By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
I had been asked by some of our fellow journalists about the substance of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Pres. Benigno Aquino III. Particularly, they had been asking about the moves that the administration had adopted in relation with press freedom. Honestly, I had been giving answers based on the position of our organization – the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and that I can clearly say that he failed to address issues related on press freedom and on justice for extrajudiciously killed journalists .
First, I am not satisfied with his handling or supporting justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, that happened two years ago. While some of the perpetrators were charged and in jail like the Ampatuans, there are others who are still at large. Also, the trial is still taking a turtle pace, so to speak. The defense counsels had been able to maneuver and slow down the trial. And I hope the case would not take decades to resolve.
Secondly, the president had been mouthing “tuwid na daan (the right path).” And he and his administration seem to advertise that his administration is morally upright in running the government for the people. There is a big difference though from a mere principle, which is usually mouthed, and the actual running of the government. And I observed that PNoy failed in the actual administration, despite his slogan – “tuwid na daan.”
PNoy has been raising transparency and accountability as part of his program of governance. Like the “tuwid na daan” however, it remained a mere lip service. One of the issues that journalists, particulary NUJP, has been raising is the passage of the Freedom of Information bill into a law. Such measure would supposedly helped realize the constitutional provision on press freedom and the right of the public to know. It will in fact be a transparency as it would serve as a policy that would ensure the observance of standards on press freedom and information to the public. He has been raising issues against the media, and it would be good if we could have a Freedom of Information Act which would serve as standard for any act of information on public interests. But since there is no Act at all, he can always blame media for his failure of governance. There is a ready scapegoat for him. Not only once but for many times.
It could also be good if we could have a Freedom of Information Act which would serve as standard for the accountability. It could have enumerated accountability of journalists particularly in their work to provide information to the public. And the presence of this Act could at least be used to point out the do’s and the don’ts in relation with public information, including the sanction as well.
We had been raising too the passage of a law that would repeal or decriminalize libel from our criminal justice system. The presence of libel in our criminal system served as a barrier for the realization of the constitutional provision on press freedom and the right of the public to know. Even without libel, we have the concept of damages under the civil code. Hence if a journalist cannot runaway from his action that caused damage to a person who was the subject in his or her news.
I could finally say that PNoy failed to push for a legislative agenda that would ensure and realize the constitutional provisions on press freedom and the right of the public to know. If he is serious with the tuwid na daan, he could have certified the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill and the repeal of the libel law. In PNoy’s certifying the FOI Bill as urgent, and supporting its passage, then we can blame Congress if the measure will not pass. But since we realized he had not done enough, Pnoy failed the Press Freedom issue. # nordis.net