created a task force to go after the hao-siao.

“The principal targets of our antihao-siao policy are those who interfere or participate in key sensitive functions that are supposed to be handled only by organic personnel, such as cargo clearance operations,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim said he would bring the Inquirer’s concerns to George Aliño, a retired police general who heads the bureau’s enforcement and security services.

At the media forum, Biazon vowed to “pursue this initiative (against the hao-siao people) until we see its positive effects.”

“It’s a festering problem that’s been here for quite some,” he said.

Work in progress

According to Biazon, “there is no official definition of hao-siao, but as we all know, they are those not employed by the bureau but are doing the functions” of customs personnel.

During the Arroyo administration, more than 300 reporters were accredited to cover the BOC. The number was trimmed down to around 120 when Biazon took over in September 2011. Last year, he reduced the number to 96.

Earlier, Biazon said the bureau would cut the number further.

Biazon said the BOC had “implemented an accreditation system to ensure that the media covering the bureau belong to legitimate news outfits, not rumor mills and tools for harassment.”

“Admittedly, it is still a work in progress,” he said.

‘Attack ’N Collect’

In a recent blog on the Internet, Biazon referred to what he called the “ANC media” as one of the challenges preventing the bureau from being a reformed agency.

“And I’m not referring to the ABS-CBN News Channel. I’m referring to the Attack ’N Collect media,” he added.

In a performance report in early April, Biazon said that in 2012, the bureau took “another big step to introduce order and clean up the Bureau of Customs with [the] tightening up of the media accreditation process.”

BOC Press Corps president Chito Junia, a reporter-columnist of the weekly tabloid “Opinyon,” said he had “been getting a lot of heat lately from some hao-siao.”

“Clearly, they were affected by the ongoing review and tightening of the BOC media accreditation process, which unfortunately was abused during the previous administrations,” Junia said. “They are fighting back in an attempt to save not their journalism careers but their money-making ventures.”

Sam Miguel
06-07-2013, 09:32 AM
Disappearing acts

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:34 pm | Thursday, June 6th, 2013

This year’s edition of the World Newspaper Congress, held in Bangkok the last several days, ended with two reminders (their pairing perhaps unintended) on the perils and promises facing journalism.

In the closing session, held jointly with the World Editors Forum and the World Advertising Forum, the redoubtable Steve Crocker spoke boldly and candidly about that which he had helped develop: the Internet. But first he spoke jokingly. Asked if in those early days he had ever imagined that the Internet would be what it is today, he said, “Everything is proceeding exactly on schedule.”

While still a graduate student in the late 1960s, Crocker was on the team that engineered the protocols for the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, better known as Arpanet, the so-called “first Internet.” Today, he serves as chair of ICANN, the powerful Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Crocker’s real answer was that some of the things we take for granted about the Internet today were already glimpsed at the start, and others have taken him by surprise. “There were advanced graphics, database machines and so forth. We could see, touch and feel the future. The mouse and hypertext had been invented,” he said, as quoted on the conference organizer’s blog. But there was much he didn’t foresee, too. “I didn’t see Google; I didn’t see Facebook; I didn’t see the personal side developing as much.”

It was what he said about the future of the Internet, however, which grabbed the audience’s attention. In a word, he saw a pair of disappearing acts. “One is, we have seen the rise of speech understanding—there will come a time when people can interact with some devices as easily as you and I are interacting, and keyboards will largely disappear.” The second thing he foresees we will eventually take for granted is the Internet itself. “The second thing is I think the Internet will somewhat disappear. It will just be there. We don’t talk about the electric grid, for example. It’s just part of the daily life almost everywhere. Quite a lot of the Internet will recede into the background.”

This seems undoubtedly right, but as an even more famous prophet of cyberspace noted long ago: The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed. For many in the developed world, a lot of the Internet will recede into the background; for many in developing countries, however, the Internet—its problems, its possibilities—will remain very much in the foreground. In other words, and for a long time to come, it cannot be taken for granted. Whether the issue is bandwidth or cybercrime, access or privacy, or any number of social questions, the Internet will not “disappear.”

The rise of the Internet, of course, is the most visible change driver in journalism (as in many other professions and industries). Many other factors contribute to the turmoil, the disruption, that has overwhelmed the industry, but it is the Internet phenomenon which has struck the media landscape like an earthquake. It is worth noting, though, that Crocker’s turn on the Bangkok stage was facilitated by a journalist, Pichai Chuensuksawadi, editor in chief of the Bangkok Post. Unlike many if not most American or European newspapers, and like many newspapers in Asia, especially in China and India, the Post was a good example of a still-largely-print-based media organization that had adapted well to the Internet age. In the last 10 years, the Post tripled its revenues.

This kind of adaptation and success is crucial not just to the media industry, but to society at large. On the final day of the Congress and its affiliated conferences, the World Association of Newspapers and Newspaper Publishers (WAN-Ifra) published its annual Global Press Freedom Report. In the 12 months between June 2012 and May 2013, at least 15 journalists died covering the civil war in Syria, and 10 more were killed in Somalia. “Whether at the hand of extremists, organised criminal gangs or official security forces, journalists increasingly find themselves in the firing line,” WAN-Ifra reported.

Conflict coverage is only the most visible, the most dramatic, responsibility that journalists discharge, but it best makes the case for journalism as something society itself needs. Difficult reporting, necessary reporting, daily reporting, however, all require continuing investments in manpower and money.

06-16-2013, 09:54 AM
Serious look at cartoons

By Raul C. Pangalangan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:35 pm | Saturday, June 15th, 2013

The Inquirer’s “Comic Relief” page includes social critique in the form of humor, and we take pride in the Filipino cartoonists whose careers and artistic lives have found a home there. A prime example is “Pugad Baboy” which, for more than two decades, poked fun at the Filipino, the better for us to understand ourselves.

It’s time to address the controversy over the comic strip of Pol Medina that led to his resignation from the Inquirer. The controversy has given rise to misconceptions that need to be set aright and false accusations that need to be vigorously denied. In the democratic space that the Inquirer constantly helps strengthen, there should be room for continuing conversations.

Pugad Baboy’s strip on June 4 spoke of religious hypocrisy toward gays and lesbians. It singled out St. Scholastica’s College for purportedly tolerating lesbian relationships among its students, suggesting that the nuns themselves might be lesbians. On June 6, the Inquirer apologized for the derogatory cartoon that imputed to the nuns policies, practices and sexual preferences inconsistent with their faith.

Our Reader’s Advocate, Elena E. Pernia, has conducted an inquiry and her findings are most assuring. She found that the comic strip was rejected by the art section precisely for insensitivity when it was first submitted last April. It was a sound exercise of editorial discretion within the art section, and the author accepted it. The strip was published on June 4 by mistake—a technical mix-up in the art section—showing that there was no intent to malign, that editorial judgment had been exercised responsibly, and that the author himself, to his credit, had accepted that editorial decision.

Indeed, after the offending strip was inadvertently published, Pol Medina apologized to the St. Scholastica sisters and admitted that the cartoon had crossed the line. In constitutional law, cartoon art is protected speech, but when it becomes defamatory, it loses its constitutional protection especially when the victim is a private person and not a public figure. That is why defamatory speech is punished under the Revised Penal Code.

Since the defamatory nature of the cartoon was admitted by the author himself, one would have to be more popish than the pope to say it ain’t so. On the other hand, I can actually imagine a number of defenses. There was no malicious intent, as shown earlier. It was a cartoon, not a news item that purports to state facts. And—while truth is no defense and malice is assumed in every defamatory imputation—some readers have pointed out that Pugad Baboy merely speaks of a practice rather widespread in many same-sex schools. But the fact remains that St. Scholastica’s College was singled out for ridicule even if it hadn’t provoked or invited such attention. The slur was gratuitous. The situation called for an apology.

Another misconception is that Medina was fired. This is not true, and the Inquirer categorically stated on June 6 that he remained a contributor. It further announced: “Pugad Baboy will not appear in the Inquirer, however, pending further investigation.” This was a reasonable measure while the Reader’s Advocate was still ascertaining the facts.

On the morning of June 8, the Reader’s Advocate concluded that the entire problem stemmed from the erroneous uploading of an already rejected file, recognized Medina’s forthright apology for the injury it had caused, and unqualifiedly recommended the resumption of Pugad Baboy’s publication. However, Medina soon after announced that he was resigning from the Inquirer for having “dishonored” it.

In interviews and online posts, Medina contends that his anti-Church and anti-Marcos stance is why he is in Dutch with this newspaper that began running his comic strip in May 1988. This is absolutely false. Even he will acknowledge that the Inquirer upholds free and responsible expression, and that censorship of political views is not part of its policies. (And this controversy would have been avoided had Medina responded to the calls of his Inquirer colleagues instead of putting himself out of reach.)

On the first issue, various Inquirer columnists have been similarly critical of the Church in the Philippines. They have defended the artist Mideo Cruz for his irreverent collage “Politeismo” and Carlos Celdran for the “Damaso” incident in the Manila Cathedral. Medina’s strip on gay love in Catholic girls’ schools takes the same critical stance, but what made it objectionable was that it crossed the line by singling out by name a specific group.

On the second issue, suffice it to say that Medina’s anti-Marcos strips should also place him in the same camp as many Inquirer columnists who opposed the dictator during those days when doing so entailed risking life and limb.

But even if Medina deviates from the editorial position of the Inquirer, he has no reason to fret. The dean of the Inquirer’s corps of cartoonists, Jess Abrera, has differed fundamentally with many of us in the Inquirer on the issue of reproductive health, and to this day continues to draw his anti-RH editorial cartoons even while the editorial and certain columns cheer the passage of the RH Law!

The cartoon medium works by being bold and irreverent, and by pushing the outer limits of public discourse within the bounds of decency. The Inquirer will continue to support Filipino cartoonists the way it discovered Medina and featured his work through the years. Aspiring Filipino cartoon artists are invited to send samples of their work (e-mail to arts@inquirer.com.ph under the heading: “comics contribution”).

We are prepared to nurture the next generation of cartoon artists who will engage this democratic space, who will make us both laugh and think.

Sam Miguel
06-19-2013, 09:01 AM
Hijacking the press

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:04 pm | Monday, June 17th, 2013

“A good newspaper is never nearly good enough. But a lousy newspaper is a joy forever,” an old wisecrack goes. It resonated in the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) conference: “Watching the Watchdog: Re-examining Ourselves.”

The tone-setting chore fell on Malaya publisher Jake Macasaet. “Media men raise hell whenever one of their own is killed,” he said. “Do we care about a balut vendor, whose daily earnings are fleeced by a cop?”

PPI found an educator’s complaints against distorted reporting valid. The council urged the publisher to take action. “Nothing happened,” Macasaet recalled. We cannot lay claim to integrity if we have a thief in our home, he said, adding that journalists are “not a special class of people who must be given privileges.”

Cyberspace technology “hijacked” journalism, Vergel Santos of Business World asserted. The quality of professional practice is poor, said the PPI vice chair. Editorial crosschecks for verification, accuracy and fairness are now bypassed. The new technology opened media to “people altogether untrained, not to say clueless” about this tool. “This technology culprit now allows anyone to string words together, and to foist on the rest of the world misinformation and confusion instead of enlightenment,” Santos said.

New technology flattened the roles on information exchange, South China Morning Post’s Raissa Robles said. Newspaper readers morphed into content providers. Internet ripped down archipelagic barriers that once set Filipinos from Aparri to Jolo apart. “What was once a one-way street is now an interactive world.”

Poverty denies most Filipinos Internet access. “But what goes viral on the Net eventually ends up on radio, TV and newspapers,” Robles elaborated. Can journalists survive this wrenching transition? Yes, if they acquire, beyond basic news-gathering skills, the ability to make sense out of a pattern of events, she said.

Journalism’s ethical strictures often collide with popular appeal, noted UP College of Mass Communication Dean Rolando Tolentino.

“National news is “showbizified,” and show biz is “nationalized,” notably in broadcast.

“Trivial aspects of national personalities are highlighted (e.g., President Aquino’s love life). The prominent is trivialized, and the trivial is given prominence. The result is the ‘dumbing’ of the news, and its condescending take on audiences…. Newspapers need to tell the truth—and sell.”

Over 500 students graduate yearly with mass communication degrees. But “a sizeable number of media workers do not come from these programs.” They learned journalism on the beat. This “uneven landscape of competencies” creates the need for more training in core values, Tolentino said. “A perennial catch-up game to meet professional standards” meanwhile persists.

“Masscom is the new kid on the block,” former reporter Manuel de la Torre e-mailed from Idaho. Many outstanding editors never sat through masscom. Their “diplomas” came from the beat or news desks.

Don Filemon Sotto was a lawyer and classical pianist. Recall Felix “Judge” Gonzales of Manila Bulletin, Teodoro Locsin Sr. of Philippines Free Press and Jose Luna Castro of Manila Times. They had a sense of news, command of the language from broad reading, plus fairness and love for the craft.

Those values hold whether the paper is churned out on hot lead or by the flick of a computer button. A broad liberal arts background, acquired from books or classrooms—plus bedrock integrity—is still the best foundation.

Sleaze in media and “marketability as a news value” are pressing issues, stressed Asian Institute of Journalism president Ramon Tuazon. Corruption permeates all levels, media members admit in roundtable discussions.

Graft even spun off its own jargon bukol, ATM journalism to didal, “There is no corruption pag hindi mo hiningi ang ibinigay sa iyo” is one excuse offered. “Everyone does it” is peddled to doll up corruption.

Some media groups, meanwhile, direct journalists to double as account executives, arguing, “A contract can legitimize the changing of hands of money.” Will it sell? Marketability has established itself in the news media as a major element of a story, Tuazon added. That is gauged by a rating system.

Indeed, some media groups direct reporters to peddle ad space or airtime to their sources, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines’ Rowena Paraan confirmed. They get a 10- to 20-percent commission. “Let’s face it. This is a conflict of interest.”

Some networks scrounge for loopholes to block employees from signing on with unions, Paraan added. “This contractualization of journalists… is a form of violence. (It) makes them more vulnerable to safety and ethical issues.”

It was difficult for his newspaper to be critical, a publisher said on the floor. Local officials were quite “supportive.” “The issue is about “corruption of the publisher,” snapped another. “In rural areas, we survive by the patronage of politicians and businessmen.”

The journalist’s job is not “to take up the cudgels for local officials.” This was the heated reaction from the floor. Verification and context separate journalism from show-biz or cyberspace gossip. Speak also about efforts by many to stem corruption, Cebu Daily News’ Eileen Mangubat suggested. An independent study of wages would be useful. “That will never come from the owners…. ”

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta summed up these issues in one sentence: “It is more difficult to deal with media than to bathe a leper.”

Sam Miguel
06-25-2013, 08:51 AM
Leni Robredo supports FOI bill

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:57 am | Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—Incoming Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo said she was willing to sponsor the freedom of information (FOI) bill in the 16th Congress, and that she was agreeable to Malacañang’s version of the transparency measure.

“I’ve seen the proposed FOI bill from Malacañang and I’m all for it,” Robredo told reporters on Monday.

“We should be looking for the point of convergence to push something. If we can agree on a common thing, we do not have to clash,” she added.

FOI advocates earlier issued a statement expressing disappointment over the House of Representatives’ failure to move the FOI bill forward in the last Congress. The House is dominated by allies of President Aquino, who had declared the FOI measure to be a priority during his presidential campaign.

Supporters of the FOI bill in the House had incorporated Malacañang’s proposed changes to the bill, including exceptions such as banning public access to official records of decision-making on policy formulation. Aquino has said that access to such information should be privileged because of their sensitive nature, and because public access could impair the deliberation process.

Also included in the exceptions are data related to law enforcement and defense.

Robredo said that she need not be the head of the public information committee to push for the bill’s passage, noting that committee chairmanships usually went to senior legislators anyway.

“The question is, ‘Am I willing to help push for it?’ Yes,” she said.—Leila B. Salaverria

07-31-2013, 10:38 AM
Manning’s conviction seen as making prosecution of WikiLeaks’ Assange likely

By Billy Kenber, Wednesday, July 31, 7:50 AM E-mail the writer

The conviction of Army private Bradley Manning on espionage charges Tuesday makes it increasingly likely that the United States will prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a co-conspirator, according to his attorney and civil liberties groups.

Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, found Manning guilty of several violations of the Espionage Act, and he could face life in prison. Press freedom advocates said the verdict adds to their alarm that the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers will discourage whistleblowers from providing critical information on military and intelligence matters.

Military prosecutors in the court-martial portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. And they insisted that the anti-secrecy group cannot be considered a media organization that published the leaked information in the public interest.

Defense attorneys denied “the claim that Bradley Manning was acting under the direction of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, but the government kept trying to bring that up, trying to essentially say that Julian was a co-conspirator,” said Michael Ratner, Assange’s American attorney and the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. “That’s a very bad sign about what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.”

A grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. But it is unclear whether any sealed indictments exist or whether Assange has been charged.

“Either there [are] charges already, which I think is very possible, or they now have this and they can say they have one part of the conspiracy,” Ratner said.

While Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, he was only the second person to be convicted of violating the Espionage Act during the Obama administration.

Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, agreed that Manning’s conviction on espionage charges brought Assange “one step closer” to being prosecuted. But he added that “charging a publisher of information under the Espionage Act would be completely unprecedented and put every decent national security reporter in America at risk of jail, because they also regularly publish national security information.”

The government appeared to be at pains during the trial to describe WikiLeaks as an activist organization. U.S. officials have also pointed to the group’s role in helping National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden get from Hong Kong to Moscow as far beyond what a traditional media organization would do.

There are still major hurdles to prosecuting Assange, not least because he fled to the Embassy of Ecuador in London when he was facing extradition to Sweden to be questioned in connection with allegations of sexual assault. Assange, who has since been given political asylum by Ecuador, has now been in the embassy for more than a year. There is still a Swedish warrant for his arrest.

Some activists expressed relief that the government had failed to make its case that Manning had aided the enemy because al-Qaeda was able to access classified material once it was posted by WikiLeaks.

Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, an official history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, said that Manning not being convicted on the charge of aiding the enemy meant that “American democracy had dodged a bullet.” Ellsberg said there was a “very serious prospect” that such a conviction would have deterred “nearly all sources of newspapers for investigative reporting.”

However, Timm said the acquittal was merely a “sliver of good news” because the use of the Espionage Act would still serve as a significant brake on potential whistleblowers who might be motivated to expose wrongdoing or spark public debate.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said those “precedent-setting” convictions are particularly significant because the judge “held that subjective motive was irrelevant.”

“We’re seeing a trend towards motive not mattering in espionage cases, and that will have very serious implications for would-be whistleblowers,” she said, adding that it will have a ”substantial chilling effect.”

Goitein suggested the effect of the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on whistleblowing “may be skewing the leaks that we are seeing towards the more dramatic and large- scale. Because the only people who are going to be willing to take that risk are people who are on a personal crusade.”

Sam Miguel
08-06-2013, 09:31 AM
Confirmation bias: a case study

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:59 pm | Monday, August 5th, 2013

The other Friday, I had the privilege of speaking before over a thousand delegates taking part in De La Salle University’s exceptionally well-organized Student Media Congress. In direct response to the organizers’ request, I talked about how newspapers like the Inquirer were “redefining reading” and “taking print to the next level.”

I argued the following points: globally, print is very much alive; it has a future that will excite the younger generation; it will continue to form a part, even a leading part, of the media mix; and augmented reality (like INQSnap) is transforming print as we know it.

This is how the Rappler story, by David Lozada, reported my half-hour on the stage:

“Nery said that the print journalism industry is on a downward spiral in several parts of the world. He added that while there is still industry growth in the Philippines based on their company’s study, newspapers are slowly moving to online platforms to attract a younger audience.

“‘(The) newsprint industry is slowly migrating to the digital edition… Yes, print newspapers will still be around a few years from now. But they will be fewer,’ said Nery.”

None of my four main arguments, in other words, made it to David’s report. Even worse, the remarks he chose to advance the story make me appear like a print defeatist, passively counting down the years before digital (defined any which way) takes over the entire universe.

Perhaps I failed to do justice to my theses. I remember the unmistakable responsiveness of the audience (which even part-time teachers like me quickly recognize in terms of high energy levels), but maybe that was all due to the promise I made to the delegates, to raffle off an Inquirer Tablet. The offer was certainly something that attracted David’s attention.

Very soon after I made the announcement, he tweeted about me “giving away a tablet (LOL).” I was not able to save a copy of his tweet, so in this particular instance I am quoting from fallible memory, but I do remember the laugh-out-loud part. (For the record, and given the lack of nuance that Twitter is notorious for, I thought the tweet was an appropriate record-and-response.)

But I did manage to mark three tweets of his, two of them retweeted by Rappler’s own MovePH account, soon after my talk ended. They carried quotes from me: “It is important to set the news agenda.” (This was said after I spent the first few minutes of my talk presenting the Inquirer’s print-first scoop, my nominee for most important story of the year next only to the midterm elections, on the P10-billion pork barrel scam.) “There is still growth in the print journalism industry in the Philippines compared to other SEA countries.” And: “It’s great to see that we have many choices before us.” (Said, if I remember correctly, in answer to a student’s excellent question about the future role of print; my point was to reiterate the idea of a plurality of platforms, a media mix.)

None of these ideas made it to David’s story. To be sure, nobody expects a reporter to use every single note he takes down (and tweets can be usefully thought of as notes-in-progress). My purpose in detailing David’s tweets is simply to prove that he did hear some (perhaps even all) of my main points, but still didn’t use them in his story. Why was that?

My educated guess: It didn’t fit in with the digital-only worldview that Rappler espouses and which David presumably shares. I spoke about turning the page into a screen, about the historical pattern of platforms coexisting side by side, about exciting circulation growth in Asia, about the continuing preference for print (as migsflores tweeted it: “Print will still be the preferred source of information of major decision-makers and students”)—and all David could write about was the slow migration to digital editions.

There is a term for this: confirmation bias.

Could he have written it any other way? Absolutely. Consider the following wrap-up written by Nikko Panti, of MadhouseMNL magazine:

“John Nery, editor and columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and member of the academe, strongly said that ‘print is well and alive’ and that it has a ‘future that will excite [its readers].’ He also shared key points on how the print journalism industry, like the newspapers, is keeping up not only with their competition but also with other platforms. He capped off his talk by sharing PDI’s new venture that is ‘INQSnap.’”

Now that’s a report.

* * *

Other facts David presented need to be set straight. While the Inquirer commissions surveys and studies from time to time, the data I presented on worldwide trends in the newspaper industry were not, as he wrote, “based on their company’s study.” How could it be, when in that part of my talk, I used six slides from the presentation Vincent Peyregne, CEO of WAN-IFRA, made in Bangkok last June? The slides themselves had the WAN-IFRA logo on the upper left hand side. (Also: Circulation growth in the Philippines was a modest 1 percent between 2008 and 2012, but advertising grew by 4 percent in the same period.)

The “downward spiral in several parts of the world” fact is only half true; to use the language of the borrowed slides itself, the decline in print circulation was happening in “mature markets” (and even then the decline was “easing”) while markets like Asia and Latin America, despite “slowing levels of growth,” were still growing. I even showed a slide with a grammatical error in its headline (which I made sure to point out), because it was WAN-IFRA’s: “However in Indonesia circulations is rising fast; whereas in Singapore they have declined.”

Like I said, exciting times ahead.

* * *

Sam Miguel
08-06-2013, 09:49 AM
Latest Internet casualty: Washington Post sold for $250M to Amazon founder

Agence France-Presse

8:12 am | Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

WASHINGTON—The Washington Post, the legendary newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal, is being sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as it seeks to survive the onslaught of the Internet.

Donald Graham, grandson of Eugene Meyer, who bought the Post during the Great Depression in 1933, stunned the US media industry Monday announcing the sale of the newspaper to Bezos for $250 million.

Graham, chief executive of the Washington Post Company, had given no hint that the newspaper of record for the nation’s capital was up for sale, despite sinking earnings and plunging subscriptions.

But he made clear that it was the formidable challenge of the Internet to traditional publishing that brought about the deal.

“I, along with (Post publisher) Katharine Weymouth and our board of directors, decided to sell only after years of familiar newspaper-industry challenges made us wonder if there might be another owner who would be better for the Post,” Graham said in a statement.

“Jeff Bezos’ proven technology and business genius, his long-term approach and his personal decency make him a uniquely good new owner for the Post.”

Multibillionaire Bezos, who created Amazon, which has soared in a few years to a dominant position in online retailing, said he was buying the Post in his personal capacity and hoped to shepherd it through the evolution away from traditional newsprint.

“The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs,” he said in a statement to Post employees.

“There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”

The deal involves only the newspaper assets of the Washington Post Co., including its free commuter daily The Express, the Spanish language newspaper El Tiempo Latino, and Robinson Terminal, a warehouse asset.

The Washington Post Co. also owns the large educational testing service Kaplan, Foreign Policy magazine, and other units.

Bezos said he will retain Weymouth, Donald Graham’s niece and granddaughter of legendary post publisher Katherine Graham, as the newspaper’s CEO and publisher.

“This is a day that my family and I never expected to come,” Weymouth said in a statement to readers.

“The Washington Post Company is selling the newspaper it has owned and nurtured for eight decades.”

The decision to sell was made “with a heavy heart,” she said, “but with an absolute conviction that Mr. Bezos’ ownership represents a unique and extraordinary opportunity for The Washington Post” as well as for readers.

She called Bezos “a proven entrepreneur” who “takes the long-term view in his investments.”

“While he expects The Post to remain profitable, his focus is on the essential role that our journalism has on dialogue and the flow of information in our society.”

The sale underscored the desperation of the US newspaper industry for new cash support to survive the rapid transition of the news business to the Internet, where much of the news remains free.

The stunning announcement came just days after the New York Times sold the Boston Globe newspaper for just $70 million to the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, 20 years after paying $1.1 billion for the paper.

Like the Post, the Globe had been bleeding subscribers to its physical newspaper and has been challenged to persuade consumers to pay to read it online.—Paul Handley

Sam Miguel
08-06-2013, 09:52 AM
Washington Post: US capital’s powerful paper

Agence France-Presse

9:34 am | Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

WASHINGTON—The Washington Post has a storied history as the house newspaper of the US political elite, and its journalists reported some of the 20th century’s biggest scoops, including the Watergate scandal.

More recently, the paper was one of two international news organizations approached by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden when he wanted to leak details of a vast US surveillance programs.

But, like many papers, the Post has struggled to adapt to the evolving media landscape as more readers find their news online and has faced sharply declining revenues.

Nevertheless, many were astounded by Monday’s announcement that the newspaper arms of the company, owned and run by the Meyer-Graham family since 1933, are to be sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

“This is a day that my family and I never expected to come,” publisher and Post CEO Katharine Weymouth wrote in a letter to readers.

Her uncle Don Graham, head of the overall Washington Post company, wrote in a separate letter that the clan had been “proud to know since we were very little that we were part of the family that owned The Washington Post.”

Produced Woodward and Bernstein

The paper is perhaps best known for the investigative series in the early 1970s written by then-unknowns Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about a break-in at the Democratic National Convention headquarters.

The building was the Watergate Hotel, which bequeathed its name to the resulting scandal which forced the resignation of president Richard Nixon, among other top figures.

Woodward and Bernstein both won Pulitzers for their reporting, based largely on tips from anonymous sources, which showed that officials at the highest levels in the FBI, the Justice Department, the CIA and the White House were involved in the break-in and attempts to cover it up.

This journalistic coup came under the watch of legendary publisher Katharine Graham, who led the company for three decades starting in 1963.

Graham, daughter of Eugene Meyer, who bought the Washington Post in 1933 at a bankruptcy auction, took over after her husband committed suicide—at a time when women rarely held top business posts.

She garnered massive respect for her stewardship of the newspaper. Among other successes, she took the company public in 1971 and, by the time she stepped down, the stock had increased by more than 30 times its original price.

Investigative reporting leaves mark

The paper’s investigative reporting has continued to leave a mark, including a recent investigation of the Walter Reed military hospital that prompted a review of the treatment of wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The paper has won 47 Pulitzer prizes, including six in 2008 alone.

