Published on December 12, 2017—and even more relevant today.
How is it a young student can see more clearly than senators or Supreme Court justices?
“Today is a dangerous time to be a Filipino. The country is being led by a President who promotes a culture of killing and impunity — a President who encourages his people, not just the police, to kill drug pushers on sight, and has vowed to protect those who carry them out. More than this, we have a President who has chosen to consider innocent people killed alongside as ‘collateral damage’ and not as victims of murder who deserve justice.”
For the second time, I have had the privilege of serving on the board of judges of the University of Santo Tomas’ National Campus Journalism Awards. The competition, now on its third year, continues to grow, drawing entries from even more schools nationwide. There were thrice as many short-listed entries in the three categories of the editorial, the feature story, and the in-depth report this year than last year. And as that passage from an editorial titled “Today is a dangerous time to be a Filipino” can prove, our campus journalists are woke, and writing well.
I do not cite it because it’s among the winners; as I write this, I still do not know the final results. But I was struck by the courage and clear-eyed insight of the writer — these reflect the qualities that define the other campus journalists, too.
They share a common anxiety about the Age of Duterte — they belong to Kian delos Santos’ generation, and a few of the pieces speak directly to the murder of the 17-year-old innocent in boxer shorts who pleaded with policemen to let him go because he still had a test to study for. The killings which candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised — and about which many of his voters are now in denial — weigh heavy on the consciences or loom large in the imaginations of the campus journalists, as do the administration’s attacks on both the truth and the media, the terrible conflict in Marawi and its consequences, the ongoing attempt at rehabilitating the Marcoses, local governance issues, or corruption or hypocrisy in the universities or in school organizations.
Another student writes, in “On EJK: Not just ‘collateral damage’”: “Already, we are seeing this war escalate into something much worse. What was once a ‘war on drugs’ turned ‘war on poverty’ is now turning into a ‘war on Filipinos’ — a war we are only pushing on as we stand on the opposite ends of the battlefield, with our opinions dependent on our allegiances to one political entity or another. In our divisiveness, we’ve lost sight of what this nation was intended to be—what people have died fighting for.”
In “No more running,” another editorialist displays more respect for the truth than most members of the political class. “We know that this bloody war has the blessing of those in the highest levels of power. Speaking about the death of 32 people during the police’s ‘one time, big time’ operation in Bulacan last Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said, ‘Iyong namatay daw kanina sa Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid. Maganda iyon. Makapatay lang tayo ng another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce … what ails this country.”’
As for the political class, another writer offers the arresting image of the convenient ambulance.
In “Ambulansya ng mga Politikong Pulpol,” we read: “Subalit sa bayan ni Juan, ito rin ang nagiging instrumento ng mga politikong pulpol upang mabilis na matakbuhan ang kanilang kasalanan at maiwasan ang habang buhay na pagkabulok sa kulungan, kasing bilis ng isang ambulansya.”
One of the truly outstanding works of journalism among this crop of short-listed entries was “Dr. Antonio Contreras: Unashamed and unapologetic,” by Cody Cepeda and Wilhelm Tan — a feature on the academic controversialist and Bongbong Marcos supporter who burst into the national scene with a fervent but innumerate analysis of alleged election cheating. I found the profile both respectful and critical; I think it gave Contreras all the room he needed to make his case, so to speak, while at the same time allowing the student journalists to engage the subject with as much candor as possible. The following excerpt raises the question whether the professor himself realizes he is, by his own definition, “not objective.”
“But not everyone who disagrees with him is a troll, we contest. Many statisticians and experts presented their arguments against his claims respectfully and fairly. Why shut them out as well? ‘I read [the posts] and it didn’t convince me because they were using some mathematical analysis that’s not even applicable.’
“He presses on that the people who challenged him were not objective people but were partisans instead because they voted for [Vice President] Leni [Robredo] …”
“It seems a dangerous mindset, to us at least, to avoid those criticizing you by immediately assuming they cannot be convinced. At the same time, it seems ironic, as Dr. Contreras himself admits that he is a man who rarely takes back his words. We begin to ask if there is a possibility that he is creating an echo chamber for himself, an environment that filters out all dissent and criticism, but he cuts us off the moment the words leave our mouth.”
Like many of the other entries, this piece deserves to be read in full. The next generation of writers is paying close attention, filling notebooks, taking a stand, documenting the horrors of the Duterte years.