POSTSCRIPT / May 10, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Foes of press freedom continue threatening us

MORE THREATS: Not content with having murdered so far four journalists this year, 13 last year, seven in 2003, and 67 since democracy was restored in 1986, enemies of freedom continue to intimidate and inflict violence on the working press.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines reported that two more media men received death threats over the weekend, and that a radio station manager in General Santos City was arrested by the police while broadcasting from his booth.

Reporter Suzanne Salva, 29, of the Cebu Daily News, received text messages Friday and Saturday on her phone warning her that she would be killed. She suspects that one of her sources was behind the death threats.

Last Sunday, a man identified as Boyet Marcelo saw San Pablo City journalist Dodie Banzuela and allegedly threatened to kill him.

Banzuela said Marcelo is a columnist of a local paper who works at the Barangay Affairs Office at city hall. Marcelo is identified with San Pablo City Mayor Vicente Amante, who is the subject of a corruption complaint filed by Banzuela and another journalist before the Office of the Ombudsman.

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GRABBED FROM BOOTH: Yesterday morning, police arrested Al Josol, the station manager of DXMD, the station of Radio Mindanao Network in GenSan, while hosting an early-morning radio show.

The police said they arrested Josol, a correspondent of the Mindanao Daily Mirror based in Davao City, for libel. They identified the complainant as Sarah Jane Manilay, the wife of GenSan’s city tourism officer.

The threats against Banzuela and Salva came on the heels of the death threats reported by John Paul B. Tia, station manager of MBC-Aksyon Radyo in Iloilo City, by Negros Defense Press Corps president and Visayan Daily Star reporter Gilbert Bayoran and broadcaster Annie Calderon, and Louie Logarta of the Daily Tribune and a former president of the National Press Club.

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DECLARATION: Reacting to the increasing pressure on working newspapermen, officers and members of several media organizations met yesterday at the Front Page resto on T. M. Kalaw St. in Manila to discuss the problem and issue a common statement.

Their “Declaration of Common Concern” said:

“We (officers of various media organizations) speak as one on a grave and common danger to our struggling democracy.

“Free and independent journalists are facing virtual extinction though the final form of censorship: murder.

“The unabated slaying of journalists, which has caught the attention of the international press community, poses a serious danger to what Alexis de Tocqueville characterized as the chief instrument of freedom.

“As such the danger to a free press is a danger to society itself.

“Servitude cannot be complete if the press is free. A servile press is the clear message of censorship by death.

“Our country has once experienced how it was to be denied the right to criticize and dissent. With the unprecedented number of journalists killed, everyone is deprived of the right to free thought, speech and expression.

“As Thomas Jefferson truly said, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

“As journalists, we are not so naïve as to claim, or demand, absolute immunity from the risks of pursuing our professions in a society marred by corruption and violence. But freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Constitution and our laws as essential to the life of a democratic nation. For this reason, journalists need the protection of the free institutions that they serve.

“Only in this way can the freedom of all can be guaranteed.

“In times of social oppression, the superior virtue is not to be free but to fight for freedom. This is the daily round of the press.

“We are not unaware of the weaknesses of our community. Albert Camus observed that nations are not sure of going toward justice and peace with freedom of the press. But without freedom of the press, they are sure of not getting there.

“It is facetious of officials to urge non-governmental organizations, which need protection themselves, to protect journalists from undue harm.

“We will do our job of reporting and commenting on the news as fairly, as impartially, and as fearlessly as we can. Let the government do its job of defending the Constitution, executing the laws and protecting the lives and properties of citizens.

“We have our respective obligations to society. We have our assigned missions.”

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SIGNATORIES: Among those who had signed the declaration were: Jake Macasaet, chairman, Philippine Press Institute; Ferdie Maglalang, president, Malacanang Press Corps; Joel Egco, Defense Press Corps; Federico D. Pascual Jr., president, Capampangan in Media Inc.; Boy Togonon, Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas; Recto Mercene, chairman, Airport Press Club; Roger Arienda, chairman, Samahan ng mga Komentarista sa Pilipinas; Doris Dumlao, director, Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines; Tony Antonio, president, National Press Club; Larry Sevilla, South Cotabato Press and Radio Clubs and Publishers Association of General Santos; Rudolph E. Jularbal, secretary-general, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas; Inday Espina Varona, chairman, National Union of Journalists in the Philippines; Neal H. Cruz, Adrian E. Cristobal, vice chairmen, and Julius Fortuna, vice president, Samahang Plaridel Inc.; and Antonio Lopez, president, Manila Overseas Press Club.

Rollie Estabillo, president of Samahang Plaridel, said more media organizations were expected to sign and voice their solidarity with the declaration.

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JOINT EFFORT: The protection of journalists should be a joint undertaking of the government and media organizations, according to Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes.

He offered the technical support of the DILG by way of safety training modules specifically designed for local journalists.

“Journalists need not be easy targets for those who want to silence them through threat and intimidation or through the barrel of a gun,” he said. “Our friends in media should be armed with risk assessment and assault response skills.” he added.

He said the DILG and the Philippine National Police, as well as the Philippine Public Safety College, have security experts who could be consulted on how to minimize violence against journalists.

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EDUCATION SUMMIT: Still on the problem of pre-need firms not having enough cash to make full and prompt payment of the tuition needed by planholders during the current registration period, I suggest that:

(1) Deregulation of tuition be reviewed, (2) a tuition limit be re-imposed, and (3) an education summit be held to address the problems affecting hundreds of thousands.

June enrollment is just around the corner and parents are already complaining about tuition increases. Their salaries are capped, but tuition increases are not.

This happens to be the same situation of pre-need companies whose investment income is limited while they have to pay the runaway tuition that was allowed the schools.

This is both an educational and financial crisis. It is time to review the deregulation of tuition increases and perhaps reimpose a cap. Schools have been found to have abused deregulation without delivering the improved quality of education that the policy envisioned more than a decade back.

Government must move quickly and not wait for the situation to get worse. There are still other pre-need companies trembling out there as they contemplate the runaway inflation.

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ERRATUM: The error this time was not my computer’s but mine. I made the rash remark in my last POSTSCRIPT that $20,000 is the equivalent of the P5 million seed money that private concerns were donating to a fund for orphans of murdered journalists. At only P50 to the US dollar (rounded down), $20,000 is P1 million.

I mentioned $20,000 because that was the daily rate of the Las Vegas suite that a VIP from the Palace reportedly used during the recent bout of boxer Manny Pacquiao. I asked why they could spend that much ($20,000 x 3 nights) when they would not chip in even just a centavo for orphans of murdered journalists.

The error, btw, was corrected in my website ManilaMail.com, but it was too late to go after it in the print edition.

Among those who called my attention were Menchu Robins of Timberline Industries Pty Ltd, Mely Venturanza using a yahoo address, a reader at Modestotionx@aol.com, Dr. Conrad G. Javier of Cleveland, Ohio, and Jack Tan who texted us at POSTSCRIPT‘s public text address at 2960.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 10, 2005)

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