But its reputation took a blow in 2009, when it became known that Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli were planning to sell off-the-record access to their reporters as well as officials, analysts, and executives, at high-priced “salons” at Weymouth’s house.

The idea to raise money for the paper prompted accusations of hypocrisy and the company quickly apologized and shuttered the plan.

The incident did nevertheless underline the Post’s ongoing financial difficulties—the newspaper posted an operating loss of $53.7 million last year—which in turn set the stage for Bezos’ surprise takeover.—Naomi Seck

Sam Miguel
08-14-2013, 09:31 AM
Better quality of life

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:06 am | Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Countries with Freedom of Information laws “have lower incidence of corruption” and a better quality of life than nations that just recently enforced such a measure or have none at all, according to a study by former Inquirer reporter Edson Tandoc Jr., a Fulbright scholar and doctoral candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism.

If reminders of his previous words still fail to prod President Aquino to act more quickly on the long-pending FOI bill, perhaps that piece of empirical evidence will do, given how he is said to be such a stickler for facts and figures during Cabinet meetings, as the Malacañang press office often points out.

Like his mother who famously said she hated unsolicited advice, Mr. Aquino appears to become even more stubborn the more he is badgered about a particular matter. As in the reproductive health bill, which got a definitive push from Malacañang only at the last minute, he seems to like taking his time to consider the matter at hand. That has been his stance vis-à-vis the Freedom of Information bill, a piece of legislation he championed on the campaign trail when he was wooing the public to vote for him as, in effect, the corrective replacement to the preceding nine-year regime that was badly marked by corruption scandals. The public took him at his word then, that his prospective administration would be distinguished from its predecessor by the honesty and transparency he would bring to Malacañang. The linchpin of that anticorruption governance, he promised the nation, was a law that would afford ordinary citizens the power to check for themselves the records of government transactions made in their name and paid for with their hard-earned taxes. The FOI bill was envisioned to bring a long-delayed measure of accountability to government conduct, making concrete Mr. Aquino’s vow of “daang matuwid” for his administration.

That hasn’t happened yet. In the last three years, despite a sustained public clamor for Congress to pass the FOI bill, Mr. Aquino has chosen to dither, refusing to certify it as an urgent piece of legislation and even failing to mention it in his latest State of the Nation Address. He has publicly walked back on his support for the bill, expressing reservations about the possible adverse effect it might have on the efficiency and orderliness of daily government work—as if the current system could stand as a model for such. He would like more time to study the pros and cons of empowering ordinary citizens to seek out public records, he has said; and with that, already midway into his term, the clock simply running out on the bill has become more and more a distinct possibility.

Tandoc compared the 2010 standings of 168 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, Transparency International’s corruption perception index, and the Center for Law and Democracy, an organization that monitors such issues as respect for human rights and access to information in nations across the globe.

“The study shows that countries with mature FOI laws tend to have much lower corruption levels and higher standards of living than countries with younger laws, or no laws at all,” Tandoc said. But he pointed out that such legislation should not be seen as a quick fix: “The right to information should be used as a form of regular check on the government to prevent abuses instead of being considered … a last resort when corruption has already worsened.”

While the Philippines improved its ranking by 24 points in the latest (2012) corruption perception survey by Transparency International, its 105th place among 174 countries still tied it with countries such as Mali and Algeria and put it worlds away from its Southeast Asian neighbors such as Singapore (fifth), Brunei (46th), Malaysia (54th), and Thailand (88th).

Tandoc’s study won first place in the Moeller Student Competition of the Mass Communication and Society Division for the 2013 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, an international organization of journalism educators. It supports what the public has long intuitively known—that a Freedom of Information law that considers the citizenry as active partners in governance would only be good for a country such as the Philippines. Failing to enact one would be a signal dereliction of duty for the Aquino administration.

Sam Miguel
08-14-2013, 09:41 AM
^^^ I think the operative words there should be "MATURE FOI Laws", which this country seldom gets right regardless of subject matter.

Going over the transcript of the JLN interview by the Inquirer news trust, holy shit, that damn fool woman just buried herself up to her eyeballs in shit. And the Inquirer folks were really letting her have it.

Now, of course I think crooks who have already been caught should never be treated with kid gloves, and in fact should be torn new a--holes just for being crooks.

Still, I never thought Inquirer folks, of all the news folks out there, would be like a coliseum mob shouting for more blood on the arena sands.

Again, I think Janet Lim Napoles deserves it, going as she had into shark-infested waters as it were, and without her lawyer at that. Still, the relentlessness and sometimes cruelty and sarcasm of the tone the questions took, that is how powerful media is now, or at least that is how powerful the Inquirer sees itself.

That is a power that cannot be left to "policing its own ranks", and certainly not in the face of the media's own self-confessed corruption within its own ranks.

Sam Miguel
09-02-2013, 10:03 AM
Aquino: Media make sense of what’s going on, that it is heading for the truth

By TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:19 am | Sunday, September 1st, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—Even as they take their countries’ leaders to task, Asian journalists should also examine their own conduct and motives and learn to become “more responsible,” President Benigno Aquino III said in a speech before a group of coordinating editors of the Asia News Network (ANN), which was holding its first assembly in the Philippines.

Mr. Aquino began by talking about the media frenzy that attended the surrender the night before of Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

In the drama that unfolded on national TV, he said one could see the interplay between the government and the media before the watchful eyes of the people.

Key players for truth

He said he hoped the people could see through the complications and noise of that interplay and realize that both key players were trying to arrive at the truth.

“What is taking place is, of course, colored by our own history and culture,” Mr. Aquino said, explaining the frenzied media coverage of Napoles’ movements since her surrender.

Given their experience of oppression and censorship during martial law, the Philippine media were “especially concerned” with checking power and issues of corruption, Mr. Aquino said.

“This is how Janet Lim-Napoles became such a central figure in our recent consciousness. Revelations by whistle-blowers have shown not only the corruption of the past, they also demonstrate the constant need to keep two steps ahead of those constantly plotting how to evade the law,” he said.

Media’s critical role

“Perhaps, in your own countries, you have also observed the different roles that you play: a watchdog against abuse of power, a partner in strengthening economic and international relations, or a combination of every possible function,” he said.

In its blow-by-blow coverage of Napoles’ surrender, one could glean media’s critical role, which is to inform, and this role is constant in every country, the President said.

“No matter what country you are from, in times of calamity or success, it is still the media that, no matter how briefly, brings all sectors together in order to make sense of what is going on and where it is headed,” he said.

“More than anyone else, you know how important it is to uphold integrity and truth in your reports, especially today, with our 24-hour news cycle,” he added.

The President said the media play a very critical role in informing the public, a role that has assumed more immediacy in the age of Twitter and Instagram.

“Given the advent of new media and technology, and with it a greater and more direct engagement with the public, media can now reach anyone anywhere—making your responsibilities even greater,” he said at a dinner hosted by the Inquirer for the ANN editors on Thursday night.

This makes the media an “essential contributor” to national development and a “firm partner” of the people, and why it’s important to “uphold integrity and truth” in reporting, Mr. Aquino said.

“As one of the most influential sectors in your respective countries, I hope that every single day, you ask yourselves: How do I contribute to improving these flawed, human institutions, in order to contribute to the betterment of society?” the President said.

Aquino’s request

And since the ANN coordinating editors were in Manila to share experiences on ethical boundaries, and fair and honest reporting, the President put a suggestion on the table.

“Your profession’s inherent advocacy for truth and justice can be turned inward and used to examine how media can be more responsible and more efficient. This can only redound to the benefit of your organizations, and to the benefit of the people we serve,” he said.

“I hope you do not mind that I make this request; this is the same thing I tell all my colleagues in government, and others I have the chance to speak with,” he added.

After all, nobody can be complacent “especially when we all desire what is good for our country, the region, and the world,” Mr. Aquino said.

“Being President, I will be the first to admit that this is not easy, but I believe it requires of me the same things your profession requires of you: a true desire to serve, a firm commitment to integrity, and a determination to do the right thing,” he said.

Beyond entertainment and advertising, the “obsession with the truth and the untiring quest for facts” would help everyone “navigate this increasingly complex world and find success—not only for ourselves, but also for the public we serve,” he said.

Media from 19 nations

The ANN is an alliance of 22 newspapers in 19 countries in Asia. It is the world’s largest alliance of leading English-language newspapers in the region. Its mission is to present Asia from the Asian perspective. It is the publisher of AsiaNews, a fortnightly online magazine.

The audience also included Inquirer board chair Marixi R. Prieto and president Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, publisher Raul C. Pangalangan, editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, editors and staff.

‘Speaking truth to power’

The President said he was very much aware of the pride that media take in “speaking truth to power.”

“As a matter of fact, I begin my day by perusing the broadsheets, both in order to gauge public opinion and to understand and comprehend all sides. No one is perfect, neither myself nor our system of government, and we must always be receptive to criticism delivered out of a desire to help,” he said.

Mr. Aquino said he was aware that the vital role of the media is to provide context and explain what the news means.

At its best, the media highlight trends and occurrences that leaders like himself may not be aware of, “given the matters that occupy our crowded days,” he said.

Great faith in media

But then again, the media could also “elevate the level of discourse” amid the cacophony of opinions and viewpoints, he said.

“Suffice it to say: I have always had great faith in the power of a professional, responsible and truthful media,” he said.

According to Mr. Aquino, the Filipino public has set the “burden of proof” for government officials and journalists very high. Research and rigorous fact-checking, the laying out of context, and the virtues of patience and justice are the norm, he said.

“By the very nature of our professions, whether in media or in public service, we are expected to prove our worthiness of public trust on a daily basis,” he said.

Sam Miguel
09-02-2013, 10:05 AM
ANN: Reaching almost half of world’s population

By Noel Adlai Velasco

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:01 am | Sunday, September 1st, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—When President Benigno Aquino III spoke before editors of member-newspapers of the Asia News Network (ANN) at a dinner on Thursday night, he might have been addressing almost half of the world’s population.

ANN, an alliance of 22 leading newspapers in 19 countries, has a strong presence in the world’s most populous nations—China through China Daily, India through The Statesman, Indonesia through the Jakarta Post, Pakistan through The Dawn and Bangladesh through The Daily Star.

Thus, the dinner meeting with representatives from the largest organization of English newspapers in Asia gave the President the opportunity to reach a wider audience in the international community.

Addressing the ANN journalists, Mr. Aquino cited the critical role of the media and exhorted them to uphold integrity and truth in reporting in their respective countries.

In the open forum following his speech, the President fielded questions from the ANN editors on topics ranging from the Philippines’ special relationship with the United States, the Mindanao peace talks and next year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia.

ANN executive editor Pana Janviroj, who is also president of Thailand’s The Nation Group, thanked the President for gracing the occasion and the Inquirer for hosting the dinner with the President.

Annual meeting

The ANN editors were in town for the group’s annual coordinators’ meeting, the first time it was being held in the Philippines. The conference was hosted by Konrad Adenauer Asia Center for Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University. This year’s conference theme was “Crowdsourcing in Asian Journalism” with ANN members sharing the experiences of their respective countries.

The ANN was founded in 1999 for the purpose of sharing editorial content such as news stories, feature articles, editorials and photos among its members. From a core group of seven members, the ANN membership has expanded to 22 newspapers in 19 countries. Its website is at www.asianewsnet.net.

Other ANN members are Kuensel of Bhutan, The Brunei Times, Rasmei Kampuchea of Cambodia, The Star of Malaysia, Sin Chew Daily of Malaysia, The Kathmandu Post of Nepal, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Straits Times of Singapore, The Island Newspaper of Sri Lanka, The China Post of Taiwan, The Nation of Thailand and Vietnam News. Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, Vientiane Times and Eleven Media Group of Burma did not send representatives to the annual meeting.

The Bangkok-based ANN holds the annual editorial coordinators’ meeting to strengthen cooperation in the exchange of editorial content and photos among its members.

It also holds an annual meeting of its board of directors which is composed of the publishers and the top editors of ANN member-newspapers. The ANN board meeting is usually hosted by the ANN chair who is elected by board members on a rotational basis every year. This year’s meeting was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in late April. Next year’s host is Singapore.

The Inquirer last held the ANN chairmanship in 2008 when the late Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot was elected ANN chair.

Manila last hosted the ANN board meeting during the term of former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Business cooperation

Through the years, the ANN has evolved from a mere sharing of editorial content and photos to business cooperation.

At least three ANN members have recently launched, through the ANN’s initiative, iSnap mobile applications that enable their readers to access more photos, graphics and videos of news reports by a mere snap of their mobile phones.

The app is now available at The Nation of Thailand, The Star of Malaysia, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer through INQSnap. More ANN members will be launching their own iSnap mobile app this month.

Thailand’s The Nation, the Inquirer and Malaysia’s The Star have also launched brand display, an advertising system for websites.

To generate advertising revenues for its members, the ANN has set up a representative office in Singapore to receive ads in behalf of its members. Through the Singapore office, which is hosted by Malaysia’s The Star, advertisers with regional ad campaigns can post ads in ANN member newspapers at discounted group rates.

Also in the pipeline is an e-paper project which will combine the e-papers of ANN members. Plans are also afoot to launch an ANN jobs online site.

Advertising road show

Aside from sharing editorial content, ANN members will soon also exchange video content.

The ANN has also lined up several events for its members this year. These include an advertising road show to be held in Singapore on Oct. 1 with seven ANN members, including the Inquirer, participating.

The ANN and China Daily Weekly Asia will launch the Young Asia Leadership Awards on Dec. 12 in Bangkok.

ANN members will select young leaders from their countries aged 40 and below for at least three of the following categories: Young CEO (for a company with more than 500 employees), Young Entrepreneur (for a company with less than 500 employees), Young Woman Leader, Young Innovator, Young Cultural Ambassador, Young Sustainability Champion Leader, Young Media Choice and Young Civil Society Leader.

Deadline for nominations is on Oct 25. The winners, which ANN editors will help select will be invited to Bangkok to receive the awards in a grand event to be presided by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Sam Miguel
09-16-2013, 10:18 AM
Freedom of information

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9:37 pm | Sunday, September 15th, 2013

It is not as if we did not have the right to be informed unless the current bill on the subject is passed. The right is already guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. The question that should be asked is what the Freedom of Information bill hopes to add. Let me first discuss what we already have.

The Bill of Rights now says: “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”

The original draft of this provision when presented to the Constitutional Commission said that the right to information “shall be afforded the citizens as may be provided by law.” As thus worded, it would have required an implementing law. As found now, the provision is self-executory. What is the present scope of this guaranteed right?

The 1987 Constitution has preserved the 1973 text but with the addition of the phrase “as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development.” The amendment came as a reaction to the government practice during the martial law regime of withholding social research data from the knowledge of the public whenever such data contradicted policies that the government wanted to espouse. The reference, however, is to “government research data,” that is, to the findings of government-funded research and not to the findings of privately funded research over which private proprietary rights might exist.

The constitutional right, however, does not mean that every day is an open house in public offices. The right given by the Constitution is “subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.” Thus, while access to official records may not be prohibited, it certainly may be regulated. The regulation can come either from statutory law and from what the Supreme Court has called the “inherent power [of an officer] to control his office and the records under his custody and… to exercise [some discretion] as to the manner in which persons desiring to inspect, examine, or copy the record may exercise their rights.” The question then boils down to a determination of the scope of official regulatory discretion.

In determining the allowable scope of official limitation on access to official records, it is important to keep in mind that the two sentences of Section 7 guarantee only one general right, that is, the right to information on matters of public concern. The right of access to official records is given as an implementation of the right to information. Thus, the right to information on matters of public concern is both the purpose of and the limit on the right of access to public documents. Thus, too, regulatory discretion must include both authority to determine what matters are of public concern and authority to determine the manner of access to them.

What are “matters of public concern”? Jurisprudence says that “public concern,” like “public interest,” eludes exact definition and embraces a broad spectrum of subjects which the public may want to know, either because these directly affect their lives or simply because such matters arouse the interest of an ordinary citizen. The right may be asserted even against government-owned and -controlled corporations because their function, analogous to that of government agencies, is to serve the people. Thus, with greater reason it can be asserted against government agencies.

But then there is also the obvious need, especially in matters of national security and foreign relations, of preserving a measure of confidentiality. Thus, the right of the people to information must be balanced against other genuine interests necessary for the proper functioning of government. Jurisprudence on this issue has been gradually developing.

Jurisprudence has enumerated some of the recognized limitations on the right to information. These are:

1. National security matters. These include state secrets regarding military, diplomatic and other national security concerns, and information on inter-government exchanges prior to the conclusion of treaties and executive agreements. Where there is no need to protect state secrets, the privilege to withhold documents and other information may not be invoked, provided that they are examined “in strict confidence” and given “scrupulous protection.”

2. Trade secrets and banking transactions, pursuant to the Intellectual Property Code (Republic Act No. 8283) and other related laws, and to the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Act (RA 1405).

3. Criminal matters or classified law enforcement matters, “such as those relating to the apprehension, the prosecution and the detention of criminals, which courts may not inquire into prior to such arrest, detention and prosecution.” Otherwise, efforts at effective law enforcement would be seriously jeopardized.

4. Other confidential matters, including diplomatic correspondence, closed-door Cabinet meetings and executive sessions of Congress, and the internal deliberations of the Supreme Court. The Ethical Standards Act (RA 6713) also has some guidelines.

We will await what the proposed Freedom of Information bill will add.

Sam Miguel
09-25-2013, 09:55 AM
Poe sponsors FOI bill: Don't wait for another Napoles scam

by Rappler.com

Posted on 09/24/2013 5:12 PM | Updated 09/24/2013 10:57 PM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – "The time is ripe for the passage of FOI."

Sen Grace Poe, head of the Senate committee on public information, on Tuesday, September 24, sponsored on the floor the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) law that seeks to install fast procedures for accessing government documents.

Poe said the Senate version of the FOI bill is a consolidation of 12 separate proposals, including 9 bills and one resolution, Malacañang's version of the measure, and the petition for indirect initiative by citizens' groups.

Senators Sonny Angara and JV Ejercito also delivered their co-sponsorship speeches.

The bill, first pushed in 1992, came close to becoming a law in the 14th Congress (not just this Congress, as we reported in an earlier version of the story). A bicameral version of the bill was drafted, but the House of Representatives failed to vote on it due to lack of quorum.

"I just find it quite unfortunate, Mr. President, that we had to wait for something like the 'Napoles Pork Barrel Scam' and the ensuing 'Million People March' to happen before this bill could garner bipartisan support in Congress. Such is not the case in other countries," Poe said.

On Wednesday, September 18, a joint Senate panel approved the FOI bill after holding only two hearings. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives have yet to conduct hearings.

The Senate has been known to be in favor of the FOI bill in the past. In the 15th Congress, the Senate approved FOI on 3rd and final reading but the bill did not prosper after the House of Representatives failed to tackle it on the floor.


Mr. President, my distinguished colleagues:

I stand here today to sponsor Senate Bill 1733, otherwise known as the “People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013.” The said bill is a consolidation of nine (9) FOI legislation filed by our eminent colleagues, namely; Senators Escudero (Senate Bill 18 ), Trillanes (S.B. 36), Osmeña (S.B. 44), Honasan (S.B. 64), Guingona (S.B. 74), Alan Peter Cayetano (S.B. 90), JV Ejercito (S.B. 217), Legarda (S.B. 514), and Angara (S.B. 1219), and PSR 102 by this representation, as well as the Petition for Indirect Initiative filed by civil society groups.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, passage of the Freedom of Information Act is long overdue. The FOI bill has long been discussed, dissected, scrutinized and debated, and it has been bypassed by Congress twice already, Mr. President. It has languished in Congress for far too long already. In fact, when the very first FOI bill was filed way back in 1992, it was called to my attention wala pa pong internet sa Pilipinas nun; wala pang Facebook, Twitter at Instagram nun. On a more personal note Mr. President, noong mga panahong yun kaka-graduate ko pa lang po ng Political Science sa Boston College (1991) at kaka-panganak ko pa lang sa aking panganay na si Brian (1992). Sa ngayon Mr. President, naka-graduate na sa college ang aking anat at di pa rin naipapasa ang FOI bill sa Kongreso.

The time is ripe for the passage of FOI, Mr. President. Majority of our colleagues are for it; the leadership of both Houses of Congress (Senate President Drilon and Speaker Belmonte) have openly declared their support for it; and even Malacañang has announced that the FOI bill will be included in the LEDAC list of priority measures. But most importantly Mr. President, there is a real, genuine public clamor for it. Dinig na dinig, ramdam na ramdam po natin ang kagustuhan ng mamamayan para sa FOI. Given such favorable conditions, I do not see any reason why we should again fail to approve this vital piece of legislation this 16th Congress.

Mr. President, in coming up with the consolidated version of the bill, your Committee reviewed the archival records of earlier FOI hearings in previous Congresses. We also conducted two (2) public hearings where we elicited views from as diverse and as broad a spectrum of Philippine society as possible – the academe, the Philippine business sector, media organizations, civil society, social media “netizens,” the defense department, Executive officials and others. Lastly, my staff also conducted an extensive review of literature in order to learn about the latest developments and/or findings on FOI legislation around the world.

Sam Miguel
09-25-2013, 09:57 AM
^^^ (Cont'd )


Marami po ang naniniwala at umaasa na ang FOI Act ang sagot sa problema natin sa korupsyon. Many people believe that the only way to prevent corruption is by making public documents and transactions open to the public. What the Freedom of Information Act basically wants to do is apply the “Sunshine Principle” in government. Ano po ba ang “Sunshine Principle?” In simplest terms, the Sunshine Principle states that “all things not exposed to sunlight acquire germs.” Alinsunod sa Sunshine Principle, ang lahat nang bagay na hindi nasisikatan ng araw, tinutubuan ng mikrobyo at nagkakaroon ng dumi. Tulad halimbawa ng sapatos, Mr. President – pag ito po ay itinago mo ng matagal sa isang madilim na sulok ng inyong cabinet, di ba nagkakaroon ng amoy at nagkaka-amag? Ganun din po sa gobyerno. Dapat po ay ibilad sa araw at hindi tinatago ang mga transakyon upang hindi tubuan ng mikrobyo ang ating gobyerno - yan po ang “Sunshine Principle.” Exposing government to the “sunshine” of public scrutiny will kill the “germs” and disinfect the “microbes” that lead to waste and red tape, abuse of authority and gross misconduct, and graft and corruption.

I just find it quite unfortunate Mr. President that we had to wait for something like the “Napoles Pork Barrel Scam” (and the ensuing “Million People March”) to happen before this bill could garner bipartisan support in Congress. Such is not the case in other countries, Mr. President. For instance, in Thailand (which is the very first country in Southeast Asia to enact an FOI law), the FOI movement began not because of some multi-million dollar scam perpetrated by some Thai politician but out of something more innocuous and more “modest” (“modest” at least by Philippine standards) – one woman could not quite accept the fact that her daughter failed to pass a state university entrance exam. Furious and frustrated, the mother petitioned university officials to release the full results of all persons who took the entrance exam. The woman’s lone crusade eventually gained media attention and earned widespread public sympathy. In the end, the mother was able to confirm what many people in Thailand have long suspected – that children from affluent, influential families were admitted into the state university despite their having gotten lower grades than her daughter. Thus, the FOI Act of Thailand really grew out of one woman’s crusade over her daughter’s inability to gain admission in a university. It is truly sad, Mr. President, to see that we Filipinos seem to have developed a higher “tolerance level” for corruption compared to our neighbors in Asia, and that we always seem to wait for things to go from bad to worse before we are moved into action.

Sweden holds the distinction of having passed the very first freedom of information law in recorded history. In 1766 Mr. President, the Swedish Parliament passed the Freedom of the Press Act which granted citizens access to official documents. Soon after, this “germ” of an idea (or “gem” of an idea rather) – that people have a right to know what their government is doing – spread like a virus to neighboring countries in the Scandinavian region like Finland, Norway and Denmark. Today, the FOI tradition in Sweden is so far advanced Mr. President that even the email (and other official communication thru internet) of their Prime Minister is available for any citizen to see.

The countries of Scandinavia have been consistently rated “least-corrupt” by various international rating organizations. For instance, based on the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, Finland and Denmark both shared the No. 1 spot as the least-corrupt countries in the world while Sweden was ranked No. 4 and Norway was the 7th least-corrupt country in the world. It is definitely not mere coincidence that the countries with the least amount of corruption are also the countries where the FOI tradition is oldest and strongest. In contrast, the Philippines is currently ranked 105th (out of 174 countries).

In recent times, the FOI movement has gained widespread currency and worldwide momentum. “Na-uuso” kumbaga Mr. President. To date, there are at least 94 nations have already enacted their own FOI legislation, and another 53 countries are in the process of ratifying their respective FOI laws.

Pero hindi po sa lahat ng pagkakataon nagiging matagumpay ang FOI sa mga bansang meron na nito. In fact, according to one study conducted by David Banisar of Privacy International, the vast majority of countries today that have FOI have freedom of information “in name only, but not in spirit.” Samakatuwid, karamihan sa mga bansa na meron nang FOI nakikisabay lang sa uso (or “nakiki-uso lang”) at hindi naman seryoso sa pagpapatupad ng kanilang batas ukol sa FOI.


It is precisely for this reason, Mr. President, that we must ratify a “strong” FOI version. Otherwise, the Philippines will encounter a similar situation wherein we have freedom of information “in name only, but not in spirit.” Dapat huwag lang tayo sumunod sa kung ano ang uso. Dapat talaga lagyan natin ng ngipin ang FOI para mas malakas at lalo maging epektibo ang FOI sa pagsugpo ng korupsyon.

There are numerous research studies, Mr. President, which demonstrate that a strong Freedom of Information law indeed minimizes graft and corruption. One study for instance found that when the United States Congress strengthened their FOI law, the prosecution rate of their graft cases drastically improved (and I quote) “the number of court convictions nearly doubled in the first 3-to-8 years after FOI law was strengthened.” Aside from raising the conviction rate, the experience in other countries also show that better public access to information has made governmental institutions more accountable and more responsive to the actual needs and demands of the people, often resulting in faster and more efficient delivery of basic services.

Aside from Sweden, the other countries which seem to be showing the way in the area of FOI legislation are Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and India. Based on our research, the following are the five (5) ingredients (or elements) that make for a “strong” FOI law:

1.Presumption of Release. A good FOI law must have a “presumption of release” provision. This means that there is blanket coverage for all public information and that all official documents are assumed to be open to the public, unless expressly prohibited by the law. Sa madaling sabi, kung hindi bawal, puwede! This is the very essence of “freedom of information.”

2.Clearly-Defined Exemptions. Almost all FOI laws around the world Mr. President provide for certain exemptions or “non-disclosure rules,” which typically involve national security, operational security, trade secrets (e.g. intellectual property rights), diplomatic security, presidential privilege, and other information that are sensitive or confidential in nature. In formulating an FOI law, international experts suggest that exemptions should be limited and must be clearly-defined. Otherwise, too many vaguely-worded exemptions would effectively render the FOI law useless.

In addition, the non-disclosure rule is not absolute, and is usually covered by a specified timeframe – usually between 15 to 30 years after the fact – when the classified documents can be released to the public,.

3.Existence of an Independent Implementing Agency. Various experts also assert that the establishment of a separate, independent “implementing agency” dedicated to resolving FOI cases is crucial to the success of FOI. In Mexico, for example, there is a special body called “IFAI” which resolves FOI cases in a timely manner. In other countries, denied requests for information are typically settled and/or decided by ordinary circuit courts, which not only takes a lot of time but requires a lot of money for requesting parties.

4.Efficiency / Timeliness. For FOI to be effective, government must give its citizens access to what experts call “actionable data.” “Actionable data” is data that is a.) current or up-to-date and b.) data that is usable or “sortable.” Typically, what we see on government websites today are “after-the-fact data” - Annual Reports, statistics that are three years old, etc. – in other words, information that is no longer “actionable.” Nangyari na. Tapos na.

Also, government must make accessing data quickly, easy and convenient for its citizens. Last but not least, people must be able to access information at no cost or at very minimal cost as much as possible.

5.Strict Penalties for Non-Compliance. For the FOI law to be successful, there really has to be penalties and/or fines to punish non-compliance. Otherwise, government officials will just continue on ignoring requests for information.

