POSTSCRIPT / February 26, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Our President is caught in the military's embrace

There was a Lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They came back from the ride,
With the Lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
— A limerick that I suddenly remembered from my high school literature class.

* * *

DEADLY HUG: President Gloria Arroyo may not be aware of it, but she is slowly being pulled into the arms of a politicized military.

Or if she is aware of it, she seems increasingly unable to move away from the deadly embrace.

The Proclamation 1017 that she had to issue to stave off, she said, the grave threats to the very existence of the Republic is a step closer to martial or military rule.

Who pushed her to sign it? I would not be surprised if she was overwhelmed by the security or military types, aided by lawyers, surrounding her in that fateful final Cabinet-level meeting before Proclamation 1017 was issued.

There is no way Gloria Arroyo can command obedience to that proclamation (and the orders flowing from it) without the military — and the complementary uniformed service, the police — acting as her enforcers.

Our civilian President is becoming, if she has not yet become, a hostage of the military. This is bound to happen considering that she would hardly be able to function in the emerging emergency without the military.

Will Gloria be able to dismount the tiger, smiling?

* * *

POLICE EDITORS: I pity our friends in the Philippine National Police. Out of the blue, the PNP was ordered to act in effect as publisher, editor and ombudsman rolled into one to raise the level of professionalism, as well as patriotism, of the generally irreverent print media.

(Broadcast media is a bit off my beaten track, so I am not wandering off to that other part of the mass media woods.)

This new role means, among other things, that the police will take the delicate task of evaluating stories and deciding if they are fit for publication based on the guidelines given them under Proclamation 1017 and a certain General Order No. 5.

Before this unusual martial turn of events, it was the journalists and their media bosses who decided what would come out in print tomorrow morning.

And it was the courts that decided the morning after if what came out was libelous, seditious or otherwise in violation of the rights of others.

That orderly process has been altered, for better or for worse, with the police taking over those pivotal functions of deciding what is fit to print and what is actionable.

* * *

FEAR NOT?: No wonder, we have almost grown deaf being asked what ever happened to the constitutionally guaranteed, and zealously guarded, freedoms in Article III (Bill of Rights) which says:

In Section 4 — “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.”

And in Section 7 — “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.”

Of course the government will say that all law-abiding citizens need not fear, that the country is not in the grip of martial law. (At least not yet.)

* * *

MARCOSIAN MEDIA: The press watchdogs unleashed by Ms Arroyo may want to learn from the experience of the Marcos regime in media management.

Among the victims of martial rule under Proclamation 1081 issued by Mr. Marcos in September 1972 were the media. When the nation woke up to the steely regime there was an eerie silence occasioned by the closing of 99.99 percent of media.

The padlocking of the press was, for Mr. Marcos who was ever a stickler for acting on the basis of law, untenable. So after some hiatus, he allowed some of the “New Society” media to reopen under new titles and Palace-anointed managers.

The main feature of the new setup was the assignment of government censors to sit with the editorial desk of every newspaper and pass upon materials picked for publication.

* * *

SUPER-EDITOR: One who has seen the torrent of materials flowing into the editorial room on any given day cannot imagine how any censor could have coped with the flood of stories, pictures, etc, thrown before him for evaluation (in effect for editing).

Obviously the setup could not work. Even Clark Kent, assuming he became the super-editor of the Daily Planet, could not have done the kind of job thrust upon Marcos’s censors.

The regular editors made it even more difficult for the censor by giving him almost any piece of paper with text on it on the pretext of asking for his prior approval for publication.

Before they lost their minds, the censors themselves gave up. So Mr. Marcos and his media managers in the Palace had to think of other ways of reining in or controlling the media.

Will our policemen censors fare better than the ones sent by the dictator to guide the media on the path of “developmental journalism”?

* * *

PRIVATE COUNCIL: After the censors packed up and left the madhouse, meaning the editorial rooms to which they were assigned, the Marcos regime tapped the officers of the National Press Club, then led by a known crony-journalist.

The NPC officers were constituted into what became known as the Media Advisory Council, civilian and private in character and therefore presumed to be a more palatable version of indirect government controls.

The new setup was passed off as self-regulation since the officers of the NPC (many of whom then happened to be also senior reporters assigned to the Malacanang beat) were private media practitioners and not government bureaucrats.

Anybody who wanted to print anything, even calendars and business cards, had to secure a license or permit from the National Press Club doubling as the MAC. I was told that that had led to some corruption, but I have no proof to back that up.

That alleged corruption, plus the faulty control functions of the MAC and the fact that many of the NPC officers were not prepared for the unusual managerial assignment, soon caused the system to collapse.

* * *

TOP EDITORS: What to do next? Malacanang, on the advice of some media friends, devised a new version of self-regulation or self-policing.

The idea was to simplify the problem by installing publishers and editors in the government-controlled private press and assign to them the daily task of censorship in the guise of editorial management. They were also organized into an industry council.

Of course, there was care not to call it censorship, but self-regulation.

In short, the people who sat in the publisher’s office and the top editors who manned the desk were persons whom Malacanang and the crony owners of media could trust. They were the enforcers from within.

One big difference between that Marcosian maneuver and the police patrol method that Ms Arroyo has adopted is that the publishers and editors in charge of self-regulation under Marcos were, by and large, competent and respected newsmen — meaning professionals whom the staff could look up to.

Can the police in the Arroyo edition of media management produce similarly top-caliber professionals whose editorial judgment will be accepted, and respected, by the working press without reservation?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 26, 2006)

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