In addition Mr. President, “freedom of information” is not exactly “free.” It has cost implications. Before government could be able to grant “access,” it must first have in its possession the “information.” In other words, before government can begin handing out information to anyone who wants it, it must first possess the capability to effectively organize its information management systems.

Everyone seems to agree that we must grant our citizens access to official information. Pero aanhin mo yung “access” kung wala namang “information?!” Freedom of information therefore is not only about access but is also about proper information management and archiving practices. Kalakip po palagi sa pagbigay nang “access” ang pagtataguyod ng “information dissemination infrastructure” na madaling gamitin at maintindihan ng ating mamamayan. For FOI to be truly effective, government must invest in “digitalizing” its documents (converting its files into digital format) and modernizing its information management systems.

Sam Miguel
09-25-2013, 09:58 AM
^^^ (Cont'd )


Allow me now Mr. President to present some of the salient points of Senate Bill 1733, entitled “An Act Implementing the People’s Right to Information and the Constitutional Policies of Full Public Disclosure and Honesty in the Public Service and For Other Purposes,” and otherwise known as the People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013.

The people’s right to information is a right long enshrined in our Constitution Mr. President, specifically under the Declaration of Principles and State Policies, and under Section 28, Article II of the Philippine Charter. Furthermore, the people’s “right to know” is recognized in Section 7, Article III which provides (and I quote):

“The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”

Napaka tagal na po ng batas na ito, hanggang ngayon ang implementasyon hindi pa din natin nagagawa.

Senate Bill 1733 is to be the implementing law of this constitutional mandate. The said measure provides the general framework of rules and guidelines, exemptions and limitations, procedures and penalties in the exercise of this right.

Except for some minor refinements, Senate Bill 1733 is substantially similar to the version that was approved on Third Reading by the previous 15th Congress. In coming up with this updated FOI version, we took into consideration the inputs of various government agencies – particularly the recommendations of the Office of the President, Department of Justice, Civil Service Commission, Ombudsman, Department of National Defense. We likewise studied the position papers and policy suggestions of a number of resource persons from the business sector, academe, union of journalists and media organization, social media “netizens,” and civil society groups.

I will now discuss in detail some of the important provisions of the bill.

a.Section 4 of Senate Bill 1733 states that the FOI rule on full public disclosure covers all government agencies and instrumentalities which includes the Executive, Legislative, Judicial branches of government, constitutionally-mandated bodies, local governments as well as government-owned-and-controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs). Upon the recommendation of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), we added a new provision that will include “public service contractors” such as foundations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and peoples’ organizations (POs) as among those to be covered by the FOI law, insofar as their contract or transactions with government are concerned.

b.Section 5 grants every Filipino citizen the right to request and be granted access to any record or information that is under the control of government, subject of course to the limitations enumerated in this FOI Act.

c.Section 6 states that “there shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information. No request for information shall be denied unless it clearly falls under the exceptions provided under this Act.”

d.Section 7 of the measure lists down the exceptions to the FOI rule, which includes the following:

•Information that could cause serious damage to national security and our country’s internal and/or external defense;

•Information that could unduly weaken our country’s bargaining position in international negotiations or seriously jeopardize diplomatic relations with other countries;

•Information that could compromise law enforcement operations and endanger the life of an individual;

•Information that was obtained by Congress in executive session

•Information covered by “presidential privilege;”

•Information pertaining to trade secrets and commercial information;

•If the information requested would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s right to privacy

Senate Bill 1733 also provides that at no time shall exemptions be used to cover up a crime, wrongdoing, graft or corruption. Ibig sabihin hindi ka pwede magtago at sabihin na saklaw ng “national security exemption” or ng “presidential privilege” ang isang impormasyon kung ang motibo mo lang ay pagtakpan ang palpak na trabaho o katiwalian sa isang departamento.

e.Section 8 requires government agencies to upload on their respective websites the following information:

•The Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) of those like the office of the President, Vice President, Cabinet members, members of both Houses of Congress, Justices of the Supreme Court, members of Constitutional Bodies, and officers of the Armed Forces of star rank;

•All information pertaining to their Annual Budget, Monthly Disbursements, IRA utilization, Procurement Plan, the list of vacant positions in their agency, items for bidding and the results of the bidding, contracts entered into the government with any domestic or foreign entity, bilateral or multilateral treaties, licenses or permits granted to any entity for the extraction of natural resources, and loans entered into by government from any domestic or foreign financial institution.

Moreover, Senate Bill 1733 provides that any loan or transaction entered into by any government agency amounting to at least 50 million pesos (₱50,000,000) shall be uploaded in full on the website of the concerned government agency or the Official Gazette online.

f.Section 10 of the bill stipulates that the right to privacy of individuals shall always be protected, and instructs government agencies to “protect personal information in its custody or under its control by making reasonable security arrangements against such risks as unauthorized access, collection, use, disclosure, or disposal.”

In the crafting of Senate Bill _1733___ we were always conscious and mindful of the fact that FOI can be used as a tool to damage reputations and harass individuals. Thus, we sought to strike an ideal balance between safeguarding public interest without sacrificing the person’s right to privacy.

g.Section 11 provides for the dissemination of an FOI Manual and likewise direct all government agencies to list down the type and kind of information it regularly generates so that people will know what information is obtainable from a particular agency.

h.Section 12 of the FOI Act details the appropriate procedure how a person can request for information from government agencies. The same section requires government officials to act and/or comply within fifteen (15) working days upon receipt of the request for information.

i.Section 16 of Senate Bill 1733 provides for a system of remedies in case the request for FOI information is denied. For instance, if the requesting party is not satisfied with the action of a government agency, he may file a verified complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman or file a verified petition for mandamus in a regular court. If the requesting party has limited or no financial capacity, he can approach the Public Attorney’s Office to request legal assistance in availing of the remedies provided in this Act

j.Section 17 directs all government agencies to observe good record-keeping practices and enjoins them to set-up information management systems that allow for easy identification, retrieval and communication of the information to the public. Moreover, government agencies are instructed to identify specific classes of documents that have continuing historical, legal, evidentiary or research values (that the FOI stipulates they cannot dispose or destroy) and they should transfer the same to National Archives of the Philippines for preservation.

k.Section 19 directs all government agencies to set-up their respective FOI-compliant web sites within two (2) years after the law takes effect, and likewise encourages them to make their websites user-friendly and understandable to the layman. As such, Section 19 also contains a provision instructing government agencies “to use plain language and if possible, translate important information into major Filipino dialects” so that people will be able to appreciate the information better. Dapat madaling maintindihan at hindi lamang mga abogado ang nakakaintindi nito.

l.Sections 20 and 21 make government officers who violate the FOI Act criminally and administratively liable. Section 20 enumerates acts that constitute grave administrative offenses (punishable by suspension or dismissal from the service) such as a.) failure to act on the request within the period required by the Act and b.) refusal to comply with the decision of an immediate superior, the Ombudsman or of any court ordering the release of information.

Section 21 on the other hand lists down the various acts that make a government officer criminally liable for violations of the FOI Act, which carries a penalty of imprisonment of not less than one (1) month but not more than six (6) months. Among the acts are the following: a.) knowingly denying the existence of existing information, b.) destroying information being requested for the purpose of frustrating the requester’s access, and c.) claim an exception provided under the FOI Act, when the claim is manifestly devoid of factual basis.

m.Section 24 of Senate Bill 1733 stipulates that the concept of ”freedom of information” be introduced in the public school curriculum and integrated in subjects such as Heyograpiya, Kasaysayan at Sibika (HEKASI) and Araling Panlipunan for the elementary level or Social Studies and Makabayan for the high school level. Para bata pa lang alam na nila ang karapatan nila.

Sam Miguel
09-25-2013, 09:59 AM
^^^ (Cont'd )

As I mentioned earlier Mr. President, a substantial part of Senate Bill 1733 was copied from the Third Reading version during the previous Congress. For example, the bill’s provisions pertaining to what information is covered and what is exempted from FOI coverage, the procedure for accessing information and the system for redress (in case of denial), the mandatory posting of SALNs and the provisions on record-keeping/archiving, were all lifted from the earlier FOI version.

This is not to say that Senate Bill 1733 is completely identical to the old FOI bill Mr. President. There are new additions and “minor refinements” that your Committee introduced in the current FOI measure. For example, in Section 4 (under “Coverage”) we included “public service contractors” as among those to be covered by FOI. The word “public service contractors” could be construed to mean private organizations such as foundations, NGOs or POs that have contracts or projects with government. It is imperative Mr. President, to include private organizations in the coverage of FOI because in this country, graft and corruption is often a product of a “public-private partnership”.

In addition Mr. President, Senate Bill 1733 stipulates civil and criminal penalties for violations of the FOI Act (as contained in Sections 20 and 21), a feature not present in the old FOI measure. The reason for this Mr. President is that your Committee believes that we really have to impose strict penalties in order for the FOI law to be successful. Dapat talaga lagyan natin ng ngipin ang batas kung hindi babalewalain lang po tayo.

Lastly Mr. President, we added two more provisions on “plain writing” (as embodied in Section 19) and the introduction of FOI into the public school curriculum (as contained in Section 24 of the bill). We really need to teach our children the concepts of transparency, accountability and people’s right to information so that our future generations will imbibe the concept of FOI and develop an FOI culture. We also felt the need to encourage the bureaucracy into making their websites “usable,” “sortable” and easy-to-understand by adding a seeming superfluous “plain language” stipulation in the bill. To better understand the purpose, I will illustrate a specific example Mr. President. One common practice today is for a government agency to print an official document, then scan the “hard” document and then post it (as a PDF file) on its portal. This practice practically renders the data “unsortable” or “unsearchable,” and thereby unusable to many users Mr. President. So what potentially can happen Mr. President is that once the FOI is enacted into law, the public will be deluged with tons of information (in PDF format) on government websites which he cannot sort/search and make any sense of. Therefore, we need to add this provision to encourage government to make the presentation of their data more user-friendly. Otherwise, government officials may see a loophole and find a way to “comply” with the letter of the law, but not its spirit.


In closing Mr. President, the passage of the Freedom of Information Act will bring about a new era of openness and transparency unprecedented in Philippine history. FOI will profoundly change our politics, our government and our society as a whole, for the better.

Mr. President, the world has been swept by remarkable technological changes in the past 20 years. We now live in the Age of Information, where ordinary citizens have access to information and receive news as fast as their leaders. We now live in a world where people have bigger material needs and higher expectations in life. We now live in a global economy where developments in places as far away as Syria can have a significant impact on our local economy.

The Philippines is now the “Social Media Capital of the World” Mr. President. There are now 35 million internet users in the country, and DOST is projecting that the Philippines will have 99% internet penetration by the year 2015 (that’s two years from now Mr. President). In today’s Information Age, ideas spread faster than a virus, news travels at the speed of light, and people can access information (quite literally) at their fingertips. Just last month, we witnessed the awesome power of social media when thousands of concerned netizens answered the call to mount a “Million People March” to protest. Make no mistake about it Mr. President, the internet is a “game-changer” and it will change our country profoundly.

Today’s generation, they want information, and they want it instantly and they want it free. We cannot expect today’s youth to line up just to get their desired data – they want the information posted and downloadable on a government website. We cannot expect today’s generation, so used to having free content on the internet, to pay ₱12,000 just for some national survey on nutrition or some statistical data on labor. Today’s generation want information at their fingertips, and we must give them so that they can help understand their government.

Sa pamamagitan ng FOI, mababawasan ang katiwalian sa gobyerno. At indi lang yan, matututo pa ang ating mamamayan na maki-alam at maki-lahok sa pag-hubog ng mga polisiya ng kanilang gobyerno. By way of closing, let me cite what our dear President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino said in a speech that he delivered last November (and I quote):

“Kapag may sapat at tamang impormasyon si Juan dela Cruz sa mga isyung panlipunan – hindi lamang siya armado sa kaalaman – gaganahan at mae-engganyo rin siyang makilahok sa pagpapaunlad ng bayan.”

FOI will not only prevent graft and corruption but more importantly, our citizens will learn to get involved and participate and thus will become true stakeholders in their government. This, Mr. President, is the true essence of democracy.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues, the FOI Act is long overdue. Let us not delay its passage anymore. Let us heed the clamor of the people and approve this measure without further delay. Madali lang ang pagpipilian, dilim o liwanag.

Kailangan masinagan ng araw ang lahat ng transaksyon ng pamahalaan.

Thank you.

Let us know in the comments section what your thoughts are about the consolidated bill on FOI. – Rappler.com

Sam Miguel
09-30-2013, 10:43 AM
Era ends, new chapter awaits Washington Post

Agence France-Presse

6:20 am | Monday, September 30th, 2013

WASHINGTON—With Jeff Bezos set to take over The Washington Post, the big question is: Can he arrest its decline and deliver an economic model for the rest of the industry?

The 49-year-old founder of Amazon could give the storied newspaper a chance to make the transition to the digital age, but it remains unclear whether he has a winning formula for ailing metropolitan daily newspapers.

Bezos, who agreed in August to buy the Post for $250 million and take it private, is expected to close the deal sometime in early October, though no official date has been disclosed.

He has said little about his plans for the 136-year-old daily, which has long been seen as among the most influential in the United States, famous for its trailblazing coverage of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up that led to the resignation of president Richard Nixon in 1974.

Bezos said in August that he had “no map” for the Post but in a recent interview with CNN he called the newspaper “an important institution,” and remarked that he was “optimistic about its future.”

“It’s a personal investment. I’m hopeful that I can help from a distance in part by providing runway for them to do a series of experiments, in part through bringing some of the philosophy that we have used at Amazon to the Post,” he said.

‘Long and patient view’

Some say Bezos, a pioneer in online retailing, could revitalize a traditional business where recent years have seen jobs being slashed amid sinking revenues as news and advertising moves to the Internet.

“He is willing to take a long and patient view… to let things roll without worrying about profitability,” said Alan Mutter, a Silicon valley-based media consultant and former Chicago newspaper editor.

“He’s obviously a very talented businessman and has to be counted as one of the true digital natives,” who could offer new ideas.

“He can look at the problems dispassionately. He didn’t go to journalism school. He did not sell ads. Most of the people in the business have been in the newspaper business, they might not be out-of-the box thinkers.”

But Peter Copeland, a former editor and executive for the EW Scripps newspaper group and now a media consultant, cautioned against dramatic change, noting that the Post’s print circulation still generates significant revenues, though less than previously.

“I don’t think it would be wise to blow up The Washington Post,” he told AFP.

“It has a great brand. And this is a place where people really care about news.”

Copeland said the Post is among the few US dailies that can draw a wide online audience outside its home market, and this gives it some flexibility.

But Bezos may also help bring some hard-nosed business skills to the newspaper, long owned by the Graham family.

“Because the Post was run by a family, a caring family, it has been often run like a family,” Copeland said.

“It’s still a giant organization and it needs to be resized for the amount of revenue they have now.”

Daily circulation is estimated at 447,700, down from over 800,000 two decades ago. In the most recent quarter, the newspaper lost $49 million, mostly from pension obligations. These were effectively subsidized by the other Washington Post Co. units, mainly in television and education.

‘In for the right reasons’

Dan Kennedy, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University who is writing a book on changes in the newspaper industry, said he is encouraged that Bezos is taking the risk.

“He seems to be in for the right reasons,” Kennedy said.

“He sees it as a civic trust, and wants to run it as a good newspaper, and maybe even expand it,” noting that that Bezos “is really our leading digital visionary when it comes to the consumer economy.”

“I’m totally optimistic that he has put himself in a position to do something about this terrible calamity that has affected paid journalism,” Kennedy added, noting the lasting lore of Watergate in American journalism.

“So many people in my generation went into journalism because of ‘All the President’s Men,’” he said, referring to the book and film about the Post’s role in the Watergate scandal.

“Everybody wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein. People thought (actor) Jason Robards was the Post’s editor.”

Beyond content and revenue, Bezos will have one issue he has not faced at Amazon: labor unions. His purchase of the Post is expected to close with the Newspaper Guild renegotiating a contract that expired in July.

Bezos has pledged to keep salaries steady for one year. Guild unit co-chair Fredrick Kunkle has said members are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“There are a lot of stories about Bezos being hostile to unions,” Kunkle said, but noting he felt “hopeful” about the change in ownership.—Rob Lever

10-08-2013, 10:13 AM
‘Obnoxious bluntness’

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

7:57 pm | Monday, October 7th, 2013

The other week, I had the privilege of attending three events in Boston and Cambridge in Massachusetts, the venerable commonwealth that is almost but not quite as old (here’s a fun fact) as the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas. Allow me to record some of my main impressions.

First on the list was a forum I helped organize and which featured Nieman fellows from Asia. “Old Traumas, New Dilemmas: Four Asian Media Perspectives,” hosted by the Harvard University Asia Center and the Nieman Foundation, ranged over a great diversity of topics. Sayuri Daimon, the new managing editor of the Japan Times, remembered lessons learned from coverage of the Fukushima disaster; Chong-ae Lee of the Seoul Broadcasting System made an appeal, based on personal experience, to revisit the historical record; I spoke on the politics of the pork barrel.

But it was Yang Xiao of China’s Southern People Weekly who made the strongest impression; his description of the challenges facing China’s liberal media in the post-Olympic era began with a scrupulous sketch of the specific Chinese context of “liberal” but ended with a simple declaration of journalism’s true purpose: To speak truth to power.

* * *

At Boston College, the School of Theology and Ministry organized a daylong conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 150th anniversary of Boston’s landmark Jesuit university. The school convened three excellent panels of distinguished experts; a quip from Dean Mark Massa, SJ, can serve as one gauge of the scholarly firepower concentrated in the hall. At one point he surveyed the audience and noted the presence of many of his school’s graduate students, and recalled the instruction to invite them: “They should be here today because all the assigned texts will be here in person.”

Some of those assigned texts in attendance were John O’Malley, SJ, author of “What Happened at Vatican II?”; Richard Gaillardetz, coauthor of “Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II”; and the very young Massimo Faggioli, who wrote “Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning.”

Many of the presentations were rich in both detail and insight; I was perhaps most struck by O’Malley’s idea that the bishops’ choice of rhetorical language in Vatican II helped determine the council’s pastoral, non-condemnatory character. (This is old news for those who’ve followed O’Malley closely, but new to me.) Inspired by Pope John XXIII’s inclusive idiom, the council fathers ended up using the epideictic form, which O’Malley defined as an “enhancing rhetoric” designed “to win internal assent.” Noting that “language games are serious games,” O’Malley described how “the choice of epideictic inclined the council to be more incarnational,” how it helped make the “concept of human dignity [become] part of the language of Vatican II,” and so on.

Why is this important? O’Malley makes the case in his now-standard book on Vatican II. “The fathers of the council did not set out to ‘talk epideictic,’ but they wanted to adopt a style different from that of theological textbooks and most ecclesiastical pronouncements, a style more consonant with the style of the Fathers of the Church, as they often insisted during the council. However we might explain it, the documents of the council fit the epideictic pattern and therefore need to be interpreted accordingly. They must be analyzed according to their genre, their literary form.”

* * *

The Nieman Foundation designed the 75th anniversary rites of the world’s first journalism fellowship program to mirror the fellowship experience and at the same time to hold the mirror up to the nature of the fellowship itself. So there was, for instance, an extraordinary session featuring seven eminent thinkers from Harvard and MIT, each given 10 minutes to set pulses racing and imaginations on fire; but there was also a freewheeling discussion on the future of storytelling.

One of the highlights was the Washington Post’s Anne Hull in conversation with a true master of the craft, Robert Caro. His deeply detailed studies of Robert Moses (“The Power Broker”) and Lyndon Baines Johnson (four volumes, and still going) are towering examples of political biography, but: “I was never interested in writing a biography about a great man,” he said. “I wanted to write about political power.”

Almost everything in the carefully considered anniversary program affirmed the most basic values about journalism that I have learned from peers and mentors and from experience itself—except the last comment in the last session of the conference.

Asked whether the panelists believed in the “nut graf” of “The Elements of Journalism”—its classic formulation of the central purpose of journalism as providing citizens with the information they need “to function in a free society”—Joe Sexton, formerly of the New York Times and now with ProPublica (and editor of the Times’ Snowfall story) responded in surprising fashion: He said that while he thought nuance mitigated the “obnoxious bluntness” of the passage, he didn’t buy any of it.

“I don’t believe in that nut graf .… People have talked and preached that gospel … with real sentiment and passion, and they have walked themselves off a cliff with that gospel.… But for me … what always I took to be the role of newspapers was to be a brawling, competitive, spectacularly flawed, wildly ambitious, comic free for all that serves all sorts of purposes.”

Later at dinner, a group of Asian colleagues exchanged notes of disbelief over Sexton’s free-for-all version of journalism. We were all aware that the democratic projects in our respective countries could not so blithely be taken for granted.

Sam Miguel
10-10-2013, 08:52 AM
Ex-solon pushes passage of FOI bill

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:24 am | Thursday, October 10th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—A former congressman is appealing to the House leadership to act on a freedom of information (FOI) bill filed directly by citizens in a petition for an indirect initiative, noting that a similar measure had been successfully heard in a Senate committee.

Former Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, who was the FOI bill’s advocate in the last Congress and an endorser of the FOI citizens bill, wrote to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Oct. 7, asking them to allow the citizens bill to be taken to the next step in the House of Representatives.

Tañada cosigned the letter with Nepomuceno Malaluan of the Right to Know, Right Now Coalition, which took the lead in filing the so-called people’s FOI bill.

In their letter, they said that under the law, initiative bills should follow the same procedure as any legislative measure, except that the initiative bill would have precedence over pending measures.

They asked that the people’s FOI bill, which was filed on July 1, the first working day of the 16th Congress, be called for a first reading and given a referral when Congress resumes sessions on Oct. 14, in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act No. 6735 and House rules.

Tañada and Malaluan said the FOI’s passage was made all the more necessary by the controversy over the alleged misuse of the congressional pork barrel which “exposed how numerous government mechanisms meant to protect public funds—such as oversight by Congress, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) and implementing agencies, COA (Commission on Audit) audits, and the guidelines of the Procurement Act—have proven insufficient.”

Sam Miguel
10-16-2013, 08:33 AM
House urged to start deliberations on FOI bill

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:45 am | Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—With the freedom of information (FOI) bill gaining ground in the Senate, its advocates are hoping the House of Representatives will follow the upper chamber’s lead.

The Right to Know, Right Now coalition said it has met with House public information committee chair Rep. Jorge Almonte and asked him to set a timetable for a vote on the bill and to allow the issues surrounding the measure to be properly heard.

Almonte has promised to act based on the House rules and made a commitment to discharge his responsibility, said Nepomuceno Malaluan of the coalition.

Though there was no specific commitment from Almonte on setting a timetable for the FOI bill, the fact that he met with the group was a good indication that he is open to discussing the issue with stakeholders, said Malaluan.

He noted that the public information committee’s actions will play a big part in determining whether the FOI bill will advance in the House or not.

“In the end, it will depend much on how the committee will move, beginning with the organizational meeting,” he said.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a coauthor of one of the FOI bills, said Almonte had promised to hold the committee’s organizational meeting next week.

The organizational meeting is necessary before hearings on the FOI bills can be held.

“I hope the committee extends beyond simple organization and the adoption of internal rules toward the committee setting its specific agenda,” Malaluan said.

In the previous congress, supporters of the bill lamented that the measure had gotten stuck at the committee level for a long period, with few hearings being scheduled. After the measure was approved in the committee, it did not progress in the plenary as well.

But last week, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said the FOI bill would pass before the end of his term.

The FOI bill seeks to lift the shroud of secrecy over government dealings, and to make transparency a state policy.

But several contentious issues surround the bill, such as the inclusion of a right of reply provision that requires media outfits to provide equal time and space to the subject of reports arising from the implementation of an FOI law.

Media organizations oppose the right of reply provision on the ground that it would encroach on editorial independence.

Sam Miguel
10-16-2013, 08:34 AM
^^^ Problem is we sometimes make mistakes, mistakes that may destroy a man irrevocably, then hide behind this editorial independence as if it was license to take it to whoever we please.

Sam Miguel
10-24-2013, 07:56 AM

Aquino smells conspiracy

Media told to distinguish the spin from the facts

By Christian V. Esguerra

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:16 am | Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Saying media should keep their “eyes on the ball,” President Aquino is seeing a conspiracy behind the attacks against his administration in connection with its controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

“Since I am in a room full of journalists, perhaps I can leave it to you to connect the dots,” he told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) forum in Manila.

“All of these attacks came after plunder cases, among others, that were filed in the Office of the Ombudsman against a few well-known politicians.”

The President did not name names, but was apparently referring to Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla. The opposition senators, along with 35 other respondents, were charged with plunder for allegedly taking part in a P10-billion pork barrel scam.

Aquino said it was “difficult to fathom how one could equate” the DAP with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which was enjoyed by both senators and members of the House of Representatives.

He claimed that the stimulus program was being “unjustly and oddly vilified in the media … nearly two years after the same media lauded the government for its resourcefulness.”

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on Nov. 19 on petitions questioning the constitutionality of the DAP, a little-known impounding mechanism for government savings from which was sourced, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the P50 million in additional pork barrel funds given to each of the 20 senators who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona in May last year.

The DBM explanation was issued after Estrada, in a privilege speech, revealed that “incentives” were given to senators after the conviction of Corona.

Veteran Senators Joker Arroyo and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, along with a host of constitutional experts, including Fr. Joaquin Bernas, have averred that the Constitution prohibits the transfer of funds in the General Appropriations Act from one department to another.

By the President’s own admission in the Focap forum, the DAP—just like the PDAF—allowed legislators to channel funds to projects of their choice. Still, he had his defense.

Consultations with lawmakers

“The only thing one could remotely relate to PDAF were those projects undertaken through consultation with our legislators,” he said.

“After all, just as we engaged regional offices, local partners, and civil society in identifying projects, was it not also appropriate to hear the proposals of the elected officials of the land?”

Aquino added: “Taking this into account, such projects by the legislators made up a mere 9 percent of the program. Why, then, is the DAP being made an issue?”

“Nine percent” meant that a total of P12.8 billion was given to legislators in additional projects from 2011 to 2012, based on official budget records.

The amount (which was 9 percent of the P142.23-billion savings released through the DAP) was a little less than half of the P24.8 billion in pork barrel senators and House member enjoyed during that period. In short, congressional pork barrel increased by almost 50 percent because of the DAP in 2011 and 2012.

Aquino sought to justify his move to allow legislators to dip their fingers into DAP funds this way. Quoting an “older politician,” he asked: “Who will remember you come election time?”

‘Eyes on the ball’

“Those that you have managed to help find work, those that you have educated, those that you have helped gain medical attention,” he said. “You’re a politician. You’d want to be reelected. Your work, therefore, has to devolve to constituency work.”

In November 2011, a month after the DAP was announced, senators submitted projects amounting to P100 million each, to be funded from pooled government savings.

Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vicente Sotto III, Estrada and Revilla then sought to transfer their allocations from the Department of Agrarian Reform to National Livelihood Development Corp.

Copies of letters bearing their signatures indicated that they nominated as project implementers foundations linked to Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the P10-billion pork scam.

Aquino said he did not need to “remind” the media of “the true issue that has seemingly been drowned out by all the background noise.”

“And so I ask you: Let’s keep our eyes on the ball,” he said. “The public was outraged by the audacity with which public officials allegedly stole from the national coffers through the PDAF. This is an outrage we share, and this is precisely why we abolished the PDAF, and followed the evidence so that we may hold all those who committed wrongdoing accountable.”

“Our media and our people are far too good—far too wise—to be grossly and brazenly led to the wrong issue. Plunderers should be taken to account,” he added.

SSS bonuses

The President noted that attacks against the DAP “coincided” with criticism against bonuses received by Social Security System (SSS) officials, and his administration’s “reforms” at the Bureau of Customs.

SSS board members were assailed for gifting themselves with a P1-million bonus each, even as the state pension agency was planning to increase monthly salary contributions by 0.6 percent.

SSS president Emilio de Quiros (brother of Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros) was also in the hot seat for flying abroad—allegedly first-class and all expenses paid—every two months since he assumed office.

But Aquino insisted that the “framework” for the bonuses was “outlined” in the law governing government-owned and -controlled corporations.

“In the midst of the cacophony of voices, the journalist must be able to separate the important from the frivolous, the spin from the facts, the malicious lies from the simple truth,” he said.

Sam Miguel
10-24-2013, 08:22 AM
House info panel eyes consolidated FOI bill

By Leila B. Salaverria

Philippine Daily Inquirer

6:11 am | Thursday, October 24th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—The freedom of information (FOI) bill may just finally get moving in the House of Representatives, with the public information committee agreeing on Wednesday to form a technical working group that would consolidate the different versions of the measure that have been filed.

But if committee chair and Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte has his way, the FOI bills will instead be known as the access to information, or ATI bills.

However, several authors of the measure are opposed to Almonte’s idea as they said the word “access” does not capture the true significance of the bill, which is the citizens’ inherent right to information on matters of public concern.

Compared to the Senate, where the FOI bill has passed the committee level, the measure has been off to a sluggish start in the House.

The FOI bill was taken up during the first-ever meeting of the public information committee on Wednesday, after an earlier schedule had to be postponed. But since it was an organizational meeting, the discussions dealt mostly with the bill’s status and legislative history.

Almonte said House members should not feel pressured by the bill’s progress in the Senate, saying that committee members should be guided only by whether a measure is good for the country when passing a bill.

But he also pointed out that it was important that the FOI bill is passed as the constitutional provision on full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest was not self-executory. Its passage would uphold transparency in government and create the enabling law for the constitutional mandate, he said.

To forestall any more delays, Diwa party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay has proposed the creation of a technical working group that would discuss and consolidate bills of the same nature. Out of 40 bills in the committee, 19 are FOI measures.

The committee approved Aglipay’s proposal and designated Almonte as chair of the technical working group, giving him the “blanket authority” to decide how it would work.

Almonte said he preferred to refer to the bill as “access to information,” or ATI, because it hewed more closely to the wording of the Constitution.

But ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said he preferred the phrase “freedom of information,” as it places freedom of information on the same level as freedom of expression and other freedoms or rights.

Tinio also noted that the bill of rights talks about “right to information” on matters of public concern.

But Almonte’s suggestion also had its supporters. Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Isagani Amatong said it was a matter of style, while Abakada party-list’s Jonathan de la Cruz said Almonte’s suggestion should stay since the bill is not up for approval yet.

Sam Miguel
10-24-2013, 08:43 AM
Like yesterday

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:55 am | Thursday, October 24th, 2013

So when are we going to have a Freedom of Information Act?

That’s the question Radio Veritas, the bishops, the netizens, the marchers who marched at the Million People March and subsequent marches, civic groups, the NGOs, a public that’s fed up with pork, are asking.

Sonny Belmonte says he’ll get one out eventually. “I get things done, look at my record. What I can commit to is that you will have an FOI in my term.” Whether it will have the “right of reply” in it, he doesn’t know yet.

That’s all very well except for one thing. The FOI was due like yesterday.

In the past, what stopped it dead in its tracks or brought it to a crawl is the “right of reply,” which several legislators tacked onto it. Which is atrocious. You’d almost think they did it deliberately to ensure its failure. The “right of reply” has no place in an FOI. Whoever thought of it ought to be shot.

At the very least, that’s so because it lumps together apples and oranges. The FOI is a demand on government to open its books and documents to public scrutiny in the interests of transparency. The “right of reply” is a demand on the media to open their pages or airtime to the ululations of public officials in the interests of ego, or desire to grandstand. The only thing that remotely connects them is that they are both a demand. But the first is perfectly reasonable, the second not so.

In fact, the “right of reply” is an imbecility whether it is tacked on to the FOI or not. Have some public officials been attacked by the media unfairly? Yes. Have the media, mainstream and social, sometimes, or often, proved abusive and reckless? Yes. The free press, like elections, has its share of drawbacks. Elections do not always produce edifying results, as those who have despaired of them lament. In this country in particular, popularity rocks, vote-buying mocks, and you will always have clowns running around all over Congress and the local governments. That is not a reason to scrap elections.

Any more than the abuses of media are a reason to scrap press freedom. Which is what the “right of reply” does.

You grant public officials the right to appear in newspapers, TV and radio, to the same extent, or to the same column inch and airtime, they deemed themselves to have been attacked, nothing would be left to the media for legitimate news. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry, or every Jinggoy, Bong, and Johnny would use it to advertise their virtues, quite apart from defend their vices. That is an assault on press freedom. That is scrapping press freedom.

While at this, public officials do not lack the means to defend themselves—and attack others, which they often do. Legislators in particular have their privilege speech, which, unlike the media, gives them immunity from suit. The executive and judicial branches have their own communication arms, funded with millions of pesos. What are they complaining about?

It’s the FOI itself that is not just needed, but is needed badly. Lest we forget, what sparked the need for it was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo refusing to answer any questions about the NBN (national broadband network) on grounds of executive privilege. The FOI banishes that forever, compelling government officials to account for their doings to the public. That is quite apart from compelling government to open public records and documents to the public gaze.

Can that right be abused? Yes. Like all rights, it can. We do not lack for reckless journalists, politically partisan groups, lawyers’ groups, civic groups, NGOs, and fringe groups who will demand to see every scrap of information it takes their fancy to see. And armed with the FOI they are entitled to. Which may not only disrupt government work but should add an additional burden to it at cost to taxpayers. But it’s like elections and freedom of the press, which are open to abuse and have been abused. That is not a reason to not have them. Despite those abuses, they are still a joy to behold, they are still a privilege to treasure.

As is transparency. As is openness. As is the FOI.

Will the FOI stop corruption? Not necessarily, but it can advance it immeasurably. The law merely allows you to see things, it doesn’t bless you with sight. You still need people who know what to look for. But the access to things, the opening of things to sight, can be a powerful tool for those who know how to use it. After the pitch-black secrecy of the past government and grayish fuzziness of the current one, it should be a flashlight in the dark, or cobwebby corridor.

Again the notion that we do not really need it, that the P-Noy administration is reasonably transparent and up-front, is vapid. At the very least, the Disbursement Acceleration Program, a questionable thing in itself entailing a questionable presidential power to transfer funds from one program to another, and its even more questionable use at one point in the Corona impeachment, refutes it. Who knows? If an FOI were in place it might not have happened at all. Or we might have discovered it earlier.

At the very most, even if it were true, and it is for the most part despite these lapses, what happens with the next presidents? We’ve seen what the lack of it can do with the past regime. We can see the same thing again with the next one. It’s no great comfort that the only reason we’re not already enjoying an FOI today is that the current administration, which has shown that it can get Congress to see things its way when it wants to, doesn’t want to. It’s not pressing for it, it’s not making it a priority measure, it’s not moving heaven and hell to see it through. If not indeed itself blocking it.

It’s good to know that we will have an FOI eventually. But the point is, it’s well past due. We needed it like a long time ago.

We needed it like yesterday.

Sam Miguel
10-24-2013, 08:47 AM
^^^ I don't mind every Jinggoy, Bong and Johnny getting their asses handed to them by the media. These three have long deserved it, and will deserve it long after they are gone.

But what about the people who really were vilified and pilloried in media unjustly? Are we to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to that?

I'm sorry, Conrad. But that is simply not kosher. If we in the media insist on full freedom of information (and I am with you on this, make no mistake) we still need to be regulated like any industry. We cannot - CAN NOT - be allowed to police ourselves. THAT my friend is the easiest path to institutional arrogance and abuse. You've seen it in politics, where the members of the club take care of each other, to the detriment of our people and country. Why then should we place full faith if not blind trust into a for-profit institution such as the media?

Sam Miguel
11-14-2013, 08:22 AM
Yet another example of the objective journalism for which ABS CBN is famous. Take it away Korina...

Anderson Cooper’s report irks Korina Sanchez

By Totel V. de Jesus


November 14, 2013 | 4:17 am

MANILA, Philippines—The CNN report on the victims of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” by its acclaimed reporter, Anderson Cooper, drew positive reactions on social media, saying it’s simple portrayal of the aftermath showed the real “miserable” situation of what was considered “ground zero” of the devastation.

Aired on Wednesday (Manila time), the report had Anderson describing the situation at the Tacloban airport, where many evacuees keep on waiting for relief goods and hoping they could board the military C130 planes to get them out of the city.

The report apparently irked local TV anchor-commentator Korina Sanchez. In her early morning radio show, she was quoted as saying: “Itong si Anderson Cooper, sabi wala daw government presence sa Tacloban. Mukhang hindi niya alam ang sinasabi niya. (This Anderson Cooper, he said there is no government presence in Tacloban. It seems he doesn’t know what he is saying.)

Sanchez reaction was lambasted by netizens, saying she doesn’t have the right to criticize Cooper or his report because she’s only doing an anchor’s job, comfortably in the air-conditioned newsroom. Whereas Cooper is reporting live on the scene.

Others can’t help but associate her being the wife of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who reportedly said to the media that the situation in Tacloban and nearby areas is now under control.

This proved to be contrary to what Cooper had reported the same day.

In the said report, Cooper interviewed a woman he met on the street. A certain Jovelyn Taniego had lost her husband and six children during the storm surge. She was the only one in her family who survived. She has found the bodies of her husband and three of her six children. With no place to bury, she had no choice but to leave them on the ground.

She showed Cooper their rotting corpses she covered with leaves, torn clothes and wood she found on the street as she waits for help. As for her other three children, she told Cooper she’s lost hope in finding them alive.

Asked by Cooper where she’s going to spend the night, Taniego said, “In the street. I [really] don’t know where to go.”

Another victim Cooper interviewed was Juanito Martinez, who lost his wife and two children. Anderson let Martinez use his satellite phone to call his mother in Manila. Martinez cried as he told her what happened to his family.

In a later report, Anderson said it’s already the fifth day after the super typhoon struck Tacloban and he thought he’s already late. He said he expected at least a feeding center where survivors could line up but they are still at a loss where to find the next day’s meal.

Cooper summarized his report with the phase, “Here, misery is beyond meaning.”

In the same day, he tweeted via his official account, Anderson Cooper 360° ‏@AC360:

“Everywhere you go you find people searching for their lost loved ones” @andersoncooper in #Tacloban. #AC360

Among the netizens who reacted was former Makati Representative Teodoro “Teddy” Locsin Jr. i@teddyboylocsin. Also a noted TV commentator-newspaper columnist-editorial writer, Locsin tweeted: “Good news. Korina said Anderson Cooper does not know what he is talking about. She just guaranteed he will stay for one month.”

In another tweet, Locsin said, “Thank you Anderson Cooper for existing. Without you we would be in dreamland.”

Sam Miguel
11-15-2013, 09:51 AM
VIP media treatment irks locals

By Marlon Ramos, Nikko Dizon

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:58 am | Friday, November 15th, 2013

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—Anderson Cooper who?

Survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” and their families were not at all awed by the presence of the famous CNN news anchor and other foreign and local journalists who swooped down here to cover the catastrophe that hit central Philippines.

Cooper, host of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” was among the foreign journalists who covered the Aquino administration’s slow response to the crisis caused by Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”).

But to many survivors, who had been waiting in vain to fly out of badly hit Tacloban City, in Leyte province, since Sunday, seeing foreign journalists going in and out of the city aboard C-130 military planes and private helicopters only deepened their anguish.

Others complained that relatives of local politicians and senior government officials were among the first ones who were accommodated in free flights out of the city.

Special favors

CNN’s coverage of the government’s response to Yolanda was highly critical yet the Atlanta-based network received special favors from the government.

On Saturday, Filipino and foreign journalists on the second

C-130 cargo plane to land in Tacloban a day after the typhoon were asked to travel light to give more space to troops and aid workers.

On the plane was the military signal van that was urgently needed to establish communication in the Tacloban airport, which was heavily damaged during the storm.

Despite the request, the CNN crew brought aboard 100 kilos of equipment, the only news organization to bring that much cargo. Other journalists brought only basic equipment and overnight bags.

The GMA 7 crew carried heavy equipment, but they waited for the next C-130 flight to be able to bring their big load.


One CNN team on the ground also had Filipinos from a government agency under the Office of the President serving as babysitters to make sure the news team would get the stories it wanted.

On Monday, Malacañang press officers were seen at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila awaiting the arrival of foreign journalists who would cover the disaster in the Visayas.

The press officers carried welcome banners of sorts—bond paper with the names of the journalists they were meeting printed in large fonts.

CNN nearly missed President Aquino in Tacloban on Sunday, arriving just before he boarded his vehicle.

The Inquirer learned that somebody informed CNN of Aquino’s presence, and the crew rushed to catch him.

Obviously, somebody also told the President that CNN was there and wanted an interview. Instead of taking his car, he stopped to meet the CNN team, prompting the other journalists to run to where they were to catch the interview.

For CNN, Malacañang ignored the procedures it imposes on the press during presidential engagements.


Travelers to Tacloban were angered by the special accommodation given to the foreign journalists.

“Why are foreign journalists being prioritized over us? Do they have relatives missing in Leyte?” asked Narcisa Arias, who had been waiting for a C-130 flight from Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-Lapu City since Sunday.

“The military or whoever is in charge of facilitating the flights should have been more sensitive to what the relatives of missing typhoon victims feel,” she told the Inquirer in the vernacular on Tuesday.

Told that Cooper, who reportedly flew in on a chartered flight, was in Tacloban, the 61-year-old sounded perplexed.

“Who is he? Can he help me find my mother and two brothers?” Arias asked.

A woman, who was in her 20s, butted in and told Arias that Cooper was a well-known journalist.

“Then maybe he can tell the world how inutile and cruel this government is. We have been here for three days and yet the military let others board the C-130s,” Arias said.

Doing their job

Bertrand Zand of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said that although he sympathized with the survivors and their relatives, keeping journalists out of Tacloban would not do them any good.

“I can very well understand them. I probably would have reacted the same way. But in a way, we’re just doing our jobs. Aren’t we?” Zand said.

Instead of limiting the movement of journalists, he said, the government should make available ships and additional military planes for the typhoon victims.

Brian Goldbeck, the US Embassy charge d’affaires, lauded the journalists for braving the miserable situation in typhoon-ravaged communities in the Visayas to get the attention of the world.

Goldbeck flew in from Manila to ensure the swift distribution of relief provided by the US government.

“I really appreciate you guys being down here. The job that you have as reporters is very important to be able to understand the state and extent of the problem and helping us to find ways to get the help out to the people,” Goldbeck told reporters.

Besides wearing their hats as journalists, Filipino and foreign journalists were also seen sharing water and food with typhoon victims.


Fatima Estrope, who traveled from Nueva Ecija province to look for her missing parents and her four younger siblings, showed her disgust on seeing a group of foreign journalists making a beeline for a “humanitarian flight” offered by a local airline.

“I thought this was a humanitarian flight? Why are we being treated inhumanely?” Estrope, a nursing student, said.


On Wednesday, the Inquirer saw Arias in one of the long lines of people outside the Tacloban airport.

She said she had found her mother, two brothers and their families who all survived the typhoon’s wrath.

“You know, I saw Anderson Cooper a while ago. You didn’t tell me he’s handsome,” Arias said, chuckling.

“I’m sure he had seen the bodies still scattered all over the streets of Tacloban. I hope he could also do a report about this,” she said, referring to the chaotic lines of typhoon survivors at the airport.—With a report from Tarra Quismundo

11-19-2013, 10:28 AM
A ‘devil-or-deep blue sea quandary’

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:46 pm | Monday, November 18th, 2013

“When TV crews race cargo ships with airplanes and helicopters, the cameras always win,” John Crowley of Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative wrote after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (internationa name: Haiyan) battered the Visayas.

Planes can fly 24 to 48 hours after a storm clears. And disembarking journalists will pan on the contorted faces of traumatized victims. Reports zero in on the gap between supply and demand. These are facts. But context can slip between the cracks.

Yolanda’s winds gusted at 275 kilometers per hour, smashing through the Storm Category 5 ceiling. Storm surges left corpses and traumatized survivors and shattered prepositioned relief stocks.

The massive aid needed could come only by ship. That takes days. The repair of damaged ports and roads stretches into weeks. “But when media focuses on looting and slow aid they miss the point,” Crowley added. “Information is aid…. Scaremongering undermines relief effort.”

“[T]he Philippines is captive to its geography,” commented Jennifer Keister in an article ran by The Washington Post. The country sprawls over 7,132 islands—at low tide. Like many developing countries, it is “captive to political dysfunction.” Poverty, corruption, poll irregularities and pervasive political patronage gut what is, on the surface, a democratic government.

We saw that in Bohol. The province was ruptured by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake last Oct. 15. And in 1991, Typhoon “Uring” tore at Ormoc. Over 8,000 died, as today’s memorial recalls. In 2011, “Sendong” (international name: Washi) ripped through Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, inflicting 1,453 deaths. A year later, “Pablo” (international name: Bopha) flattened much of Davao Oriental and Compostela.

The “blame game,” meanwhile, intensifies, Sun Star’s opinion editor Bong Wenceslao noted. Critics of President Aquino scour reports on government’s response to Yolanda and storm surge-hit Tacloban City, he said. They feast “on every sign of incompetence they’ve long accused him of possessing….

“All rules of decency are jettisoned, and profanities are thrown at will (‘—hole,’ ‘gago’).

“Admittedly, government response has been inadequate. So there are enough materials for critics… But to be P-Noy-centric is to distort reality and hide the complexity of the events….”

“As so often happens, the best human stories are those that didn’t make the 6 o’clock news,” UP mass communication graduate Angioline Loredo e-mailed. Some in media “make it appear the whole country is exploding,” she wrote. “One has to remind one’s self of the silent triumph of the human spirit amidst unspeakable horror…. This is the worst and best time to practice journalism.”

There are more Yolandas ahead. “We are now entering a period of consequences… in the global climate crisis,” noted Nobel Laureate Al Gore. “But the impact of climate change isn’t spread equally… the burden heaviest for countries close to the equator,” the World Bank said. This is compounded by the lack of “economic, institutional, scientific and technical capacity to cope and adapt.”

The “calamity fund” has been doubled since 2009. But the till is near empty, sapped by a series of disasters. What isn’t funded by international aid has to be bankrolled by siphoning off resources from other programs: How many typhoon victims could have been helped from the squandered pork barrel a la Janet Napoles? Ask Bong, Juan Ponce, Jinggoy, Bongbong and company.

The United Nation says the risk reduction laws here are “among the best in the world—at least on paper,” Washington Post noted. They stipulate that seven out of every P10 in disaster spending go to long-term measures. The task for lowering disaster risk falls on local governments. “Some operate like little fiefdoms.” Think Ampatuans or Chavit Singson.

The embedded system of patronage and strongman politics hobbled response, wrote Keister who did three years of research here. “Haiyan highlights the degree to which these pathologies generate under-preparedness and confound relief efforts…. The system is prone to under-provision of public goods and services broadly, but particularly ill-suited to disaster preparedness.” That’s academic jargon for g-r-a-f-t.

Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos stashed a secret account in the Virgin Islands, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported. So did Sen. Joseph Victor Estrada. They glossed this fact over in their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth. So, did they dip into those accounts to help typhoon victims? Next question please.

Sleaze erodes “public trust to levels that residents may not obey exhortations to evacuate,” Keister added. (Others) may not believe government will protect their property from looters or squatters if they did. Trust in government is the linchpin.

Strongman politics distorts the distribution of disaster aid. “Disaster response (here) is often plagued by allegations that local authorities hoard aid supplies and distribute (these) only to political supporters or family members,” Keister noted.

Like vultures that scent carrion, profiteering businessmen swoop on aid distribution. “[C]onspiracy theories are an understandable refuge for frustrated populations whose predicament may be the result of many factors, but the persistence of such accusations… suggests they may contain an element of truth,” Keister opined.

Aid agencies are required to work through local politicians and many may serve their constituents with integrity. Keister added. In many instances, aid providers find themselves confronting a devil-or-deep-blue-sea quandary— i.e., having to choose “between supporting political pathologies they find unappealing and trying to help victims directly,” or be zapped.

* * *

11-19-2013, 10:32 AM
‘Is it true, is Ted Failon dead?’

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:45 pm | Monday, November 18th, 2013

Read, and wince. “During this time, they said, girls and boys were raped in the dark and had their throats cut and bodies were stuffed in the kitchens while looters and madmen exchanged fire with weapons they had looted.” It won’t be easy to identify which esteemed media organization ran this sensational passage.

This post-apocalyptic vision was a description of the horrifying conditions at the Convention Center in New Orleans, days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the famous city in August 2005. But as it turns out, it was a description that was not (and perhaps could not have been) independently verified. The source (the “they” who did the saying) were unnamed refugees; other sensational details in the story with the remarkable headline “City of rape, rumour and recrimination,” could also not be verified, or were later proven false.

The British spelling in the headline is a clue, but it isn’t much of one. Because that story, with that headline, and that passage, was published by the “normally staid” Financial Times.

The quote is from Brian Thevenot (in 2005 a reporter for the Times-Picayune who covered the hurricane and its gruesome aftermath) who was guilty of using some of the same “catastrophizing” language in his reports and then, about a month after Katrina, controversially reviewed his work and corrected his mistakes, together with a colleague. He later codified his reflections in a story for the American Journalism Review.

What happened in New Orleans? (CNN’s Anderson Cooper became a network star because of his heart-on-sleeve coverage of Katrina and its calamitous aftermath.) Here’s Thevenot:

“The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post followed up with similar, well-researched efforts debunking myths and coming to essentially the same conclusion we had: While anarchy indeed reigned in the city, and subhuman conditions in the Dome and the Convention Center shocked the nation’s conscience, many if not most of the alarmist reports of violence were false, or at least could not be verified.”

But weren’t many of these reports, even Thevenot’s, or indeed that of the writer for the Financial Times, based on credible, even authoritative, sources? Thevenot’s conclusion is sobering, especially in the light of the initially anarchic conditions (and frequent reports of nighttime rapes) in some of the areas hit hardest by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

“I’m more inclined to go with an expanded version of [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s gossip-line theory: that stories that may have started with some basis in fact got exaggerated and distorted as they were passed orally—often the only mode of communication—through extraordinarily frustrated and stressed multitudes of people, including refugees, cops, soldiers, public officials and, ultimately, the press….

“A person might have seen a man passed out from dehydration in the Superdome, for instance, and assumed he was dead, then assumed there must be more dead. In the retelling, it becomes, ‘There’s bodies in the Dome.’ Retold a few more times by stressed and frightened people—all the way up to the mayor—and it became, ‘There’s so many bodies in the Dome you can’t count them’.”

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was retailing such sordid facts, duly reported—and it turns out even he could not attest to their veracity.

Thevenot’s reflections led him to make three suggestions to his colleagues in the profession. First is “persistent questioning of sources—about their sources.” Second, “careful and frequent qualification,” for instance by asserting that one particular fact could not be independently verified. And third: embrace “the correcting of major news stories as news itself, not something to be buried in a corrections box.”

Here, from someone I trust, is a simplified example of what can go wrong, even when one is talking to actual survivors. A flight of exhausted refugees arrived in Villamor Airbase at around 1 a.m. last Sunday; the passengers included a family who, while waiting for their ride out of the base, asked one of the volunteers, “Patay na daw si Ted Failon?” These survivors had decided to leave their part of Leyte four or five days after Yolanda; they walked several hours to get to the airport in Tacloban, and after a day or so, arrived in Pasay City. And one of their burning questions was whether it was indeed true that Failon, the popular news anchor who was a one-term congressman from their province, had died in the storm.

The survivors (two sisters, a brother and an aunt) also spoke of rumors of rape, stories about vans filled with goons and roaming around power-less neighborhoods at night, committing rape after rape. It is possible, of course, that the stories are true; but (learning from the Katrina coverage) mere assertion should no longer suffice. In times of catastrophe, there is even less reason to use “he said, she said” reporting.

* * *

The Jaime V. Ongpin Endowed Fund honored me with an invitation to give the 12th Annual Memorial Lecture on Public Service in Business and Government—tomorrow, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m., at the Ateneo de Manila Professional Schools in Rockwell, Makati City. I was asked to speak on social media, and I have narrowed the subject to “The End of Social Media.”

The depth of my gratitude can be measured in part by the undoubted gravitas of the first 11 lecturers, starting with the indispensable analyst of the pork barrel scandal Randy David, who gave the inaugural lecture in 2001. As I said in my reply after I received the invitation: I will accept the invite before you realize you made a mistake and take it back!

I will not be able to tweet during the forum (@jnery_newsstand), but if you’re in the hashtag business, please follow, or use, #jvo12 or #endofsocmed.

* * *

Sam Miguel
11-25-2013, 08:25 AM
Anderson Cooper’s accuracy was not the issue

By Rodel Rodis

12:04 pm | Sunday, November 24th, 2013

While the responses to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s live reports from Tacloban have been overwhelmingly positive, a few netizens have taken to criticizing him for engaging in “parachute journalism”, defined as the practice of thrusting a foreign journalist into a war zone to report on a breaking news story, reports which generally display “ignorance of contextual issues.”

Such was the criticism leveled against Cooper by ABS-CBN commentator Korina Sanchez who chided him on her morning radio talk show for reporting that “there is no government presence in Tacloban”. Cooper bristled at the charge. “I never said that,” Cooper insisted. “Obviously I have been on the ground in Tacloban for days and I’ve seen the work that’s being done and the work that isn’t being done, perhaps even as importantly,” he added.

“Accuracy is what we care about here in CNN”, Cooper asserted, “giving information that might actually help people on the ground, help the relief effort become more efficient.”

Anderson Cooper is perhaps the most trusted journalist in the US today. He is not just any regular run-of-the-mill anchor. As he explained in an interview, “I think the notion of traditional anchor is fading away, the all-knowing, all-seeing person who speaks from on high. I don’t think the audience really buys that anymore. As a viewer, I know I don’t buy it. I think you have to be yourself, and you have to be real and you have to admit what you don’t know, and talk about what you do know, and talk about what you don’t know as long as you say you don’t know it”.

Cooper may not buy it but boatloads of his Filipino fans are prepared to see him as “the all-knowing, all-seeing person who speaks from on high.” At the risk of offending them, I will express my criticism of some of Cooper’s commentary.

On at least three occasions that I watched, Cooper compared the Philippine government’s inadequate response to the disaster with how Japan dealt with the Tsunami disaster in March of 2011. “When I was in Japan, right after the tsunami there two years ago, within a day or two, you had Japanese defense forces going out, carving up cities into grids and going out on foot looking for people, walking through the wreckage. We have not seen that here in any kind of large-scale operation,” Cooper said.

Cooper further noted that unlike Japan, there were no Philippine government rescue operations to seek out survivors buried in the typhoon’s rubble who might still be saved. “I didn’t even see any dogs”, Cooper said with exasperation referring to dogs trained to sniff the presence of human life.

The unfair comparison Cooper made may suggest to viewers is that human life is precious in Japan while of little or no value in the Philippines.

While Cooper was simply stating the facts as he saw them, it would also have been accurate for Cooper to explain that Tokyo is only 185 miles from Fukushima by land. while Manila is 530 miles by sea. The infrastructure of Japan, a First World country, allowed first responders from all over the main island of Honshu to quickly drive to Fukushima to help deal with the crisis there, including the task of picking up and disposing of the dead bodies in the streets. In contrast, there are no land bridges that connect Manila with Leyte so one can only travel to Leyte by plane. Cooper had to wait 24 hours in Manila before the Tacloban airport could be safely reopened for his plane to land, which was 5 days after Yolanda struck Leyte.

Geraldine Uy Wong wrote in her Facebook page that she was only able to get to Tacloban from Manila to find her family at just about the same time that Cooper did. It was from her that I learned why the Tacloban airport was closed for so long, not from CNN. “Unlike the tsunami that happened in Japan where their airport was not affected,” Geraldine wrote, “supertyphoon Yolanda destroyed the airport, which was just beside a big body of water. I need not say more, for CNN did cover the airport scene. All equipment, radar, watchtower destroyed. Absolutely no electricity. With that, Tacloban was even more cut off from the outside world. Nobody could either come in or go out. No relief to be brought in, no means of transportation for the national leaders to arrive with, no means of escape for the suffering people.”

Geraldine also noted Cooper’s unfair comparison of the Philippines and Japan in her Facebook post. She urged Anderson Cooper to “put things into their proper perspective. If America, which was hit by Hurricane Katrina, a far tamer weather disturbance in comparison to Supertyphoon Yolanda, struggled as well for several days and weeks to cope with the disaster, with then Pres. Bush earning the ire of your countrymen, how in the world could we expect that the Philippines, a much poorer country with very meager resources compared to the massive resources of a superpower country like yours, be able to miraculously stand up on its feet just a few days after this magnitude of a disaster?”

When the Philippine military first responders finally arrived in Tacloban, along with Cooper, they found that there were only 16 trucks available to both pick up dead bodies and to transport relief goods. There was also a sore lack of gasoline on the island which exacerbated the transportation problem.

Cooper interviewed a number of relief aid workers (who coincidentally were all white and were mostly men) about what was happening in Tacloban. They all complained about the pitifully slow response of the national government. The only Filipinos I saw Cooper interview were victims of the calamity. My concern is that Cooper’s interview of only white relief workers who were coming to the rescue of brown-skinned natives may only serve to perpetuate colonial stereotypes and the view of Filipinos as perpetual victims.

It would have been more accurate if Cooper had also interviewed Marie Ana, a “stressed out provincial officer” of the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) who responded on Facebook to Violeta Lopez Gonzaga’s question: “We are slow, yes. But realize that only about 5 staff including the director and asst director who stay in our office in Tacloban are reporting for work. We don’t know if other staff are alive or injured or even dead. We have no time to look for them.”

“Roads still blocked with debris so no direct transport. Our field workers are humans too. These human beings, who themselves were victims too, is the government that is under fire now for being slow. We are not fast enough even for our own standard but please understand that Yolanda is beyond what we expected, beyond what we prepared for.”

“Yes, we prepositioned goods, yes we evacuated people but Yolanda tore many evacuation centers and carried away our prepositioned goods. We prepared but yes not enough again. Please understand that this government – by that I mean the people in this government, – the relief workers who had just came from the Zambo (Zamboanga) siege and (Bohol) earthquake…who are still not through thinking about (former typhoons) Sendong and Pablo, are doing our best under the circumstances to help the survivors of Yolanda.”

Accuracy should not be CNN’s only objective. Fairness is equally necessary and it requires placing accurate observations in their proper context.

Now that I have expressed my misgiving about Cooper’s CNN reports from Tacloban, I want to thank Anderson Cooper for shining a bright light on the blight that decimated Leyte and the other Visayan islands that suffered the brunt of the most powerful storm in recorded history.

Cooper’s interviews of the superstorm’s victims moved people all over the world to donate millions of dollars in relief aid. A noted example is San Francisco Radio-TV station KCBS which raised close to $400,000 in a 12 hour telethon. Comedy Channel’s Stephen Colbert raised $260,000 in his TV show (“outdonating” China’s meager $100,000) and The Filipino Channel cable TV station raised $250,000 in a 12-hour telethon.

While the unfair comparison with Japan may have left a negative impression, I do not believe that Cooper intended to denigrate neither the people nor the country. In fact, Cooper said “I would actually say that all week long in every report we have done, we have shown how strong the Filipino people are. The Filipino people, the people of Tacloban and Samar and Cebu and all these places where so many have died, they are strong not just to have survived this storm, but they are strong to have survived the aftermath of this storm.”

A comment attributed to CNN went viral on Facebook News in the week of Anderson Cooper’s live reports from Tacloban: “Time to get to know the hardy Filipino people…unbelievably resilient, long-suffering, good-natured, uber friendly, loyal, ingenious, and a bunch of survivors. At the end of the day, the Filipinos will just shake off the dirt from their clothes and thongs, and go about their business…and SMILE. They do not complain much, they will bear as long as they can. Maybe this is why they were given the “privilege” of bearing the burden of the strongest typhoon ever recorded.”

Thank you CNN. Thank you Anderson Cooper. And thank you World for coming to the aid of the Philippines in her time of dire need.

12-04-2013, 09:21 AM
Guardian editor defends publication of Snowden files

By Anthony Faiola, Wednesday, December 4, 3:41 AM E-mail the writer

LONDON — Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on Tuesday vigorously defended his decision to publish a series of articles based on the secret files leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, telling a parliamentary committee that the right to continue pursuing the story goes to the heart of press freedoms and democracy in Britain.

Rusbridger also told lawmakers that the Guardian had published only 1 percent of the 58,000 files it had received from Snowden.

“I would not expect us to be publishing a huge amount more,” he said.

The hearing on the Guardian’s handling of intelligence data leaked by Snowden, who is living in self-imposed exile in Moscow, drew the attention of free-speech advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. Rusbridger faced more than an hour of questioning during the Home Affairs Select Committee’s counterterrorism hearing, testifying in an occasionally combative public grilling of both the Guardian and its editor.

Along with The Washington Post, the Guardian — a London-based news outlet with a print circulation under 200,000 but online readers numbering in the many millions — was the first to publish reports based on the Snowden leaks. In response, British authorities have acted far more aggressively than U.S. or other European officials, launching what Rusbridger and international free-speech advocates have decried as a campaign of “intimidation” against the paper. Actions taken include the coerced destruction of Snowden data being held at the Guardian’s London headquarters and public denunciations by Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as the decision to summon Rusbridger for questioning by lawmakers on Tuesday.

During the hearing, a number of left-leaning politicians appeared to cheer the editor on for shedding light on the extreme lengths that U.S. and British intelligence agencies have gone to in their global information-gathering efforts. But others, particularly Conservative lawmakers, challenged the decision to publish and pressed Rusbridger on whether he had personally violated British law.

Mark Reckless, a Conservative, questioned Rusbridger repeatedly about the Guardian’s decision to share its trove of Snowden files — including documents containing the names of British intelligence operatives — with the New York Times. Names in the documents, Rusbridger said, were not redacted before being handed over because of the vast resources that would have required.

Reckless said the decision appeared to violate British counterterrorism laws. He then asked Rusbridger whether he felt he should be prosecuted for allowing such a transfer of information.

Rusbridger responded, “I think it depends on your view of a free press.”

Earlier in the hearing, Labor lawmaker Keith Vaz questioned Rusbridger about testimony last month in which John Sawers, head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, told lawmakers that the Guardian’s decision to publish had the country’s enemies “rubbing their hands with glee.” Vaz then bluntly asked Rusbridger, “Do you love this country?”

“I'm slightly surprised to be asked the question, but yes, we are patriots, and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things,” Rusbridger responded.

Leading free-speech advocates have defended the Guardian’s right to publish the files leaked by Snowden, with the hearing prompting several protest letters, including one in which U.S. journalist Carl Bernstein described Rusbridger’s forced appearance Tuesday as “dangerously pernicious.” After the hearing, Padraig Reidy, a spokesman for Index on Censorship, a London-based free-speech organization, called Rusbridger’s grilling a worrying sign.

“The government has been reassuring us for the last few years that politicians will never interfere with the press,” Reidy said. Tuesday’s interrogation showed that “when a story comes out they don’t like, they start making threatening noises,” he added.

At the hearing, Rusbridger said that over the course of the Guardian’s publication of the Snowden material, the paper had consulted government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic more than 100 times.

“We will continue to consult them, but we are not going to be put off by intimidation,” he said, adding, “but nor are we going to behave recklessly.”

12-04-2013, 09:22 AM
^ He published names of intelligence operatives? I say line him up right outside 10 Downing then shoot him on prime time telly.

12-27-2013, 09:16 AM
Senate will pass FOI bill by March–Drilon

By TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:55 am | Friday, December 27th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines—Senate President Franklin Drilon sees the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in the upper chamber by March.

The controversial measure has been bypassed twice by Congress.

Given its relatively light load in the early months of the year, the Senate could pass proposed legislation, including the FOI bill, by the first quarter, Drilon said.

The bill would grant the public access to government information, excluding only sensitive national security issues. For this reason, among others, most legislators are opposed to as it could lead to revelations of government workings that public officials would rather keep from the people.

Advanced stage

“The FOI is in an advanced stage of debate, interpellation has been going on. We imposed a deadline of the first quarter next year within which to pass the bill,” Drilon told reporters on Dec. 19, the day after Congress adjourned for the holidays.

Some senators spent the last session days interpellating Sen. Grace Poe on the salient provisions of the measure which she had sponsored on the floor as chair of the committee on public information.

Poe said the goal of an FOI Act was to apply the “sunshine principle” in government.

“Exposing the government to the sunshine of public scrutiny will kill the germs and disinfect the microbes that lead to waste and red tape, abuse of authority, gross misconduct, and graft and corruption,” she had said in her sponsorship speech.

Less corruption

Poe said that after Sweden passed such a law in 1766 granting its citizens access to official documents—the first country to do so— Finland, Norway and Denmark followed suit. Even Thailand passed its version of the law.

So far, 94 countries have such a law, while another 53 nations are on track to ratify similar legislation.

Poe indicated that such a law had a direct correlation to less corruption in states.

A majority of the countries with an FOI law, however, have freedom of information “in name only, but not in spirit,” she said.

For it to be strong, the law must have a presumption of release, clearly defined exemptions, an independent implementing agency, efficiency and timeliness, and strict penalties for noncompliance, Poe added.

In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, the measure has been stuck in the committee on public information, but Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has vowed to see its passage by the end of his term in June 2016.

The bill was tied up in the previous 15th Congress due to Malacañang’s reservations about some provisions.

Aquino’s concern

President Benigno Aquino III had said that he was mainly concerned about a provision making transcripts of Cabinet meetings, except those pertaining to national security and diplomacy, available to the public.

With such a provision, a Cabinet official may think twice about what he will say because the meeting is being recorded, Mr. Aquino had said in September.

“The only thing I really am conscious about is that when [we] have discussions nobody is intimidated to say what they have to say,” he said.

But a push from the President would go a long way toward boosting the chances of the FOI bill being promptly passed by the House, one of its authors has said.

Since an FOI law is among the government’s commitments under the UN Convention Against Corruption, an indication of Mr. Aquino’s backing—even if it was not a certification of urgency—would be significant, said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat yesterday.

“Certification is not necessary now, although it’s desired. But even just a sweeping statement of support for the UNCAC commitment clearly mentioning the FOI will be a big impetus,” Baguilat added.

He noted that both leaders of Congress had committed themselves to seeing through the passage of the FOI bill in their respective chambers.

How soon?

“The question is how soon and how aggressive the push will be. It’s not really a done deal and I think the House champions will have to work extra hard for it, without an extra lift from the powers that be,” he said.

The House committee on public information has created a technical working group (TWG) to consolidate the bill’s different versions. The TWG has a mid-February deadline to come up with the consolidated version.

The committee is headed by Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte. In the previous Congress, its chair was Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone.

Baguilat said the TWG had yet to meet and he was apprehensive about hitting the target date.

For Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, even if the FOI bill were to be fast-tracked, constant vigilance was needed because the Palace and the House leadership might push an “inutile” and “toothless” measure.

“Advocates should make sure this intention fails, otherwise it would be as if we did not pass an FOI law,” Colmenares said. With a report from Leila B. Salaverria

Sam Miguel
01-07-2014, 08:00 AM
Analysts vs surveys: Aquino post-‘Yolanda’ edition

By John Nery

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:17 pm | Monday, January 6th, 2014

When Reuters ran an analytical piece on the “backlash” against President Aquino on Nov. 15, a week after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” swept through central Philippines, I sent a message to one of my friends in the wire agency. “Did you compare raw satisfaction (74% in Mar 2013) with NET satisfaction (+49, Sept 2013)?”

Like many at that time, my assessment of the Aquino administration’s response had swung from the initial thumbs up the day after the storm (when we interpreted the lack of news from the disaster areas as good news) to an emphatic thumbs down several days later, when the question of leadership was very much in the air (and on the Inquirer front page). “Who’s in charge here?” Indeed.

But like many others, I wanted to be fair; I wanted to base my criticism on the right facts, rightly understood. Which is why I asked my friend in Reuters; perhaps I did not make myself clear, because the answer I got was anodyne: “if I remember june and sept 2013.”

I replied with two more messages. First, having just consulted the surveys in question, I corrected my friend’s mistake. “Actually, March (not ‘one point last year’) and Sept. But 74 in March is satisfaction, 49 in Sept is satisfied minus dissatisfied.” Second, I pointed to my real concern: “Your story, by comparing apples & oranges, can be accused of misleading use of surveys. Use NET na lang in both, bagsak din naman.” (The entire short conversation can be read on my Twitter timeline; scroll all the way down to Nov. 15.)

The wire story was circulated around the world. It carried a resonant but unsupportable head: “Analysis: Hero to zero? Philippine president feels typhoon backlash.” In visual terms, the equivalent of the familiar hero-to-zero phrase is black and white. That is, and to belabor the point, the headline is saying that President Aquino had gone “from white to black.” Stated in those terms, it would be difficult to find anecdotal, much less statistical, support for such a transformation. (Again, I wish to emphasize that I thought the President’s initial response was terrible.) The catchy metaphor in the head, however, was not my concern.

It was the glaring misunderstanding of survey results.

In the Reuters analysis, we read: “At one point last year, Aquino, the only son of democracy icon and former president Corazon Aquino, enjoyed a 74-percent approval rating.” In fact, the 74-percent approval rating was recorded by Social Weather Stations in March 2013, not “at one point” in 2012.

Three paragraphs later, we read: “Aquino has since been accused of failing to convincingly tackle a culture of political patronage. His popularity rating sank to 49 percent in September.” But in fact the figure of 49 percent corresponds to SWS’ net satisfaction rating; that is, 68 percent satisfied less 19 percent dissatisfied. The right comparison is between the 74 in March and the 68 in September. There is a drop, to be sure, but hardly the vertigo-inducing one suggested in the comparison between 74 and 49.

Why does this matter? First, wire journalists traditionally enjoy the highest reputation among industry members. Such an obvious instance of innumeracy (nothing more; I do not impute political motives of any sort) is disappointing in a Reuters piece.

Second, and more important: It forces us to look more skeptically at the usual political analysts. (It goes without saying that that attitude of skepticism should apply to this column too.)

Here, for example, is what one of my favorite analysts, Mon Casiple, said to Reuters last November: “This could be big. If nothing happens in the next week or so, and the rehabilitation goes haywire, he will have a big political problem.” (Casiple maintained this stance until late last month; his Yahoo! News column of Dec. 24 suggests that Mr. Aquino is on a “political suicide path.”)

And here is what political science professor Benito Lim said, referring to what he saw as a damaged President: “I think he will not be popular despite the fact that he is trying his best.”

Reuters summed up its round-up of interviews with political analysts in unmistakable terms. “Political analysts say Aquino’s ratings will likely suffer in the next opinion polls, especially in the typhoon-swept central Philippine provinces that have been bastions of support.” (I must note that I thought the same thing then.)

The SWS fourth-quarter survey results are in, however, and they make the Reuters analysts look like rank amateurs.

From 68 percent in September, the President’s satisfaction rating held statistically steady at 69 percent; his net satisfaction rating remained at plus 49 percent. In the Visayas, the hardest-hit disaster areas, his satisfaction rating rose from 68 to 70 percent (a movement “paralleled” by the nominal increase in the number of dissatisfied from 19 to 21), and his net satisfaction remained statistically steady, up from plus-48 to plus-50.

I regret that I was not able to make good on a plan last month to challenge critics of the two main survey organizations to accept a dare. At a time when conventional wisdom (as represented by the Reuters analysts) was certain that President Aquino would suffer a major fall in his approval or satisfaction ratings, after his administration’s calamitous initial response to the Yolanda catastrophe, I had wanted to make a small bet—not because I was convinced that Mr. Aquino’s survey ratings would hold steady (again, I shared the view of many that “of course” the President’s post-Yolanda numbers would drop), but because I wanted the survey critics to acknowledge the competence, the fundamental professionalism, of both Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia.

Could SWS be wrong? There is that possibility, as demonstrated by their failed 2004 exit poll. But that’s a wager I would not bet on.

* * *

Sam Miguel
01-07-2014, 08:43 AM
Old issues, new eruption

By Juan L. Mercado

Philippine Daily Inquirer

10:16 pm | Monday, January 6th, 2014

“Mad is he?” King George II once snarled about one of his aides. “Then, I hope he’ll bite some of my generals.” It would also be daft if any official here tried to confiscate Korans from Filipino Muslims. Both law and practice buttress liberty of faith.

The exact opposite unreels in Malaysia. The Islamic Religious Department (Jais) confiscated 300 bibles in Selangor State. In late 2009, it impounded 15,100 bibles printed in Indonesia—where eight out of 10 are Muslims.

Why? “Because they used ‘Allah’ referring to God,” BBC reported. Two Bible Society officials were briefly detained. “We were investigated for breaking a state law banning non-Muslims from using the word Allah,” said the chair.

This is a new eruption of an old storm. At its vortex is Catholic weekly Herald editor Fr. Lawrence Andrew. He said Christians in Malaysia and other parts of the world used “Allah” in their prayer. The Federal Constitution did not ban such practice.

Indeed, Bahasa-speaking Christians used “Allah” long before the formation of Malaysia in 1965. Kuala Lumpur then splintered from Singapore, over political and religious issues.

Jais insists the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions Enactment of 1988 prohibits non-Muslims from using 35 Arabic words. These include: “Allah,” “nabi” (prophet), “injil” (gospel) and “Insha’Allah” (God willing). The gag applies to Sikh, Hindu and atheist.

Article 11(3) of the The Federal Constitution does not permit an enforcement agency of one religion to have jurisdiction or purview over religions, the Malaysian Bar said Saturday. “Appalling,” snapped Jagir Singh of the Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. Sabah and Sarawak churches, where Christians constitute a majority, protested.

Critics “accuse government of tacitly condoning bible seizures to deflect anger against Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government,” BBC reported. “Poor Malay Muslims are angry over subsidy cuts likely to force up electricity, petrol and sugar prices.”

Najib’s coalition barely squeaked through last May’s elections. “It was the coalition’s worst result in more than half a century in power. The United Malays National Organization underpins Najib’s brittle coalition.

Has “religious intolerance gone intolerable” in Malaysia? Not on paper. “Islam is the religion of the federation, but other religions may be practiced in peace,” Malaysia’s constitution says. Kuala Lumpur signed on to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 undergirds the “freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Malaysia has one of the world’s strictest forms of media censorship. That is the reality. Government, for example, censored BBC’s and Al Jazeera’s reports on rallies. Nearly a hundred moves have been banned in the past decade.

All newspapers need an official yearly permit to print. The licensing system allows padlocking at will and pressures publishers to toe the line. The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan, were closed down for several months. The Star was the primary English newspaper that provided news in the opposition’s point of view. This was considered “treason.”

A July 2013 report to the Malaysian Parliament tallied 6,640 websites blocked since 2008. Excuse: “The websites insulted Islam, the royalty, contained pornography or malicious content, or infringed copyrights.”

In one year alone, 56 books were banned by the Internal Security Ministry. That included a Bahasa translation of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Works by Czech author Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, even Khalil Gibran, have been proscribed.

Until recently, the Internet, however remained unfettered. Not anymore. In August 2012, or specifically on Aug. 14, 2012, Malaysia Internet Blackout Day occurred. This series of coordinated protests was directed against a proposed amendment to Malaysia’s draconian Evidence Act.

The amendment of Section 114A “makes individuals and those who administer, operate or provide spaces for online community forums, blogging, and hosting services, liable for content published through its services.”

This presumption of guilt goes against a fundamental principle of justice: innocent until proven guilty. It would hold publishers of websites accountable for seditious or defamatory postings even if they are not the actual authors.

The 17th UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva grilled Malaysia in its “Universal Periodic Review,” the second for Malaysia since 2009. Austria and others prodded Kuala Lumpur to allow the freedom to practice, even change, religions.

Keep your pledge to abolish the 1948 Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, the United States urged Prime Minister Razak. These laws leash media through permits.

“The fear is Muslims will start practicing Christianity if both groups refer to God by the same name,” Waleed Aly wrote. Do Malaysian Muslims need a form of protection from their own ignorance?

“Young, educated, urban Malays in particular, are deserting this brand of politics in droves. They’re becoming increasingly skeptical of their own privileged status. Upwardly mobile, they are unlikely to be swayed by a Mecca-oriented compass.”

Not the “old guard Malays. They confront the fact that the privileged position they’ve held for the first 50 years of Malaysian independence won’t hold for the next 50. Now they’re lashing out, as if trying to resist the death throes of their own supremacy.”

Did Waleed Aly write that in Malaysia? Of course, that would never see print there. But the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia published it.

Sam Miguel
01-29-2014, 07:42 AM
Senators take home P1.4M a month–Santiago

By Norman Bordadora

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:24 am | Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, hobbled by a chronic fatigue syndrome, made a rare appearance in a committee hearing on Tuesday, batting for the swift passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill and urging the inclusion of a provision that would allow voters to determine if school dropouts in the Senate deserve their P1.4 million monthly pay.

Santiago told the committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe that the transparency measure should require the publication in a website of the basic salary, allowances and other incomes of all government officials amid widespread public outrage at the fat bonuses executives of the Social Security System and other state-owned firms had awarded themselves.

“It is urgent to stop corporate greed in the state bureaucracy. Those people help themselves to outrageous allowances and bonuses as if the government is an enterprise for profit. That is a sclerotic view of public service,” the feisty former trial judge fumed.

She was particularly scathing on the emoluments of members of the upper chamber based on computations by its finance and administrative services department.

“The basic monthly salary of a senator is P90,000. But if you add all other legitimate sources of income such as allowances and honoraria, the total monthly income of a senator could be placed at some P1.4 million,” she said.

“There are some senators who did not finish high school or college. Do we really want to pay them this high a salary? That is a valid concern that voters might want to address, if they have access to information,” she said.

Santiago said she wanted the public to compare the monthly income of the highest-paid public official, the President, with the income of the “lowest-paid janitor in the bureaucracy.”

“In the corporate world, there is an algorithm for determining how much should be the salary of the highest-ranking officer, because it cannot be more than the salary of the lowest employee, when multiplied by a certain factor. That should also be the practice in the public sector,” Santiago said.

Conflicting provisions

The senator also cited the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) given to every senator’s office every month. “It is long past overdue to dismantle the MOOE which is a secret source of additional income for every senator,” she said.

“We should tear apart the veil of secrecy which covers total incomes of politicians. A public website should allow the citizen to access every senator’s sources of income, including MOOE, chairmanship of certain committees, membership in the Commission on Appointments, or in the oversight committees,” Santiago added.

Santiago said that while she was an ardent supporter of the long-pending FOI bill, there are two constitutional provisions that might clash with each other in the proposed measure.

“Under the Bill of Rights, on the one hand, the provision of communications and correspondence shall be inviolable. On the other hand, the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized,” she said in a statement.

“We have to be able to finish the antagonism between these two provisions lest critics question the constitutionality of the FOI law in the Supreme Court.”

Santiago added that the FOI bill should be reconciled with the existing Data Privacy Act and other laws as well.

Duty to disclose

In her interpellation, she said that the law must draw a distinction between the mandatory duty to disclose and the duty to permit access to information.

Santiago said that in some countries, an FOI act covers only information under control of the state. She acknowledged the need for “presidential communication privilege” and that other executive officials are entitled to the “deliberative process privilege” to preserve the quality of decision-making.

She suggested that the FOI include among its exceptions those already provided under the National Internal Revenue Code, AIDS Prevention and Control Act, and Inter-Country Adoption Act, “in addition to information provided by foreign governments.”

Santiago added that a previous Supreme Court ruling stressed the provision in the Philippine Mining Act requiring the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “to maintain the confidentiality of confidential information supplied by contractors who are parties to mineral agreements.”

Campaign promise

Various FOI bills have been introduced in Congress over the years.

Senate Bill No. 1733 seeks to grant the public access to government information, excluding only sensitive national security issues. Most legislators are against the bill, fearing publication of government workings that public officials would rather keep from the people.

President Aquino, who had promised to support the bill during the 2010 presidential campaign, has expressed reservations over a provision that would make transcripts of Cabinet meetings available to the public, except those pertaining to national security and diplomacy.

With such a provision, a Cabinet official may think twice about making statements in such meetings, Aquino said.

Sam Miguel
01-29-2014, 07:44 AM
Senate starts plenary debates on FOI bill

By Maila Ager


6:01 pm | Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate has begun plenary debates on the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) that would give the public access to government records.

Senator Grace Poe, head of the committee on public information, defended the bill when the chamber started its debates on the floor Tuesday.

Among the senators who interpellated Poe Tuesday were Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara and Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.

But it was Sotto, an opposition member, who raised concerns over the bill’s apparent lack of safeguards on information that could be accessed in the websites.

Under the bill, all government agencies are mandated to upload on their websites their annual budget, itemized monthly collections and disbursement, summary of income and expenditures; items to bid, bid results; procurement contract; construction or concession agreements or contract, among others.

Sotto warned however that accessing information online might be prone to abuse.

“At the outset, I feel this is a very laudable bill. As a matter of fact in the 15th Congress, we passed it, we approved it. But there are new developments and some insights that we’d like to clarify,” he said.

While the bill provides a 15-day period for a government agency to reply to a request for information, Sotto noted that online access did not provide any time frame.

Unlike an individual requesting information in person, he said, the proposed measure also allows anyone to access information uploaded online without even knowing his or her identity.

“If it’s online, it should be accessible outright, immediately. To who?” Sotto asked Poe.

“To anybody requesting information…it will be instantaneous. But of course if it’s not automatically uploaded in the website then that agency, government’s office will have 15 days (to reply to the request),” Poe answered.

“That’s my problem, Mr. President. Do we have safeguards for this because georgebush@yahoo.com can access your website and just try to get information,” Sotto said.

“Pag personal information desk, maa-identify mo. Pag online, hindi mo maa-identify kung hacker yan, namemerhuwesyo yan, kung blackmailer yan…” he added.

But Poe said government agencies should make sure that their websites have security measures in place against hacking.

There was also a suggestion, she said that those who can obtain information from government offices should be a taxpayer and a citizen of the Philippines.

“But when we think about information, and even in other countries that have FOI, citizenship is not a requirement because information is so difficult also to obtain so that’s why we’ve been prudent in enumerating the actual exemption to make sure that we have a safeguard in place when it comes to national security issues …” Poe said.

Nevertheless, she said her committee would be open to any suggestion to ensure that online access to information would not be abused.

Deliberations were suspended Tuesday and resumed this Wednesday.

Sotto predicted the passage of the bill early next year.

02-26-2014, 10:55 AM
Miriam seeks inclusion of SALN in FOI bill

By Christina Mendez

(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 26, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago yesterday called for the inclusion of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and the monthly income of public officials in the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill now pending in the Senate.

Santiago also wanted to include in the measure a provision mandating all government agencies to publish and make available for download in their respective websites such information as the audited financial statements and budget and expenditure records of the respective government agencies, as well as the SALN of public officials with salary grade 27 and above, pursuant to Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees.

Santiago also pushed for the inclusion of the monthly income, including allowances and sources of income, of all public officials with salary grade 27 and above.

Santiago urged Sen. Grace Poe, sponsor of the FOI bill, to also include in the coverage of FOI bill the performance review results of government agencies, as prescribed by the Anti-Red Tape Act (Republic Act No. 9485) and other relevant laws.

As author of the proposed Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom, Santiago said the government should maximize the use of the Internet and information and communications technology (ICT) in disseminating information, and promoting transparency in governance.

“Government agencies should provide for and maintain their own websites which would allow the public to view and download public information on the plans, policies, programs, and relevant documents and records of their office,” she said.

Santiago said she is determined to push for the adoption of her amendment in the FOI bill despite opposition from some lawmakers.

Santiago also wanted government agencies to maintain in their websites the mechanisms to allow for the public to provide feedback, lodge complaints, or report instances of malfeasance or misfeasance, including anonymous feedback, complaints or reports.

The agencies are also required to take appropriate steps to protect persons making feedback, complaints or reports from retaliation or persecution.

Some sensitive personal information, such as an individual’s health records, sexual life and religious, philosophical or political affiliations, should be excluded from the coverage of the right to information under the FOI bill, she said.

Sam Miguel
03-11-2014, 07:46 AM
FOI bill passed by Senate


3:25 pm | Monday, March 10th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday passed on third and final reading the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, Inquirer Radio 990AM said.

Reports said all 21 senators present voted for the approval of Senate Bill no. 1733 or the People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2013.

Senator Grace Poe, who sponsored the bill on the plenary floor as chair of the committee on public information, was among the first to announce the news on social media.

“Senate Bill NO 1733 or People’s FOI is hereby approved on third and final reading!” she wrote at 3:17 p.m. on Monday.

Senate President Franklin Drilon last year said they would pass the FOI bill by March, after months of interpellation.

However, the FOI bill still has a long way to go before it is passed into law since its counterpart version in the House of Representatives remains stalled at the committee level.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte promised that the lower chamber would pass the bill before his term ends in 2016.

Advocates of the FOI bill believe it will help improve transparency and accountability in government.

Sam Miguel
03-11-2014, 07:47 AM
Belmonte: FOI bill will be passed before 2016

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:38 am | Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Don’t dictate on me.

Such was the response of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who seemed piqued over questions about whether the freedom of information (FOI) bill would be passed.

“Don’t dictate on me [because] I manage to get things done if you take a look at my record,” he told reporters during a gathering in Quezon City on Thursday night.

“What I can commit is in my term, you will have an FOI [law],” said Belmonte, whose second three-year term under the Aquino administration will end in 2016.

But Belmonte was vague on whether the version he had in mind would include a “right of reply” (ROR) provision, a contentious issue that was blamed partly for the FOI bill’s failure to advance in the previous Congress.

“You see I don’t even know [about the ROR provision],” he claimed.

The Senate is close to completing its version of the FOI, while the House public information committee is yet to hold its first public hearing.

Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, committee chair, earlier said the initial hearing was hampered by the purported lack of a meeting room at the Batasan complex.

Told about this, Belmonte said: “They can use my room.” Christian V. Esguerra

Sam Miguel
03-12-2014, 10:05 AM
Aquino won’t certify FOI bill

By Christian V. Esguerra

Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:39 am | Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—Despite his election campaign promise in 2010, President Aquino is not certifying as urgent the passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill, although senators approved their own version of the measure on Monday.

Malacañang instead urged advocates to exert pressure on members of the House of Representatives, which has not acted on the bill, to follow the Senate’s lead.

“In our view, it would be more effective if the pressure will come from citizens themselves because these are legislators who were elected by the people and they are accountable to their constituents who put them in power,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told reporters.

Coloma maintained that the President was “very circumspect in the use of presidential power,” in this case, certifying to Congress the urgent approval of the bill regarded as essential in giving substance to his avowed reformist agenda and promoting transparency in governance amid widespread public outrage at purported abuse of pork barrel funds.

“That’s why he is weighing whether that is needed,” he said in Filipino, echoing the Palace’s typical response whenever asked about the matter.

Belmonte vow

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte vowed to work for the passage of the House FOI version before the current session ends. “You can hang me by the neck if it is not passed,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Nearly four years after Aquino promised during the 2010 presidential campaign that he would work for the enactment of an FOI law, the administration-controlled House had yet to act on it.

On Monday, senators passed their version of the FOI bill on third and final reading. In the House, a technical working group is still consolidating different versions of the measure.

Coloma insisted the President, who had secured from his congressional allies the swift impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona and the approval of such contentious measures as the reproductive health and sin tax bills, was not reneging on his campaign promise.

“There is no effort to avoid fulfilling that commitment,” he claimed, noting that “the commitment has already been fulfilled in actual government service” even in the absence of an FOI law.

“Our government is responsive to calls for our public servants to be more open, more transparent and to have more accountability,” Coloma said.

People pressure

Told that an FOI law would institutionalize such efforts, Coloma said: “That’s why we are one with the people in their desire to have this passed, and we hope that happens as soon as possible.”

He denied that the President preferred to have an FOI bill toward the end of his administration to deprive his critics of a way to go after him.

“There’s no such thinking,” he said.

In the previous Congress, the FOI law faced no serious obstacles at the Senate and was thus passed on third and final reading. The battleground was also the lower chamber.

A number of House members have been rejecting an FOI bill without a “right of reply” provision, a mechanism that would require news organizations to provide equal space and prominence to the response of parties involved in a story.

Critics of such a provision believe right of reply would be out of place in an FOI law, and should be considered as a separate legislative measure altogether.

24 bills to consolidate

Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan was skeptical that the Senate approval of the FOI bill would add pressure on the House to speed up its work on the measure.

“The chair of the committee is suspiciously and deliberately slowing down the process,” Ilagan said in an interview.

But Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, chair of the committee on public information, brushed off accusations that the majority was dragging its foot on the FOI bill.

24 versions

Almonte pointed out that the House had 24 different versions to consolidate in the technical working group.

“The pressure lies in the need to draft a well-crafted measure and committee report that is reflective of the views, sentiments and consensus of the members. The Senate version would be a good reference material which may facilitate consolidation of the 24 FOI bills under consideration,” Almonte said.—With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan

Sam Miguel
03-14-2014, 10:08 AM
Light at the end of the FOI tunnel

by Dean Tony La Viña and Christian Laluna

Posted on 03/12/2014 9:17 AM | Updated 03/12/2014 1:52 PM

Perhaps it is a small mercy that, as a result of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam that has rocked the Philippine government, we have made dramatic progress towards the legislation of Freedom of Information (FOI).

Only a year ago – perhaps even just months ago – FOI advocates despaired to see FOI proposals reach plenary debates in Congress, let alone the desk of President Noynoy Aquino. Yet in the wake of the devastating revelations implying collusion between legislators and Janet Lim-Napoles, suddenly we have Aquino promising that FOI will be treated as priority legislation; we have neophyte Senator Grace Poe, showing veteran legislative skills, shepherding the Senate’s version of the FOI bill to passage this week.

It seems to be only the House of Representatives holding up the rest of the pack, although Speaker Sonny Belmonte has promised that the bill would pass by the end of this session of Congress. If he means we have to wait until 2016 for its passage, we say thanks, but no thanks, as waiting until then would be tantamount to again killing FOI.

Certainly, it has been a tortuous road for FOI over two decades long. It is also frustrating to note this lack of progress, in contrast to other democracies which have FOI legislation and institutions in place.

We certainly look with almost envy at the experience of the United States which, though it still grapples with issues of confidentiality vs. openness, especially in the security arena, it nonetheless has had a working transparency measure in place since 1967. This has taken the form of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The US system grants potential and actual access to a wide diversity of government records and data. In 2012 alone, the US federal government received 651,254 FOIA requests, with only 30,727 requests completely denied. Open government has been enmeshed in the political culture so much that “to FOIA” is practically as much a verb as it is an acronym.


The Philippines should aspire to reach that point where FOI also becomes a verb in our political vocabulary. To do that requires overcoming a political culture that had been – and perhaps still is – reluctant to address the issue of open government.

There are a few noteworthy initiatives to advance the cause: the late Jesse Robredo, for example, implemented full disclosure policies both in Naga City (as mayor) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG, as its secretary). The government has inaugurated its open government data web portal. But these gains will, however, be at risk of being revoked or reversed by future officials, without the permanence and durability of duly-enacted law.

Even the existence and effectiveness of the law itself is doubtful, though, if a society and its culture cannot throw its full support and weight behind it: to use the law, and not merely just see it come to existence. This, then, is the biggest task of advocates of FOI: not just to convince the powers in government to enact a law in the soonest possible time, but to also prepare Filipinos to fully take advantage of the law; to make Filipinos realize why it is important to have FOI in their daily lives.

The importance of FOI

Having FOI legislation in the Filipino’s daily life is important for 4 reasons. One, FOI doesn’t just grant access to information; the wording of the law must make government disclosure of public information mandatory, and commit its officers to extend due assistance to the requesting citizen. As will be seen later, there are some important exceptions to such ready disclosure; nonetheless active (not merely passive) transparency is the rule of FOI – and the opposite of the current culture in the bureaucracy.

Second, FOI has the potential to change that bureaucratic culture, by encouraging disclosure and assistance to requests, and penalizing obstruction of transparency. In particular, we again look at the example of the US FOIA: even without creating an office dedicated to government openness (oversight is provided by an office within their Department of Justice), the law authorizes the creation of posts within the federal government of FOIA officers: vanguards and implementers of the FOIA law and government openness, to help the agency determine what is disclosable, and what might be excepted.

Third, FOI and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) establish a system of procedures and processes which are understood and easily performed by the requesting parties, to give both ready access to information to citizens, and accountability of disclosed information and an orderly workflow for government.

Moreover, it should also put in place adjudication procedures for a citizen who feels aggrieved that his request is not being thoroughly pursued, or when there is a dispute between government and the requesting party on whether such information can be disclosed, a process that can reach all the way to the courts.

Most importantly, FOI is an important step towards consolidating Philippine democracy. Knowledge and power were thought of in the same spheres, after all, from the days of Francis Bacon (“ipsa scientia potestas est”) to those of Michel Foucault. The opening of the gates of Malacañang in 1987 can only be equally matched and fully accomplished by a corresponding opening of the information floodgates of Malacañang.

Our politics has been observed to be feudalistic, thanks to chains of patronage that ruling elites in national and local government use to shackle the oppressed, and which facilitate a near-stranglehold on political and economic power. Democratizing information flow may provide the torch to ignite these flames, and finally modernize Philippine politics – transforming it from its feudal mindsets to a truly participative, liberal, and egalitarian enterprise.

Sam Miguel
03-14-2014, 10:09 AM
^^^ (Cont'd )

FOI in action

What can FOI give the country – not just its press – that it deserves precious political capital? Of late, thanks to the PDAF scandal, other advocates, as well as we, hold that had FOI existed then, we could have headed off the pork barrel anomalies before they became so large, involved so much money, or compromised so many personalities.

We could have verified those NGOs that would have received PDAF allocations for implementation; we could have assessed if their projects were legitimate and if they were economically spending public money. While speculative (one must not underestimate a mind hell-bent on malice), at the very least, mandatory government disclosure, especially on public funds for public purposes, would raise the costs of corruption, deterring malfeasance through fear of easy discovery.

Yet the current corruption scandal is only a small window to the benefits FOI can provide ordinary Filipinos. FOI enables democracy by enabling informed participation. In environmental decisions, for example, giving ordinary citizens access to local land development plans, or disaster preparation and relief plans, gives them a chance to voice their own opinions and contributions to improve on such plans, or to prevent or mitigate adverse effects.

Economic policy and social security would also benefit from FOI, along the same lines as environmental benefits. The Philippines has had a penchant for big-ticket infrastructure projects – large-scale mining, big dams, industrial parks, and so forth. Some of the ill effects, apart from damage to the environment, have been community displacement of locals and indigenous peoples – from loss of home and livelihood to downstream health and psychological effects. Further downstream from that is the growth in opposition, sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, to these large-scale projects.

Whether these projects shall be substituted by more sustainable, community-driven economic development plans, or if a means of peaceful coexistence can be found and negotiated, depends on the quality of the information brought to the table, the tabulation of specific costs and benefits of any and all proposals.

FOI democratizing information means that the information-power monopoly no longer belongs to a local politician, or a government bureaucrat, or a megacorporation, or an outside organization. It is possible – not immediately, but the opening is there for exploitation – for all stakeholders to treat each other as equals. More so if FOI also brings about a more information-cooperative, sensitive, and responsive government. (Politics and malice will certainly still interfere with this happy objective, but an FOI would considerably reduce their maneuvering room.)

Academics, and the study of policy and governance, too, will benefit from FOI. The political science and political economy communities will definitely appreciate the improved quantity and quality of information they can bear on their studies, in turn affecting both the analyses of contemporary developments they produce, and the students, future policy stakeholders all, they instruct.

To sum up, while progress has been made, our window for FOI, so suddenly blasted open by PDAF, is nonetheless rapidly shutting. Who knows if the next president will be less scrupulous than the sitting President? Who knows if we can sustain today’s reform efforts with tomorrow’s administration? FOI is our best insurance policy – it arguably is Noynoy Aquino’s greatest legacy to the country, the greatest gift to the people for which his own parents gave their lives.

If he cannot see this – or, if because of political pressure, he cannot say it – then we have to lend him sight and sound, to compel the state to grant us the right to information the Constitution promised us.

It is a promise long in coming. We now see the light at the end of the tunnel. We pray we have strength and time left to reach it. – Rappler.com

03-19-2014, 10:09 AM
Payoffs to media bared

2 broadcasters got checks from Nabcor

By Nancy C. Carvajal

Philippine Daily Inquirer

4:04 am | Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—The payoffs, in the guise of “advertising expenses,” included prominent broadcast journalists.

Erwin Tulfo, a television news anchor, and Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang, a radio talk show host, were allegedly among the beneficiaries of the diversion of congressional allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) coursed through state-owned National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) and subsequently to ghost projects of bogus foundations, according to checks and accompanying documents made available to the Inquirer.

Former Nabcor officials Rhodora Mendoza and Vic Cacal said that a check for P245,535 was issued to Tulfo on March 10, 2009, drawn from a Nabcor account at United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB), Tektite Branch PSE Center, Ortigas, Pasig City.

Three checks were separately issued to Magdurulang by Nabcor in 2009—on April 27, May 14, July 6—totaling P245,535—all drawn from the same Corporate Account No. 00196-000848-4 in UCPB, they said.

The checks were described in the accompanying vouchers as “advertising expenses,” according to documents submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman and made available to the Inquirer.

Mendoza and Cacal have sent documents to the Office of the Ombudsman purporting to show that Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Edgardo Angara and 79 representatives coursed a total of P1.7 billion in PDAF allocations through Nabcor, which then channeled the monies to dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs), during the period 2007 to 2009.

The lawmakers have denied the charges.

The Ombudsman is investigating 38 people, including Enrile, Estrada and Revilla, in connection with a complaint involving the alleged diversion of P10 billion in PDAF allotments to phantom projects and kickbacks.

Mendoza also told the Inquirer that another prominent TV and radio personality received P2 million from Nabcor president Alan Javellana on the instruction of then Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap “as payoff to stop criticisms of a Nabcor project.”

“Nabcor shoulders the under-the-table expenses of DA (Department of Agriculture) on the instructions of Secretary Yap,” Cacal said.

Mendoza, Cacal and Javellana are among the 38 people under investigation in connection with the P10-billion PDAF scam. Mendoza and Cacal have applied to become state witnesses.

Cacal said that a DA project to build a total of 708 kilometers of farm-to-market roads and 200 units of market-related infrastructure was the subject of the supposed “advertisement.”

Tulfo and Magdurulang are known as hard-hitting broadcast personalities whose shows cater to assisting aggrieved listeners.

Contacted by the Inquirer, Tulfo denied he received money from Nabcor and said he did not enter into any transaction with Javellana.

“Somebody could be using my name, I want to investigate who cashed the check and what bank,” Tulfo said in a telephone interview.

Magdurulang, who uses Melo del Prado as his name in his broadcasts, said when reached by phone, “Strict masyado ang GMA diyan. Ayokong magsalita (GMA is strict. I don’t want to talk).” Then the phone went dead.

“Except for a voucher that justified the processing of the payments, no other documents passed our desk to justify the expenses for media men,” Cacal told Inquirer.

Apart from the broadcasters, Nabcor also hired the services of such media outfits as MEDIAaffairs Inc. and Full Circle communications for the food terminal project of DA, Mendoza said.

Mendoza said that an estimated P5 billion worth of projects came from the DA’s attached agencies, such as the Agricultural Credit Policy Council, Bureau of Soil and Water Management, and the Bureau of Posts Harvest Research and Extension.

03-19-2014, 10:10 AM
^ Erwin, Melo, ayaw niyo pa din ng right to reply?

03-23-2014, 08:06 AM
Truth will come out, says broadcaster Erwin Tulfo

By Allan Policarpio, TJ Burgonio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

3:05 am | Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

“The truth will come out very, very soon,” embattled TV5 news anchor Erwin Tulfo assured his followers on Saturday.

Tulfo is one of three broadcast journalists ensnared in the P10-billion pork barrel scam. He is alleged to have received “payoffs” amounting to P245,535, recorded as “advertising expenses,” from the state-owned National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) back in March 2009, when he was working for RMN-dzXL.

In an interview Saturday, Tulfo insisted the alleged payoff was a justifiable payment for advertising slots or commercials.

“In the radio industry, we have what we call ‘premiums.’ These are three-minute advertising spots given to us anchors by our stations. It’s a legitimate [practice] that the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas) knows about,” he said.

Tulfo said he and his lawyer, Nelson Borja, were considering filing a libel suit against the Inquirer, which broke the story on March 19. He said his team was gathering and consolidating evidence that would support his charge.

“We sought an apology and asked them to rectify their report, but they didn’t. And it’s their right. But if the only way to clear my name is to go to court, we will do that. We have evidence—contracts, the commercial itself, withholding tax documents,” he said.

“There is no tax for a bribe,” he added, stressing that he had the tax documents to prove his innocence.

“It pains me to do this since we’re all in the media—I’m in broadcast, they’re in print—but things have to be set straight. Even within a family, if someone does something wrong, he or she has to be set straight,” he said.

‘I’m ready to face them’

Tulfo said he was open to talking to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima about the issue. “I would actually prefer that the Department of Justice, Senate or the Ombudsman summon me. I’m willing and ready to face them; I’ll bring my evidence,” he said.

Tulfo last Friday was conferred the Helen Vela Lifetime Achievement Award for News Broadcast at the 5th Golden Screen TV Awards at the Teatrino in Greenhills.

“I’m happy and sad at the same time,” he said as he accepted the trophy. “This award means a lot to me, especially now that I’m undergoing a trial.”

Tulfo’s brothers and “T3: Reload” cohosts Ben and Raffy were likewise named Helen Vela awardees in “recognition and appreciation of their exemplary and trendsetting performance as newscasters.”

Meanwhile, Malacañang is not in a rush to unmask the broadcast journalist who was allegedly paid P2 million to stop attacking Nabcor in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

DOJ should disclose identity

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Saturday said it was the Department of Justice that should disclose the identity of the journalist, that is, if he or she was named in the witness’ affidavit.

“It really depends on the affidavit … If the [journalist’s] name was mentioned, it will be seen by Secretary De Lima,” Valte said over state-run dzRB radio.

Valte said justice officials would meet with the witness, former Nabcor official Rhodora Mendoza, and request a copy of the affidavit she submitted to the Ombudsman.

Mendoza and her former Nabcor colleague, Vicente Cacal, submitted affidavits to the Ombudsman alleging that Tulfo and GMA 7 radio talk show host Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang received payoffs in the form of advertising fees.

Both journalists have denied taking money from Nabcor.

Mendoza also alleged that a third broadcast journalist received P2 million from Nabcor to stop his criticism of the company, but she had no documents to support this claim.

Sam Miguel
03-24-2014, 10:48 AM
Physician, heal thyself

By Conrado de Quiros

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:09 am | Monday, March 24th, 2014

This time around, it’s the journalists.

Two broadcast journalists in particular have been named by Nabcor (National Agribusiness Corp.) whistle-blowers, Rhodora Mendoza and Vicente Cacal, as having gotten payoffs from the pork funds a tribe of lawmakers poured into Janet Napoles’ nongovernment organizations (NGOs). They are Erwin Tulfo, a TV5 host, and Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang, a GMA7 radio commentator. Tulfo, according to the whistle-blowers, got a check for P245,535 on March 10, 2009, while Magdurulang got three checks totaling the same amount in 2009. All the checks were cashed in the Ortigas branch of UCPB.

Mendoza and Cacal actually named a third journalist as a beneficiary of the Nabcor scam, and a much bigger one—he got P2 million from it. But they did not have the documents to prove it, they knew it only from talk at the office about who was supposed to get it. This payoff took the form of cash, which they themselves did not deliver, and indeed which was delivered only to a bagman. Which is the only reason this journalist has remained unnamed in reports.

Tulfo and Magdurulang have denied it, and their defenders have directed their ire at the Inquirer, not least for equating “advertising expenses,” which was how Nabcor justified the expenditure, with “payoff.” But at the very least, how else call “advertising” money given to a journalist by a company, public or private? You’re a journalist, you’re not supposed to advertise anything. You’re only supposed to tell the truth as best you can.

At the very most, a check is not easy to get away from. Tulfo says, “Somebody could be using my name, I want to investigate who cashed the check.” He’s perfectly free to do so, but that need not preclude the authorities from investigating it themselves. Surely it can’t be too hard to ascertain the truth of it with banking laws having been liberalized to prevent laundering.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima specifically proposes to do it. Where the justice department finds cause, she says, it will charge the journalists who profited from the pork scams along with the public officials. “If you’re a member of the media, you’re a private individual, you’re not a public official. But if it concerns public funds and you are in the company of public officials, you are part of it. You can be charged with such offenses as direct bribery and malversation of public funds.”

I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I’m hoping the third journalist will get named as well and other whistle-blowers will step forward to provide evidence against him. It’s not entirely true that transactions of this sort where they are carried out with sophistication or where there is no clear-cut documentation are untraceable. There are people who approve them, there are people who deliver the payoffs, there are people—the direct recipient or the intermediary—who receive them. Where there are people, there are witnesses. Subpoenaing them, where they do not step out voluntarily—and we presume Mendoza and Cacal know them—should help do the trick.

The accused and their defenders say the reporting of Mendoza’s and Cacal’s accusation is irresponsible and puts journalism in a bad light. That’s silly, and merely attempts to conscript other journalists, honest and corrupt alike, into circling wagons around their beleaguered colleagues to defend their favorite profession. Journalism is not under attack, individual journalists are. In fact what puts journalism in a bad light is not journalists—or at least people in media, it burns the mouth to call them journalists—being accused of corruption, it is the lack of it.

I myself wouldn’t mind a whole tribe of media practitioners being dragged to court for this. If you’re a fairly honest reporter or editor or commentator, someone who tries to make both ends meet on the modest, if not meager, pay that journalism affords, you’d get very pissed off having to breathe same air as those who sell their profession to the highest bidder and parade their ill-gotten wealth before the world in cars, properties, and lavish eating places to impress the impressionable with their apparent success and bigness and importance. You conduct a lifestyle check on people with suspicious incomes and a lot of media practitioners will fall like leaves in autumn.

Arguably, the sums involved here, except in the case of the unnamed media person who got P2 million, are relatively small—paltry even, relative to the millions the bigger media players routinely get for their “advertising” services. The news that two broadcast journalists, one of them fairly well-known, tripped on P245,535 has not shocked the media community, it has vastly amused it. That they should trip moreover by way of checks has sent it into howls of laughter: How lo-tech can you get?

But if that’s what it will take to draw the media into a Lenten introspection about the extent to which they have turned their temple into a merchant’s bazaar, the house of prayer into a den of thieves, then I’m all for it. Or since media’s capacity for introspection in that respect is limited—it’s never been a question of ascertaining the corruption in its ranks, it’s always been a question of wanting to do something about it—if this is what it takes to put the fear of God or Leila de Lima in the hearts of the wayward, then I’m all for it.

If journalists—by definition, the more reputable ones, the more honest ones—are to allow themselves to be conscripted into anything, it might as well be into approval or praise of those who flail at the merchants, of those who mean to cleanse their house. People who take on righteous tones in crucifying erring cops and public officials had best be prepared to live reasonably righteous lives.

I myself don’t mind people telling us: Physician, heal thyself.

Sam Miguel
09-03-2014, 08:08 AM
House to pass FOI bill during Noy’s term – Belmonte

By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) |

Updated September 3, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. assured the nation that the House of Representatives will pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill before the end of President Aquino’s term on June 30, 2016.

“The FOI bill will pass during PNoy’s watch,” he said in a television interview.

While the Senate has already passed its version of the bill, the House version is still with the committee on public information.

The committee remains stuck with determining what matters would be exempt from the disclosure requirement under the bill.

Among the information proposed to be outside the coverage of the bill are closed-door Cabinet discussions, ongoing military and police operations and sensitive national security and foreign affairs issues.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., one of the authors of the FOI bill, has told reporters that the public information committee was already 50 percent done with the proposed exemptions.

In the wake of the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam in which scores of lawmakers had been linked, many House members suggested that the FOI bill include a right of reply provision.

But authors said the right of reply must be embodied in a separate bill.

Sorsogon Rep. Eleandro Jesus Madrona, who is supporting the FOI bill, said President Aquino’s decision to include it among his legislative priorities should hasten its approval.

He said a Freedom of Information law would help institutionalize the reforms on good governance, transparency and accountability that the administration has undertaken.

“It will equip the media and the people in general with the tool for inquiring into government actions, decisions and transactions even after the President’s watch to ensure that these are legal and aboveboard,” he said.

He said the need for such a law has become more imperative, given the apprehensions of many sectors that Aquino’s successor in 2016 might reverse the good governance reforms the President has put in place.

“It will help in great measure in keeping the country on daang matuwid,” he said.

While Belmonte was optimistic with the approval of the FOI bill, he was not as hopeful with the passage of the measure that seeks to ban political dynasties.

It would be difficult for the House to pass the latter during the current 16th Congress, he added.

Sam Miguel
09-03-2014, 08:10 AM
House to rewrite privacy bill

By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) |

Updated September 3, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives will rewrite the bill that seeks to protect private citizens against intrusion into their privacy.

The initiative to come up with a new version of the proposed Protection Against Personal Privacy Intrusion Act came from the bill’s principal author himself, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

In a letter to the committee on rules chaired by Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Rodriguez requested that the measure be returned to the committee on public information “for further hearings so that all stakeholders could be heard.”

“It has come to my attention that certain affected stakeholders, including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP), were not invited to the committee hearings on the bill,” he wrote Gonzales.

He said his proposed law, “due to malicious and uninformed statements of some members of the House, has been mistakenly dubbed as an ‘anti-selfie’ bill and has met with strong opposition particularly by the media.”

The House has approved the bill on second reading and included it in its order of business for third and final reading approval.

With his request to the rules committee, Rodriguez said the measure would now be returned to the public information committee so that it could be rewritten to clarify certain provisions.

“I can understand where journalists and news photographers are coming from,” he said.

The bill seeks to prohibit intrusion into a private citizen’s personal privacy “with intent to gain or profit.”

Among the prohibited acts are the capturing by a camera or sound recording instrument of any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of the person, and the trespassing of private property to capture any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of any person.

The measure provides that any person whose personal privacy was intruded may file civil action against the intruder and obtain relief, including compensatory damages.

The complainant maybe either the person whose privacy was violated or the owner of the private property trespassed to capture the visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of another individual.

The fact that no visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of a person was actually sold for gain or profit would not be available as a defense in any civil action.

The only exemption from the proposed law is legitimate law enforcement activities.

The PCP proposed that news gathering activities should also be exempted from the bill.

It also suggested that public officials and public figures should not be covered by privacy protection, and that public buildings and places should not be considered among properties that cannot be trespassed in capturing the image of a public figure.

Sam Miguel
10-24-2014, 08:18 AM

By Charles P. Pierce on October 23, 2014

A lot has been made of the contrast between how the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation handled the events yesterday in Ottawa, and how our own cable news networks handle practically everything. In brief, the difference was roughly the difference between the morning edition of The Times Of London and a tornado siren. However, one of the more startling things about CBC's coverage has gone largely unnoticed.

When there stopped being news, the CBC News stopped covering the story and cut away to its regular daily programming. It happened so quickly that it caught me by surprise. One minute, there was anchordude Peter Mansbridge, who's now the guy I want at the desk when the Last Trumpet blows, telling us what we knew and (most important) what we didn't know. And the next, we were back to its being a Wednesday afternoon and "Today, in Alberta..."

Imagine that. There was no Political Powerhouse panel to explain how this might have an impact on the Harper government. There was no aging M.P. representing Yellowknife hollering that this never would have happened if they'd only have built the dang pipeline, and no young opposition M.P. speculating about how this never would have happened if they'd secured the border with Quebec the way he and his ghostwriter had suggested in his recent book. There were no former generals on the dodge, speculating sadly that the shootings may indicate "a new stage" in the war on terror. There was a deplorable lack of political opportunism, and a dreadful dearth of doomsaying. There was no fancy logo. No heroic music adapted from a movie trailer especially for the occasion. There was only Mansbridge, the calmest guy in the hemisphere, who went almost two hours without a break at one point, telling us what we knew and (more important) what we didn't know, adding some historical perspective from his long career, and occasionally tossing it to one of his colleagues, who would do the same. And then, when there clearly was no more news coming, they all signed off.

(According to his official bio, Mansbridge began his career as a radio reporter in Churchill, Manitoba, which is the place where they have the holding pen for polar bears outside of town. I've been there and I can tell you, this may account for Mansbridge's cool. Once you've become accustomed to seeing a polar bear and her cub breezily walking down a downtown alley in the middle of the day -- Churchill is dead on top of the migratory route that the bears use every year -- nothing else about anything anywhere will faze you.)

It used to be that, when there were no further developments, news operations waited until there were. That was when the country looked to the three major networks, and their anchors, for the news, and these were anchors who were trained as reporters, not as television stars. But then there was cable, and CNN, and then the flood of cable news outlets, and news became entertainment, and a big story became an instant miniseries, with special-effects and theme music, and the point became keeping the story on the air, somehow, even if it meant speculating about airliner-gulping black holes, or Ted Cruz's yammering about epidemiology. And, of course, there is another great difference.

The CBC is a Canadian crown corporation. This means it is publicly owned. It runs commercial announcements, but not many, and only to supplement the money from its federal funding. Peter Mansbridge was telling us the news, not selling us Cialis, and that makes all the difference.

11-25-2014, 09:26 AM
FOI BILL'S TWG VERSION DEFENDED | Coalition disputes Makabayan bloc arguments

By: InterAksyon.com

November 24, 2014 7:58 PM

MANILA - The long-delayed Freedom of Information bill, passed by the Senate but stalled for the most frustrating reasons in the House of Representatives, has finally hurdled the House Committee on Public Information and is being sent to the plenary for debates. Approval of the latest version, however, was marred by debates among pro-FOI camps, with the Makabayan bloc of party-list solons opting to withdraw co-authorship of the measure, and listing its objections in a Nov. 20 position paper titled "Objection to the Weak TWG - Freedom of Information Bill".

The Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition, which has spearheaded the campaign in and out of Congress for several years, disagrees with Makabayan that the result is a useless bill.

Below is the summary of the coalition arguments, as provided by Atty. Nepo Malaluan, who said, the TWG Report is a genuine and strong FOI bill that fully protects the people's right to information while carefully balancing it with legitimate interests of individuals, the state and the bureaucracy:

Response to the Position Paper of the Makabayan Bloc titled dated 20 November 2014

Like the members of the Makabayan Bloc, we aim to pass a genuine and strong Freedom of Information (FOI) Law. We will not settle for anything less. This concrete objective and vision guides us in our support for the TWG Report proposing a consolidation of the 24 FOI Bills.

It is in light of this unity of purpose that we welcome the Position Paper of Makabayan, and the opportunity to address the objections they raise. We believe that the articulation of both sides can only result in further clarification of the provisions, will contribute to the enrichment of the legislative record on the measure, and where there may be disagreement, will provide the public with basis to make an informed judgment.

We find that a number of the objections of Makabayan can be clarified by refining the interpretation of the provisions in question. In other provisions where we may have substantive difference in position, there are relevant provisions elsewhere in the bill that should also be considered in evaluating the provisions in question.

We present our views on each of Makabayan's objections, starting with the ones we believe are a matter of clarifying interpretations, and then proceed to the ones where we may differ substantively.

Clarifying interpretation

(1) On access to SALNs

We disagree with Makabayan's reading that the TWG Report restricts access to SALNs. On the contrary, Section 9 (a) clearly expands the disclosure obligation, from the present availability on request under RA 6713, to automatic posting in government websites for the highest officials of the country as enumerated in Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution. We note that Section 9 (a) was an amendment originating from the Office of the President, conveyed to the 15th Congress through the Executive's Good Governance and Anti-Corruption cabinet cluster, and adopted in the 15th Congress Committee Report as well as in a number of FOI bills filed in the 16th Congress.

The paragraph under Section 5 of the TWG Report quoted by Makabayan in its Position Paper is an amendment introduced by Rep. Antonino-Nadres and unanimously approved by the TWG in its meeting on 18 February 2014. The paragraph states that private acts, private transactions, or private records of public officials and private individuals are not covered by Mandatory Disclosure as provided by Section 9. However, information contained in SALNs which under ordinary circumstances may be considered private records are in fact required by existing laws to be filed and disclosed. The quoted paragraph merely confirms that "SALNs shall be released subject to existing laws, rules and regulations", that is, the Constitution, RA 6713, and under Section 9 (a) of the FOI Act if passed.

The quoted paragraph proceeds to say that should these laws allow for limitations or prohibitions of disclosure, such may not apply if there is a related finding of probable cause for an offense. One such limitation may be the provision in Section 7 (f) of the TWG Report allowing the redaction of certain personal information when disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. An example cited by Rep. Antonino-Nadres in discussions of her amendment is personal information of minor children of public officials that may be contained in SALNs. Section 7 (f) states: "(T)o the extent required to prevent a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, an agency may redact such information from a record made available to the public. However, the justification for the deletion shall be explained fully in writing, and the extent of such deletion shall be indicated on the portion of the record which is made available or published."

(2) Drafts of decisions

Makabayan recognizes that drafts of decision by judicial bodies may be excluded as provided in Section 7 (d), but argues that it must not include "executive bodies", upon the ground that policy-making of the Executive Department must be transparent and participative. They cite as examples draft proposals or decisions by the Executive on privatization of government hospitals or schools, and budget realignments.

A closer reading of Section 7 (d) would show that the said section is not opposed to their position. While executive bodies are included, drafts of decisions in the exercise of policy-making authority are not exempted from disclosure. The section clearly qualifies the drafts to consist of decisions, etc. "in the exercise of their adjudicatory functions". We note that there are executive and other non-judicial agencies that may also perform adjudicatory functions, that is, making decisions on rights of parties in the exercise of quasi-judicial functions.

In fact, the reference bill version included the word "regulatory". The records will show that both Rep. Tinio and Rep. Gutierrez III suggested its deletion, which was approved unanimously by the TWG on 19 May 2014, precisely in recognition of the need for consultation and participation in rule-making, versus the need for reasonable confidentiality in drafts relating to adjudication.

On substantive differences

We now proceed to present our position in the areas where we may differ substantively with Makabayan.

(1) "Executive Privilege"

Makabayan objects to Section 7 (b) recognizing the authority of the President to invoke as privileged records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during his decision-making or policy formulation, when he deems that disclosure can impair his deliberative process.

We need to point out that this privilege, sometimes referred to as "executive privilege" but more precisely called "presidential communications privilege", has been recognized by the Supreme Court as an exception rooted on separation of powers.

The rationale for the exception is explained by the Supreme Court in the case of Almonte vs. Vasquez (G.R. No. 95367, May 23, 1995), when it quoted with favor the following passage from the US case of United States vs. Nixon (418 U.S. 683, 708-9, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039, 1061-4 (1973)):

"The expectation of a President to the confidentiality of his conversations and correspondence, like the claim of confidentiality of judicial deliberations, for example, has all the values to which we accord deference for the privacy of all citizens and, added to those values, is the necessity for protection of the public interest in candid, objective, and even blunt or harsh opinions in Presidential decision-making. A President and those who assist him must be free to explore alternatives in the process of shaping policies and making decisions and to do so in a way many would be unwilling to express except privately. These are the considerations justifying a presumptive privilege for Presidential communications. The privilege is fundamental to the operation of the government and inextricably rooted in the separation of powers under the Constitution. . . ."

11-25-2014, 09:27 AM
^ Continued

After a long deliberation, with the position of Makabayan representatives heard, the TWG voted to approve the provision during the TWG meeting on 19 May 2014.

(2) Section 7 (c)

Section 7 (c) refers to law enforcement matters. The case of Chavez vs. PCGG (G.R. No. 130716, December 9, 1988) briefly explained the rationale for this exception as follows:

"Also excluded are classified law enforcement matters, such as those relating to the apprehension, the prosecution and the detention of criminals, which courts may not inquire into prior to such arrest, detention and prosecution. Efforts at effective law enforcement would be seriously jeopardized by free public access to, for example, police information regarding rescue operations, the whereabouts of fugitives, or leads on covert criminal activities."

In fleshing out this exception, it is apparent that the authors of this provision patterned it after a similar provision in the US FOIA.[1] We foresee that US jurisprudence will inform our own court decisions when cases regarding the interpretation or application of this provision reach our courts.

We note that the discussion and approval of this Section spanned two TWG meetings with Makabayan represented -- on 9 June 2014 and on 4 August 2014.

(3) Executive Session by Congress

While Makabayan agrees to Section 7 (e) on executive session by Congress, it proposes to expressly qualify it to instances obtaining under Section 7 (a).

This matter was deliberated and the TWG approved it as currently worded in the meeting of 9 June 2014. The TWG members present noted that executive sessions are resorted to only under extraordinary circumstances. Indeed Rule XI, Section 81 of the House Rules provides that "(S)essions shall be open to the public. However, when the security of the State or the dignity of the House or any of its Members are affected by any motion or petition being considered, the House may hold executive sessions."

(4) Section 7 (j) on information

Section 7 (j) allows the withholding of information when it is of a nature that its premature disclosure would cause public harm. This exception, for instance, will apply to threshold rates or values in government auctions or public biddings. However, the information shall become accessible once the anticipated danger has ceased.

Reasonable exceptions

In providing the exceptions, we have taken care that they do not amount to an undue limitation of the constitutional right to information. The test is reasonability, as may be gleaned from the Records of the 1986 Constitutional Commissions (R.C.C. NO. 32, July 17, 1986):

"MR. NOLLEDO: x x x

My next question is with respect to Section 6, lines 13 to 18, with particular emphasis on the word "limitations." May I know if these limitations pertain only to the manner of the exercise of the right to information on matters of public concern or can it effect to some degree the substantial exercise of the right?

FR. BERNAS: My understanding is that it can include the substantial content of the information; but these limitations, whether or not we are talking about procedure or substance, must necessarily be reasonable limitations."

To be reasonable, the exemption must be necessary to protect an acceptable, legitimate and clearly stated public or private interest. Thus, the exceptions do not simply identify categories of information and the interest sought to be protected, but also specifies the standard of harm for the exception to be recognized.

Safeguards against abuse of exceptions

In the objections of Makabayan, they point to the abuse that could arise in the use of the exceptions through overbroad interpretation, and in the process weakening the effectiveness of the FOI law in curbing corruption and other government abuses.

We are fully aware of the danger of abuse of any exception, not just those objected to by Makabayan. It is precisely for this reason that we have made sure that the TWG Report expressly confirmed existing, and further expanded, safeguards against abuse of what are otherwise reasonable grounds for withholding information.

Included in the safeguards are the following:

• Section 6 states that there is a legal presumption in favor of access to information. This means that in denying access, government agencies have the burden of proving that the information requested is exempted from disclosure.

• Section 8 provides additional safeguards by way of qualifications to the exceptions. First, the exceptions should be strictly construed, and not absurdly expanded as Makabayan fears. Second, the exceptions cannot be invoked to cover-up a crime, wrongdoing, graft, or corruption. Third, the President, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Constitutional Commissions may waive an exception with respect to information in the custody of offices under their respective supervision or control, when they deem that there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.

Also working as an additional safeguard to the right to information is Section 24, which reads:

"SEC 24. Act Not a Bar to Claim of Right to Information Under the Constitution. No provision of this Act shall be interpreted as a bar to any claim of denial of the right to information under Article III, Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution."

This means that beyond the terms of the proposed measure, citizens are not prevented from seeking judicial review as a constitutional interpretation issue based on Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution. This makes available a judicial avenue for a judicial balancing of an exception with the Constitutional right to information. For example, in Neri vs. Senate (G.R. No. 180643, September 4, 2008) (Resolution), the Supreme Court held:

"x x x The jurisprudential test laid down by this Court in past decisions on executive privilege is that the presumption of privilege can only be overturned by a showing of compelling need for disclosure of the information covered by executive privilege."

In other words, there is still opportunity to overcome a recognized exception by weighing it against a showing of a compelling need for disclsoure.

A genuine and strong FOI bill

In sum, we arrive at a conclusion different from Makabayan's view that the TWG Report is "weak, almost toothless".

The TWG FOI Bill is not a weak bill. It is a genuine and strong FOI bill that fully protects the people's right to information while carefully balancing it with legitimate interests of individuals, the state and the bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, we respect Makabayan's decision should it still opt to withdraw its co-authorship of the TWG Report despite our counter-position. We urge the Committee to already approve the TWG Report and uphold the consensus by the TWG majority, with Makabayan's objections and our counter-position put on record, and without prejudice to Makabayan's opportunity to pursue its position in plenary.

Sam Miguel
12-01-2014, 10:24 AM
The world according to Facebook

Randy David


Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:25 AM | Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Recently, I discovered to my dismay that my students in an undergraduate class in the University of the Philippines did not regularly read the newspapers, or listen to the news on radio, or watch the evening report on TV. These are students of the country’s premier state university; most of them are expected to be among the nation’s future leaders. “So, how do you keep yourselves informed about what’s happening in the country and the world?” I anxiously asked. “Facebook,” came their reply.

The world of Facebook is vast, multilayered, and multidimensional. It is both deeply personal and awesomely public. Its users casually post the most private communications and bare details of their most intimate selves—on a platform they share with a billion other people. The wonder of it all is that they think they are in control of what they reveal about themselves or who gets to see what they post.

If global society is the universe of communications, then Facebook is its closest approximation. It is the largest social network in cyberspace—nearly as big as China in membership, but, as a community, far more diverse, dispersed, and engaged than the constituents of the world’s most populous nation.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has made plans to deploy his company’s unique advantage in a bid to become the world’s principal purveyor of the news. Agence France-Presse reports: “Zuckerberg said that while a newspaper provides the same information to every reader, Facebook can tailor its feed to the interests of the individual, delivering a mix of world news, community events and updates about friends or family.”

There is, of course, nothing new in the idea of delivering individually customized information. Other companies like Google and Yahoo are already doing this to some extent. And so do countless Internet-based magazines, like Zite and Flipboard, which function like highly-focused search engines, picking articles from a broad range of sources and cobbling these together to deliver a personalized magazine unique to every reader. Every new version of these delightful apps represents a further sharpening of their selection engine.

These days, they no longer ask what kind of stories might interest their subscribers. They figure this out themselves by creating a profile of each one of them based on their past selections. Every “click” they make registers an input into a complex calculation process that determines what information to deliver to every single one of their subscribers. Amazon, the world’s largest bookstore, pioneered this form of smart service by generating book and product recommendations from the titles and goods one has bought or even merely shown the faintest interest in. All this is made possible by algorithms—those complex sequences of computer instructions by which vast amounts of data inputs are factored in and processed to produce an output.

So when Facebook begins delivering—in Zuckerberg’s words—”the perfect personalized newspaper for every person in the world,” it will also be capable of knowing in real time how the news is being received by a billion people. George Washington University professor of journalism Nikki Usher articulates what is probably in the mind of anyone who has studied the way the mass media work: “That’s a lot of power to put in a single organization.”

We are told that Facebook will not be hiring its own army of journalists. This means it will be sourcing information from existing newspapers and media networks all over the world, curating this in a personal way before it’s delivered to every one of its members.

The question is: How does one know when a piece of information has landed in one’s personalized news box because it is sponsored?

The fear implicit in this question is based on the classic suspicion that, given their power, the mass media are somehow engaged in manipulating the news. We have all heard of “sacred cows”—persons and institutions shielded from negative reports and commentary, or singled out for abundant praise for the most trivial achievements. Interestingly, such awareness rarely results in a comprehensive distrust for the mass media. In his book “The reality of the mass media,” Niklas Luhmann puts it thus: “[K]nowledge acquired from the mass media merges together as if of its own accord into a self-reinforcing structure. Even if all knowledge were to carry a warning that it was open to doubt, it would still have to be used as a foundation, as a starting point.” Conversely, the mass media themselves seem to have little choice but to abide by the autonomy that modern society has given them.

I can’t imagine Facebook squandering its massive subscriber base to promote a political ideology or a religion, or merely to serve as the mouthpiece of a business conglomerate. Its own staff will be the first to abandon it. Already, new Facebook-like networks are coming up in protest against excessive commercialization. “Ello,” for example, describes itself as “the social network you have been waiting for. Simple, beautiful & ad-free.”

Facebook’s entry into the world of journalism will surely change the way we view the world. It will break parochial horizons. I doubt it will kill traditional media. On the contrary, I think it will jack up their readership or viewership. But they will be faced with unprecedented pressures to change the way they report the news. And these will come from the one thing that’s triggering all these changes: the opening of the “interactive” space between sender and receiver that the Internet has made possible.

* * *

12-15-2014, 11:45 AM
Sowing Mayhem, One Click at a Time

DEC. 14, 2014

David Carr


The Internet has given us many glorious things: streaming movies, multiplayer games, real-time information and videos of cats playing the piano. It has also offered up some less edifying creations: web-borne viruses, cybercrime and Charles C. Johnson.

His name came out of nowhere and now seems to be everywhere. When the consumer Internet first unfolded, there was much talk about millions of new voices blooming. Mr. Johnson is one of those flowers. His tactics may have as much in common with ultimate fighting as journalism, but that doesn’t mean he is not part of the conversation.

Mr. Johnson, a 26-year-old blogger based in California, has worked his way to the white-hot center of the controversy over a Rolling Stone article about rape accusations made by a student at the University of Virginia. His instinct that the report was deeply flawed was correct, but he proceeded to threaten on Twitter to expose the student and then later named her. And he serially printed her photo while going after her in personal and public ways.

In the frenzy to discredit her, he published a Facebook photo of someone he said was the same woman at a rally protesting an earlier rape. Oops. Different person. He did correct himself, but the damage, now to two different women, was done.

Before that, his targets were two reporters for The New York Times who, he said, revealed the address of the police officer in the Ferguson, Mo., shooting. (They didn’t. They published the name of a street he once lived on, which had already been published in The Washington Post and other media outlets.) Before that, he attacked the victim of the shooting, Michael Brown.

Before that, he attacked Senator Cory Booker, saying the lawmaker did not live in Newark when he was the city’s mayor; BuzzFeed wrote that Mr. Johnson not only was wrong, but had worked for a political action committee that opposed Mr. Booker. He also wrote a series of Twitter messages that suggested President Obama was gay. He offered money for photos of Senator Thad Cochran’s wife in her nursing home bed. Before that, well, it doesn’t really matter; you get the pattern.

He is not without some talent — he effectively ended the career of the rising foreign policy analyst Elizabeth O’Bagy after exposing her conflicts of interest and fudged academic credentials. In general, he has a knack for staking an outrageous, attacking position on a prominent news event, then pounding away until he is noticed. It is one way to go, one that says everything about the corrosive, underreported news era we are living through.

In a phone call, he made it clear that he sees himself as part of the vanguard of Internet news, although he did add that some of what he is up to is a response to a lifetime of slights.

“I’m basically one of those kids who was bullied all his life,” he said. He’s now extracting payback, one post at a time.

Much of what he publishes is either wrong or tasteless, but that matters little to Mr. Johnson or his audience, which responds by forming mobs on Twitter or using the personal information to put fake ads on Craigslist to chase after the targets he points to.

After watching him set off a series of small mushroom clouds, it struck me that he might be the ultimate expression of a certain kind of citizen journalism — one far more toxic than we’re accustomed to seeing. Once a promising young conservative voice who wrote for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Daily Caller and The Blaze, Mr. Johnson has a loose-cannon approach that alienated many of his editors. There was a time when that would have been the end of it, but with Twitter as a promotional platform, he has been able to build his own site called GotNews.

His most vociferous critics are on the right because they think his outrageous tactics bring disrepute to the conservative cause. But many — like the studios in Hollywood who have stood by watching the cyberattack on Sony unfold without emitting a peep — do not want to speak on the record for fear they will end up in his gun sights. (One exception was a Daily Caller contributor, Matt K. Lewis, who called out The Washington Post for what he characterized as a “romanticizing” profile of Mr. Johnson.)

On Thursday, Mr. Johnson told me he was going to sue many of his media tormentors, but all considered, it has been a pretty good run of attention for the once obscure blogger. When I spoke to him, he was feeling a bit hunted and fighting off a cold, but cheerful in the main, saying his grandiose plans to become the next Matt Drudge — or Joseph Pulitzer or William Randolph Hearst, two others he mentioned — were humming along smoothly.

“I’m in talks with investors right now, and I think we’ve already got the deal set up,” he said. “Basically I’m building a crowd-sourced, crowd-funded media company that is going to take all the people like me — autistics, researchers, nerds, ex-law enforcement, whistle-blowers — and we’re going to give them an opportunity to make money on the information that they have.”

He can now push the button on almost anything that has heat, a scent of scandal or the ability to activate his base of angry, conspiratorial readers, who believe the republic is being overwhelmed by criminals, feminists and the politicians who enable them. And then the rest of the journalistic establishment — including me — points a crooked finger at the naughty young man who is using his mouse to sow mayhem.

In that sense, Mr. Johnson shares some common characteristics with the so-called mood slime in “Ghostbusters II,” which lived underneath New York City and gathered strength by feeding on the anger coursing through the streets above it. He would be just one more person hurling invective from a basement somewhere if not for all of us — his fans, his enabling social media platforms and his critics in the news media — who have created this troll on steroids.

Although he was temporarily suspended from Twitter for publishing the personal information of others, he’s back on that site preaching to anyone who will listen. I’d ignore him if I thought he would go away, but I get the feeling he won’t.

In conversation, Mr. Johnson is prone to narcissism, not uncommon in media types, but he has his own special brand of it. He sees himself as a major character in a great unfolding epoch, dwelling on his school-age accomplishments and his journalism awards and vaguely suggesting that he has strong ties to many levels of law enforcement. Like what, I asked?

“Have you ever read the book or heard of the book ‘Encyclopedia Brown’?” he asked, referring to a series about a boy detective. “That’s the capacity in which I help them. I don’t go out of my way to discuss the kind of, shall we say, clandestine work I do, because the nature of the work has to be clandestine in order for it be effective.”


He intimated that he had experienced some blowback and that he now felt under threat. “People are trying to kill me and my family members,” he said.

In view of that, I asked him about publishing the home addresses of two Times journalists after erroneously claiming they had reported the address of the Ferguson policeman who shot Mr. Brown. “I didn’t say they published his address,” he said. Yes he did. He said that reporters “published the address of Darren Wilson in The New York Times so here are their addresses.” Moving on, he said that before releasing their personal information, he contacted some friends in law enforcement and told them, “We got to make sure these guys are protected in Chicago and elsewhere, but this is what I’m going to do.” Gee, thanks for that.

The reporters and their families were forced to vacate their homes after facing threats of robbery and rape. I asked what he thought about that.

“It doesn’t feel great, I’ll be honest with you, but I also don’t see it as fundamentally my fault,” he said.

“Look, a lot of people are upset with me,” he said, adding, “my batting average is very, very good. Have I got up to the plate and either hit the ball wrong or swung and missed? Yeah, absolutely, but I take risks that other people won’t take because I think the story requires it.”

Those are very noble words arrayed over some nasty handiwork.

My worry is that people who have made it this far in the column will click over to GotNews to see what all the fuss is about.

What they will find is a clear look into the molten core of a certain mind-set, a place where conspiracies are legion, victims are portrayed as perpetrators and so-called news is a fig leaf on a far darker art.

Sam Miguel
12-16-2014, 09:48 AM
Privacy and social media: 12 theses

John Nery


Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:11 AM | Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

1. The current legal regime on privacy is based on a 19th-century understanding of the press. The influential Harvard Law Review article of Dec. 15, 1890, by Samuel Warren and justice-in-the-making Louis Brandeis, famously gave focus to the scope of that right: “the right to be let alone.” In other words, privacy as we legally understand it today has been mostly a reaction to a “too enterprising press.”

2. The article’s summary of the excesses of the press is harsh but also, as far as it goes, accurate, even today, almost 125 years later. “Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery. To satisfy a prurient taste the details of sexual relations are spread broadcast in the columns of the daily papers. To occupy the indolent, column upon column is filled with idle gossip, which can only be procured by intrusion upon the domestic circle.”

3. But social media is based on what we can call an opposite right, the right to be part of a crowd, the right to not be alone. In most cases, someone joins social media—posts a video of a Christmas party on Facebook, retweets a Dalai Lama quote on Twitter, endorses a professional on LinkedIn, and so on—in order to share something with a community.

4. The question, then, is: What does this new reality mean for the right to privacy today? Does the emergence of new media also mean a new understanding of the concept of privacy? Warren and Brandeis preface their research with a word about the evolution of law; we can take our cue from them.

5. It is even more useful, however, to consider the multiple roles of media. Borrowing from Ethan Zuckerman’s “Rewired,” we can make a practical distinction between standard, search, and social media. (Personal aside: As a practicing journalist, I find this idea of media roles helpful for understanding, and navigating, the rapidly changing media landscape.)

6. In standard media, the news is defined by professional gatekeepers—editors like me, for example. The news that “TV Patrol” chooses to air is largely determined by the network’s news directors, working closely with their reporters; this much is clear. But even in something as new as a news app for a smartphone or a chat app with a news function, for instance those of the BBC, the stories or video or photographs we see are still chosen for us by editors and producers.

7. In search media (a media role that emerged only in the 1990s), the news is defined by the person seeking the information and the algorithm of the search engine. If I search for “Maserati driver MMDA QC,” who is to say that is not news for me, at the moment of the search? As search engines like Google add an ever-increasing number of touchpoints, our searches become more and more customized—and our definition of what constitutes news ever narrower.

8. In social media (only 10 years old this year, if we date the start from the turbulent origins of Facebook), the news is defined by the community of the media user: The news is what my social circle is reading or viewing or sharing. Today’s timelines might be full of updates on the siege in Sydney, but if my peers and friends and followers are obsessing over a neighborhood singer caught on video, who is to say that is not news too?

9. It seems clear that search media and social media have made the horrors Warren and Brandeis described a daily, if not an hourly, nightmare. It was impossible, 125 years ago, to imagine a Kim Kardashian, who gleefully blurs the lines between public and private, between secret and intimate. Today, it is impossible to imagine a media landscape without its share of Kardashians, both legit and wannabe (although it might be hard to tell the difference).

10. Should our concept of privacy be stretched to include, or rather to exclude, new forms of idle gossip, the latest excesses of the “trade”? As more and more people bare themselves on social media, and as more uses of search media turn up more examples of this and other kinds of baring, should the right to privacy be extended, to a broader right to be let alone?

11. I think the answer is suggested by Warren and Brandeis themselves. The key idea in the following pivotal paragraph can be found at the very end.

“These considerations lead to the conclusion that the protection afforded to thoughts, sentiments, and emotions, expressed through the medium of writing or of the arts, so far as it consists in preventing publication, is merely an instance of the enforcement of the more general right of the individual to be let alone. It is like the right not to be assaulted or beaten, the right not to be imprisoned, the right not to be maliciously prosecuted, the right not to be defamed. In each of these rights, as indeed in all other rights recognized by the law, there inheres the quality of being owned or possessed—and (as that is the distinguishing attribute of property) there may be some propriety in speaking of those rights as property. But, obviously, they bear little resemblance to what is ordinarily comprehended under that term. The principle which protects personal writings and all other personal productions, not against theft and physical appropriation, but against publication in any form, is in reality not the principle of private property, but that of an inviolate personality.”

12. I take this to mean: When our concept of personality has changed (as in Facebook for instance, where we can be “poked,” our posts “liked,” our “wall” littered with messages, our space invaded by “friends of friends”), our concept of privacy should change accordingly.

* * *

Sam Miguel
01-14-2015, 10:02 AM

Rina Jimenez-David


Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:14 AM | Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

From Paris comes news that the surviving staff members of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine filled with cartoons poking fun and insults (and offense) at public figures, including Islamists, are coming out with a new edition depicting the Prophet Muhammad holding up a placard declaring that he, too, is Charlie.

The cover stems from the popular hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, an expression of solidarity with the magazine staffers who were gunned down by masked men crying “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as they raked the Charlie Hebdo offices with automatic gunfire.

The magazine cover likewise proclaims “All is Forgiven” in French, although it isn’t clear (at least to me) who is forgiving who.

In the wake of anger and consternation that the Charlie Hebdo massacre provoked, the surviving staff pushed through with the publication, defying the air of fear and intimidation that the bloody attack might have sought to create. Indeed, with support even from previous rivals, the “new” Charlie Hebdo will come out with some three million copies, a far cry certainly from its previous circulation of 60,000, reprinted in several languages.

But a side issue has emerged. While stories about the new edition, widely welcomed as an expression of press freedom unbowed, have been carried by most media, some outlets had second thoughts about showing or depicting the new “Muhammad” cover or even old Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

CNN cited “sensitivities” of some of its Muslim audience, as did other international publications, who said depictions of the Prophet were considered especially offensive by Muslim believers.

But aren’t these the same “sensitivities” that supposedly provoked the gunmen who claimed alliance with such radical Islamist groups as al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State?

* * *

Still on “sensitivities,” I caught a news report on BBC on the recent censorship of the hugely popular Chinese historical drama “The Empress of China.”

After a highly successful debut, the drama was abruptly pulled out of a Chinese network for a few days, and reappeared in literally new clothes.

“The Empress of China” tells the story of Wu Zetian, a concubine during the Tang Dynasty who rose to become the first Chinese empress. But, says a website, “while Tang Dynasty concubines were known to dress in revealing clothes that showed off ample cleavage,” the sight of cleavage after cleavage arrayed in pastel-colored gowns was deemed “too risqué” for state censors.

When the drama finally made an appearance, the characters were shown with the regions below their neck cropped out.

This reminds me of an observation made during the term of an extraordinarily prissy censors chief who issued guidelines that required, among other things, that “only one breast” could be shown onscreen at any time. Foreign viewers of Filipino movies, it was later noted, might come away with the impression that “Filipino women have only one breast each.”

Well, viewers of “The Empress of China” might well conclude that Chinese women, especially concubines, were all talking heads unattached to bodies!

* * *

That is one dilemma that media people, including those who work in the media, produce media content, or regulate it, must continually confront.

Freedom of the press is a democratic ideal, with journalists enjoying protection to carry out their calling, summed as “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Among the “comfortable” are some of the most powerful and entitled members of any society: Politicians, political leaders, influential figures, religious icons. And the right to “afflict the comfortable” includes the right to poke fun, to ruffle sensibilities, to insult and to offend—subject to a country’s laws on libel, of course.

If we allow the unrestricted exercise of “the right to offend,” how do we at the same time take care not to cause undue distress, hurt and pain on those who take their religion, race, culture, ideology, and affiliations seriously?

How do we find the balance? Should we even try?

Lines are being drawn all across the increasingly anarchic media field. The new media, especially, are filled with land mines, with no gatekeepers enforcing guidelines or watching out for the possibly libelous and scurrilous.

Words—and images—do hurt. But insults should be met perhaps by counterinsults, too, never by gunfire or violence. To allow ourselves to swing to the far side of conflict is to fall precisely into the scheme of the extremists. In Germany, it is reported, crowds have gathered to express indignation at the supposed “Islamization” of Europe, apparently feeding on the alarm and fear raised by the Charlie Hebdo shooting. The logic of the connection escapes me, as does the alarm raised over Tang Dynasty cleavages. One never knows what will set off the fear and paranoia of those in control, or wanting to assert it.

* * *

02-11-2015, 08:10 AM
Congress asked: Probe GMA-7 talent system

House Resolution 1893 calls for an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the alleged labor violations committed by GMA-7

Buena Bernal

Published 2:45 PM, Feb 10, 2015

Updated 8:29 PM, Feb 10, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – Three lawmakers urged on Tuesday, February 10, a probe into network giant GMA-7's practice of denying regular employee status to long-time media workers, depriving them security of tenure.

Members of the Talents Association of GMA (TAG) found allies in Quezon City 6th District Representative Christopher "Kit" Belmonte, Gabriela Party-list Representatives Emmi De Jesus and Luz Ilagan.

The 3 filed House Resolution 1893, calling for an investigation in aid of legislation into the alleged labor violations committed by GMA-7.

The network considers its so-called talents as independent contractors despite their years of exclusive work with GMA-7.

Talents are technical and creative runners behind GMA-7's top-rated news and public affairs programs, where the program administrator and program manager are typically the only regular employees.

"I believe that media workers, who help keep the Filipino public informed and appraised of social justice issues, must also be beneficiaries of social justice," said leftist pro-women lawmaker De Jesus.

The lawmakers' support affirms TAG's anti-contractualization mission in the media industry, a movement slowly gaining momentum in social media with the hashtags #BuhayMedia (Life in Media) and #LabanMedia (Media Fight). The movement has also gotten a boost from university tours across Metro Manila.

A nationwide network of college-level editors as well as respected officials and faculty-members of the country's premier state university have also rallied behind TAG's efforts to reform, if not abolish, the talent system.

Experiences of TAG members

The talent system is not exclusive to GMA-7 but is practiced in most television networks. Protesting groups allege it is meant for the big-time networks to maximize profit at the expense of its laborers.

In 2014, two batches of regularization cases were filed before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) against GMA-7.

Both cases involve TAG members who have risked their jobs suing their employer in pursuit of industry-wide reforms.

Mike Manalaysay, associate producer of GMA-7 investigative show Imbestigador, foresees a better system for future generations of journalists.

TAG President Christian Cabaluna believes the present exploitative system has lingered for so long that many media practitioners have accepted it as the norm, which he said, should not be the case.

Not all initial TAG members chose to pursue the controversial labor suit, after some of them chose to accept a talent contract falling short of regularization to keep their only source of income.

In documents submitted to the NLRC, GMA-7 denied any employer-employee relationship it has with its talents.

Talent agreements – which involve a fixed-term employment – were signed "knowingly, freely, willingly, and voluntarily" by the network talents, it said.

But Reel Time executive producer Ely del Rosario said talents are basically a ready set of people the network can tap for any other coverage plans their contracts do not cover, including election coverages, special reports, and breaking news.

"The clear mandate to promote regular employment is often circumvented by contractualization and miscategorization of employment," read the resolution filed Monday.

Rappler has repeatedly sought over a series of stories the comment of GMA-7 on the matter, and has been repeatedly told the network prefers to engage TAG before the NLRC, which it says, is the "proper forum."

Return to work order

On the last day of December 2014, 52 GMA-7 talents and TAG members lost their jobs after refusing to sign a revised year-long but still project-based contract with the network.

Citing GMA-7's difficulty in filling the vacancies, TAG announced on Monday that its sacked members were offered back their jobs.

Without the network's commitment to their regularization, the protesting talents, all with cases before the NLRC, refused to take the offer.

"TAG is convinced that this latest move by the Management only proves that talents are desirable to the network; and desirability is one important qualification to be a regular employee," the group said in a statement. – Rappler.com

04-23-2015, 08:03 AM
Unscripted, Doris Bigornia earns ire of viewers during The Script concert

INQUIRER.net 7:26 PM | Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

She wasn’t on camera with a ready script to follow and what ensued was an unscripted verbal tussle.

Broadcaster Doris Bigornia has earned the ire of fellow viewers during The Script’s concert held in Manila last April 17.

According to a Facebook post by a certain Richard Lim titled “The Dark Side of Doris Bigornia,” Lim narrated how Bigornia, her daughter and other spectators ruined their viewing experience by blocking them during the Irish pop rock group’s show.

Lim said his wife and his son watched The Script concert on Friday citing he got a VIP ticket to see the performance clearly. He said their seat numbers were at the center near the stage.

When the artists came out to start their show, he said Bigornia and her daughter rushed to the said area and evaded the bouncers despite the concert having numbered seating arrangement.

“The event bouncers instructed them to go back to their seats explaining to them that it was a seated concert but instead of sitting down, she shove off the bouncers and didn’t mind them,” Lim’s Facebook post read.

He said “chaos started” when the concert viewers rushed in front of the stage hitting him and his son.

“‘My food and drinks spilled all over the place, being stepped on, bumped and to the point that they were already pushing me and my son out of our seats,” he said.

According to him, the bouncers were able to control the crowd by pushing them back but Doris and her daughter and a few people beside her resisted to leave.

“I went to her and ask her politely and said, “Ma’m favor lang, I’m seated right behind you and you are blocking my view” and she didn’t even reply but instead looked over to the other side,” he said.

His son, he said, was already “hyperventilating” because their area was already crowded.

Bouncers tried to push Doris and company away but her daughter shouted on top of her voice to the bouncers and said “paalisin nyo muna lahat bago kami umalis dito (Make them leave first before us)”.

Lim went back and ask her politely again, “Ma’m favor lang nahihilo na ang anak ko baka pwede naman tumabi na kayo para gumaya yung iba (Ma’m favor please. My son is getting dizzy. Could you please sit on your assigned seat?)”

“But Bigornia replied, ‘Wala akong paki kahit mamatay siya diyan (I don’t care if he drops dead now),” Lim said, adding that he was shocked of Bigoria’s behavior.

He said he did not expect the kind of answer from a media personality.

He replied saying “Ganyan ba kayong mga taga media, sa TV lang matino, sa totoong buhay eh wala palang pakiaalam (Is that how you in the media behave? Or is it only on television. In real life you don’t care).”

He said he admitted he was shouting but only because the place was “noisy.”

But to his dismay, Bigornia did not reply. After the show, Bigornia and her company went back to their seats.

As they went out of the venue, he said he saw Bigornia “with a grin” so he “confronted” the reporter, who was with her daughter and son.

“Yan ang hirap sa inyo eh, porque media ako iniipit nyo ako tapos youtube nyo agad (That’s the problem with you all, just because I am in the media, you are trying to corner me and put everything on You Tube),” Bigornia was quoted as saying.

“’Yun ang problema, media personality ka tapos ikaw pa ang nag pasimuno ng pag harang sa harap kaya tuloy nagayahan lahat (That’s the problem, you’re a media personality but you’re the one who led the others in blocking our views),” Lim replied.

The two continued to exchange heated arguments.

“After that futile argument, I didn’t see the point of continuing the conversation because she wasn’t apologetic for what she did, the son was telling me to f–k off and the daughter was cursing me in front of thousands of people still inside the Arena as if I was at fault,” Lim said.

Lim urged netizens who took videos of what happened to post it online so it would reach the management of ABS-CBN because the incident, according to him, was a “conduct unbecoming of a media personality.”

INQUIRER.net has been trying to reach Bigornia for her statement on the issue but has not responded as of posting time.

Not the first time

Bigornia was in the news in May 2003 during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) scare. It was reported that she barged into St. Lukes Hospital to have herself and her crew examined despite the request from medical personnel to have them quarantined first.

In a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer editor by Lilia B. Pangilinan of Sta. Cruz, Manila, she said Bigornia came from Alcala, Pangasinan, where SARS victim Adela Catalan had just died. Bigornia interviewed relatives and neighbors of Catalan.

Upon reaching Manila, Bigornia and her crew went to St. Lukes for examination for possible infections. Pangilinan said instead of following hospital procedures—quarantine, isolation—Bigornia and her crew barged inside the hospital with their camera on, recording everything and demanding they be given immediate medical attention.

“Didn’t she realize that they could have been carriers of the disease, and could have spread the virus to whoever they came in contact with?” Pangilinan said.

“Such action smacked of irresponsibility, insensitivity and callousness. In fact it was criminal, if you ask me,” she added.

After getting a clean bill of health, Bigornia has since returned to television and hosted her own public service program titled, “Mutya ng Masa (muse of the masses)”. NC/TVJ

04-23-2015, 08:04 AM
Doris Bigornia breaks silence on concert fiasco

INQUIRER.net 6:20 PM | Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Broadcast journalist Doris Bigornia on Wednesday broke her silence regarding her alleged misbehavior during the Manila concert of the band The Script on April 17.

Here’s her full statement.

“Today, I am breaking my silence to air my side and to set the record straight on an article posted on Facebook by Mr. Richard Lim complaining about my behavior while watching a rock concert by The Script last Friday.

“When The Script came out on stage, many among the audience stood up and welcomed the band. Like them and many others, my daughter and I rushed to the front or the mosh pit to get close to our favorite band, which is typical in all rock concerts.

DORIS Bigornia (left) makes seaman-masseur’s dream come true.
Doris Bigornia (left) during a taping for her television show in this photo taken in 2013

“I apologize to Mr. Lim if our actions caused any inconvenience or upset him and his son in any way. It was certainly not our intention to do so.

“However, it is not true that I made a harsh statement when Lim complained that his son was hyperventilating. Knowing the pain of losing a loved one, I would never have uttered such an insensitive statement.

“After the concert, my children and I were happily talking about how much we enjoyed the show when Mr. Lim came and confronted us.

“When Mr. Lim said hurtful words to my children, I had to step in. My maternal instincts took over.

“That argument should not have taken place,” Bigornia said. NC/RC

04-23-2015, 08:04 AM
^ Ang plastic ng hirit ni Bigornia dito, corporate (non) apology.

Sam Miguel
05-22-2015, 09:43 AM
FOI bill limps to homestretch in House

DJ Yap


Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:30 AM | Friday, May 22nd, 2015

MANILA, Philippines–Well, it is getting there.

The committee report on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is finished and signed, but its submission for plenary consideration has been pushed back another week.

The report was to be submitted to the secretary general for assignment of a House Bill number on Wednesday, but the panel opted to do it next week as its chair and several authors of the measure attended the committee vote on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The panel chair, Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, said it took considerable time to complete the report as his committee did not have control of the schedule of the appropriations committee, which introduced a modification to one of the budget provisions.

“To us, we are satisfied it has gone through the process,” Almonte said.

After it gets a number, the bill will go to the rules committee for inclusion in the calendar of business and action in plenary session.

One of the authors, Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III, said he was confident its proponents would be able to muster support on the floor, but he expressed concern about the timetable.

To be passed mid-June

“The crucial step is having it calendared for second reading, and then interpellation and debate, as soon as possible,” he said.

The target is to pass the bill before Congress adjourns in mid-June.

Earlier, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made the assurance the FOI bill would be passed “within the 16th Congress.”

Backed by civil society and media groups, the FOI bill has moved very slowly in the lower chamber, with President Aquino refusing to certify it as urgent in spite of a public clamor.

The Senate has passed its version of the FOI bill. Both versions would then be debated and consolidated before being presented to the President for signing into law.

Since 1992, there have been many attempts to pass an FOI bill. In 2010, Congress nearly succeeded after both houses passed the measure on third reading. But the House failed to ratify the bill for lack of a quorum. The Senate finally passed its version in March 2014.

Under the measure, Filipino citizens shall have access to “any record under the control of a government agency,” including “official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as government research data used as basis for policy development.”

The bill emphasizes a legal presumption in favor of access to information, in which any request for information may be denied only if it clearly falls under 11 exceptions.

These exceptions include classified state secrets related to defense and national security concerns, records of minutes during decision-making or policy formulation by the president, and information whose disclosure may compromise military or law enforcement operations.

Sam Miguel
05-22-2015, 09:51 AM
FOI bill limps to homestretch in House

DJ Yap


Philippine Daily Inquirer

5:30 AM | Friday, May 22nd, 2015

MANILA, Philippines–Well, it is getting there.

The committee report on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is finished and signed, but its submission for plenary consideration has been pushed back another week.

The report was to be submitted to the secretary general for assignment of a House Bill number on Wednesday, but the panel opted to do it next week as its chair and several authors of the measure attended the committee vote on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The panel chair, Misamis Occidental Rep. Jorge Almonte, said it took considerable time to complete the report as his committee did not have control of the schedule of the appropriations committee, which introduced a modification to one of the budget provisions.

“To us, we are satisfied it has gone through the process,” Almonte said.

After it gets a number, the bill will go to the rules committee for inclusion in the calendar of business and action in plenary session.

One of the authors, Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III, said he was confident its proponents would be able to muster support on the floor, but he expressed concern about the timetable.

To be passed mid-June

“The crucial step is having it calendared for second reading, and then interpellation and debate, as soon as possible,” he said.

The target is to pass the bill before Congress adjourns in mid-June.

Earlier, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made the assurance the FOI bill would be passed “within the 16th Congress.”

Backed by civil society and media groups, the FOI bill has moved very slowly in the lower chamber, with President Aquino refusing to certify it as urgent in spite of a public clamor.

The Senate has passed its version of the FOI bill. Both versions would then be debated and consolidated before being presented to the President for signing into law.

Since 1992, there have been many attempts to pass an FOI bill. In 2010, Congress nearly succeeded after both houses passed the measure on third reading. But the House failed to ratify the bill for lack of a quorum. The Senate finally passed its version in March 2014.

Under the measure, Filipino citizens shall have access to “any record under the control of a government agency,” including “official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as government research data used as basis for policy development.”

The bill emphasizes a legal presumption in favor of access to information, in which any request for information may be denied only if it clearly falls under 11 exceptions.

These exceptions include classified state secrets related to defense and national security concerns, records of minutes during decision-making or policy formulation by the president, and information whose disclosure may compromise military or law enforcement operations.

06-24-2015, 09:36 AM
When is stupid legal opinion stupid?

By: Oscar Franklin Tan


Philippine Daily Inquirer

02:13 AM June 22nd, 2015

I WAS deeply humbled when I first entered the Philippine Law Journal office as student chair and was greeted by a submission from retired Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, the living legend who taught my professors. He later stressed it was my duty to evaluate submissions to legal academia’s holy of holies without regard for authors’ stature. And so I policed three chief justices, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and even Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who we offered a chance to respond after Santiago cited his party.

Law uniquely makes students responsible for its professional journals. The wise editor focuses not on a conclusion, but scrutinizes its underlying legal bases at each step. At a very basic level, even a student may pull out a law and raise that even a justice’s statement is clearly inconsistent. Law at this very basic level is no more than simple language.

Contrary to what my friend John Nery insists in his last two columns, law is certainly like engineering at this basic level. While legal philosophers can argue beautiful enigmas for decades, most legal issues are exceedingly simple and leave no room for interpretation, except for lawyers arguing for clients. Not even Justice Mendoza may insist despite the Constitution that Manny Pacquiao may run for president before he is 40, nor that there can be 25 senators.

It frustrates me when veteran editors like John insist that law is inherently subjective and there is thus an unbounded range of valid opinion on law, unlike science. His last column title “When does opinion become an unpublishable stupidity?” is itself frustrating because I would prefer to call a legal opinion baseless than stupid, a subjective term. Media treat law as so inherently subjective that reporters would rather interview a lawyer from an irrelevant field than cite the actual law. Rep. Ronaldo Zamora was interviewed on Sen. Grace Poe and quoted a high court decision defining residence. Instead of exploring this decision, reporters emphasized his topping the 1970 bar exams, complete with his score. John stresses how editors examine a legal pundit’s credentials, “spotting obvious cranks,” which misses my invitation to also minimally scrutinize legal statements themselves independent of the author.

I underestimated how seriously editors respond to anything that appears to be censorship. Free speech is irrelevant as I invite them to reconsider how they exercise their free speech to choose what to publish. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but not to insist that someone publish it.

Note that I ask editors to minimally scrutinize the bases of legal statements, not judge the statements themselves. Manuelito Luna astoundingly argued before the high court that the Disbursement Acceleration Program is unconstitutional because it violates the human rights doctrine of equal protection, because senators did not receive equal allotments. The court reached the conclusion, but not on this impossible basis.

In contrast, the Inquirer published Filipino Freethinkers founder and nonlawyer Red Tani’s “Churches should remove posters or pay taxes” (Opinion, 3/16/13). He cited the constitutional rule that a church must be actually, directly and exclusively used for religious purposes to be exempt from real property tax, then argued that putting “Team Patay” tarpaulins on Bacolod City’s cathedral denouncing pro-reproductive health candidates was a political act that removed the exemption. While some consider the conclusion stupid, no legal editor would label it baseless, unlike RH Law essays that purported to discuss law but went to ideology.

I make the narrow point that editors should minimally scrutinize legal bases and avoid confusing the public on what the law in textbooks actually is to begin with. Media do derail legal debate into nonexistent issues. When UP Law professor Sandra Olaso Coronel argued that the “condonation doctrine” absolves Mayor Junjun Binay for administrative acts from a previous term, reports made it appear that she was proposing a malicious new doctrine, not one entrenched in jurisprudence. Media gave the impression that the Cybercrime Law created online libel, yet while it was suspended, prosecution under the circa-1930 penal code continued. When Polytechnic University of the Philippines intellectual property professor Rod Vera tweeted that a Commission on Elections appointment violated the Constitution, reporters did not read the Constitution before reporting the nonexistent provision, confronting the President, and running the baseless story for up to five days (“The fake Comelec constitutional crisis,” Opinion, 4/24/13).

Finally, after watching comedian Jon Stewart’s powerful monologue on the Charleston church shooting and racism, I ask again whether we are unconsciously tolerant of baseless legal opinion when it involves Islam. For example, in “The constitutionality of Shari’ah,” (Opinion, 5/12/15) retired insurance executive Araceli Lorayes states that Shari’ah law allegedly weighs a woman’s testimony as half of a man’s. Even she seems to admit that this alleged rule cannot become law in the Philippines, given equal protection and our female chief justice; and Randy David reminded that Philippine Shari’ah courts have existed since 1977. Are there no better critiques of the Bangsamoro Basic Law than long lists of legal impossibilities? And why are we indignant over Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto’s comment for Filipino women to marry white men and produce “cappuccino” kids, but readily accept alarmist warnings of legal changes under an alleged Islamic state in Mindanao, however legally impossible under our Constitution?

* * *

09-23-2015, 08:58 AM
Assault on press freedom

by Ding Marcelo

September 22, 2015

In the sports writing fraternity, nobody, or almost nobody, likes Snow Badua. He’s the kind of guy who puts you off with his tales of self-importance, his abrasiveness, his uncomfortably loud voice, and his general air of knowing it all.

Badua, who writes for the sports website spin.ph, is the guy now banned by the PBA from all the league’s activities.

But, it’s not because Snow is not the most personable fellow in town. The ban is because he wrote in spin.ph, and posted in his personal Twitter account, about the alleged affair between San Miguel basketball executive Alfrancis Chua and model Abby Poblador.

In the 40-year history of the PBA, no reporter has ever been banned because of his writing. And in the long history of Philippine sports writing, no reporter has ever been banned by any association, institution, company, or corporation because of what he has written.

So this is completely new territory. Sports desks everywhere are taken aback.

But one thing is clear—particularly for sportswriters who survived martial law in the ’70s when Ferdinand Marcos muzzled the entire press: The PBA has crossed the line. It has assaulted press freedom and ridden roughshod over a person’s right to practice his livelihood. Worse still, the ban effectively denies the public information on a professional basketball league which it keeps alive with its attendance and support.

For with this ban, the message that the PBA is sending out can only be: That the PBA is one powerful body, the big lord and immediate gatekeeper to basketball, the nation’s favorite sport. That no one messes with the league and live in peace. That articles, comments, tweets, graphs, pictures, videos, and podcasts that this powerful body declares negative shall be crushed. That the fate of Badua is the fate of all who do not toe the line.

Indeed, the ban has disrupted the comfortable routine of sports reporters, many of whom have made a habit of carousing after a day’s hard work, many times in the company of PBA officials themselves. The ban has, unintended or not, created a crack in the once cordial and relaxed relationship between the league and the press.

In all this, the PBA is missing one truism about sports writing: That the enterprising, the aggressive, the bullheaded reporter is often he who brings the best information to the reader.

Badua, who is also broadcaster, may not be the most likeable fellow. You don’t really solicit the friendship of a fellow who suddenly sits at your table when you’re with friends and doesn’t get the hint even when you say you’re having a private conversation. You don’t really feel very comfortable around a fellow who thrusts his microphone in your face and expects you, with your thoughts still unformed, to provide a sound bite to a brewing issue.

All that may be true. We could do with more civilization among the ranks. But this coarse presence is just the kind to deliver solid stuff to media organizations he works for. His aggressiveness—of course he could be more effective had he fewer rough edges—is the reason why he gets the scoops and breaking stories. He is one of very few reporters whose call is answered and returned by team owners like Manny Pangilinan, Ramon Ang, Fred Uytengsu, and Terry Que.

Now the PBA has taken umbrage because Badua dares write about Chua, a married man, having an alleged affair with Poblador, a model, following the latter’s own revelations on public radio. Chua is the new fair-haired boy of the San Miguel franchise. He is the newly appointed chief of basketball operations, meaning nothing moves in SMC basketball without his knowledge, consent, or initiative. And, mind you, San Miguel has three teams in the PBA.

But rather than denying the allegation of Poblador, Chua, his handlers, and the PBA hierarchy itself choose to kill the messenger instead. In the course of this, they leave the woman alone, adding fuel to the suspicion that, indeed, an affair happened.

Chua confronting Poblador and saying she’s trying to ruin him for reasons known only to her may prove messy. After all, the woman may have proof to support her on-air confession. Maybe she has text messages or photos or other damaging items in her arsenal? Making her out as a gold-digging liar may force her to deliver proof, which can be disastrous for Chua.

So, better shoot the messenger. Better ban Badua.

It’s a boneheaded decision. The reason we have libel laws is precisely so that persons who feel their rights and privacy have been violated can seek redress from the courts. It’s supposed to be a process. But PBA Commissioner Chito Narvasa — who handed down the ban after meeting with the PBA board of governors, of which Chua is an important member — was all of prosecutor, judge, and executioner.

You don’t ban a reporter for something he wrote, you ban him for violating his profession. For instance, for using his medium to extort money or to gain influence or to blackmail you into giving him a high-paying position. Badua did none of that. Badua simply exercised his right as a reporter.

Not a great start for Narvasa, who assumed the post of commissioner just two months ago. Despite him, the PBA board can still do the smart thing: Meet again and advise its commissioner to lift the ban immediately, restore the status quo, and, if there is gentlemanly behavior left in the league, apologize to Badua.

10-22-2019, 01:29 PM
186 gov’t agencies now on FOI website; Duterte’s office not one of them

By: Nestor Corrales - Reporter / @NCorralesINQ

INQUIRER.net / 11:59 AM October 22, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — One hundred eighty six government agencies are already enrolled in the electronic Freedom of Information (eFOI) portal since it was launched in November 25, 2016. But the Office of the President (OP) is not one of them.

The eFOI is a website where the public can file requests for information from select government agencies.

Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan, who is also the FOI executive director, said they have invited the Office of the President to go onboard but he said the OP wants requests to be filed manually at the Malacañang Records Office.

“FOI-PMO extended an invitation to the OP to onboard in the eFOI facility [www.foi.gov.ph]. We were informed that as a matter of policy, specifically the approved OP FOI Manual, FOI requests for OP can be done manually/personally with the Malacañang Records Office,” Ablan said in a text message to INQUIRER.net.

As of posting time, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has not responded when asked to comment on the matter.

Aside from the 186 government agencies, Ablan said 91 Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations, 84 State Universities and Colleges, 98 Local Water Districts and one Local Government Unit are already onboard the eFOI portal.

On July 23, 2016, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 2, which laid down a policy of full public disclosure and transparency in public service to promote accountability, and set the guidelines for requesting and releasing information from offices under the executive branch.

The passage of an FOI bill was a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte, but halfway through his six-year term as President, the Chief Executive has not seen Congress pass any FOI bill.

“Our strategies are to continue working with current FOI champions like Senator Grace Poe, as well as to seek out new partners to get this legislation passed,” Ablan said.

Poe, an FOI advocate, filed Senate Bill No. 121 or the “People’s Freedom of Information Act of 2019” and urged her colleagues to support her in giving the bill “one big push.”

In his budget message to Congress in 2016, the President touted the FOI bill saying: “It’s Congress’ turn to immediately pass the long overdue FOI law so that the people’s right to information will be honored across all branches and levels of the government.”

Though not mentioned in his fourth State of the Nation Address in July, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte remains supportive of the passage of the FOI bill into law.

“Yes, of course and the fact is he issued an executive order on FOI precisely to show Congress that it takes only political will to do that. And he showed it by example,” Panelo earlier said in a Palace briefing. /jpv