Category Archives: Readings in Media

Column: ‘Who lost the West Philippine Sea?’

Antonio Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Updating, again. This column was published on June 6, 2017. I took the photo of Justice Carpio on June 5, about half an hour before he conducted a group interview with the Inquirer.

This could be the question that will haunt us in our old age. Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio asked the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday to imagine that moment, years from now, when our children and grandchildren will sit us down and ask us: “Who lost the West Philippine Sea to China?”

It is our “civic duty,” Carpio said, to raise the alarm today about the imminent loss of our territory and our waters, to forge a national consensus on what needs to be done, and to defend the West Philippine Sea. Continue reading

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The 7 No’s of Dutertismo

Saguisag 060817

On June 8, I joined a “forum on civil liberties and democracy” at De La Salle University on Taft Avenue called “Gathering Hope”—and came away a little more hopeful. Part of the reason I showed up was to see Rene Saguisag, the great civil libertarian of our time, in action again. I was fortunate to sit beside him, and took a couple of pictures of him in mid-speech (at that point when he was recalling an old story about a mischievous boy and a grandfather figure, whose moral the grandfather summed up in the following wise: “The answer lies in your hands”). Continue reading

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Column: If not Duterte’s ouster, what?

Like many, I do not want the military to oust President Duterte; that attempt at a cure (to speak figuratively) may prove to be worse than the disease. Like many, I only want our democratic processes to function, our checks and balances to work, our politicians to grow a spine worthy of the dignity of their office—so that everyone, Duterte included, can be held accountable not only by history but in real time. The lesson from the history of democratic polities is clear: The consent of the governed depends on limits placed on government. Published on April 25, 2017.

I have written in this space before: There is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte, and there are no destabilization attempts against his administration. What is the “point,” then, of all the criticism? To ask the question is to misunderstand the role of a free press, an unco-opted opposition and the democratic project itself. In our different ways, we criticize to hold him accountable.

Let me limit myself to the responsibility of journalists. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Why prefer a dictatorship to freedom?’

The second column prompted by the IJF17 panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.” Published on April 18, 2017.

As it turns out, more research exists on authoritarian followers than on authoritarian leaders. I do not know this paradox for a fact, but I believe someone who does: the psychologist who is a leading scholar on authoritarianism, Bob Altemeyer. I was led to his work by a presentation Alexa Koenig of UC Berkeley made at the International Journalism Festival two weeks ago; I have since read his “The Authoritarians,” available for free online. It makes for instructive reading. It helps explain our experience under martial law, and why we may yet again find ourselves on the road to authoritarian rule.

The paradox can be explained simply. As Altemeyer writes: “The psychological mystery has always been, why would someone prefer a dictatorship to freedom? So social scientists have focused on the followers, who are seen as the main, underlying problem.” Continue reading

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Column: The authoritarian and his followers

The first of three columns prompted by a panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. (I might add a fourth column, one of these days.) Published on April 11, 2017.

 

One difference between the Marcos years and today: Today there is deservedly more attention paid to the role the public plays in empowering authoritarian regimes. A panel discussion on “Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, which it was my happy task to moderate, brought this difference home to me.

Alexa Koenig, who serves as executive director of UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, began by outlining a useful framework for understanding the subject. Yavuz Baydar, a prominent Turkish journalist living in exile since the postcoup total crackdown by President Reycep Erdogan, drew lessons from his country’s degeneration into a “robust authoritarian regime.” Tamas Bodoky, a Hungarian investigative journalist who founded the watchdog site Atlatszo.hu (“transparent” in Hungarian), described “defining features” of emerging authoritarianism, based on the Hungarian experience under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. I presented five theses on the Duterte presidency. Continue reading

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Column: Becoming blind

Published today, April 4, 2017 — but in a different time zone, and in a different frame of mind.

I find the phenomenon of willful blindness in the Duterte era vexing, and would like to take a closer look. To begin: There are degrees of not seeing.

Some are born truly sightless, or qualify as legally blind. Different institutions would have different definitions for legal blindness, but I think the nontechnical phrasing used in Merriam-Webster comes close to a common basis: “having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses.” (That means that seriously visually impaired people who can see well enough to drive with the help of corrective lenses are not, in fact, legally blind—a common misconception.)

Some are blind because they are unable, or unwilling, to question what they see. Continue reading

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INQxIJF17

En route (literally) to the 11th International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. According to the Etihad flight path map, we are currently flying over Turkey — an appropriate place to begin any discussion about journalism as it is practiced today (or not allowed to).

The programme features some 600 speakers, panelists, authors, performers. (It is the biggest journalism conference in Europe.) Here’s the link to the PDF version of the programme.

The panel discussion I will moderate is scheduled for April 6: Reporting Emerging Authoritarianism.

A sign of the times: The panel includes journalists from Hungary, the Philippines, and yes Turkey, and a human rights expert from the US.

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One difference between Congress and the Senate, Philippine edition

A memorable phrase from prominent political analyst Mon Casiple, our guest in tonight’s INQ&A radio/Facebook program: “In the House [of Representatives], a congressman has one eye on the President. In the Senate, a senator has one eye on the presidency.”

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Column: Jollibee, and the many kinds of love

Published on February 14, 2017.

Last week the largest fast-food chain in the country “broke the internet”—as people have learned to say these days, with enthusiastic and forgivable exaggeration. Jollibee released three television commercials with compelling storylines, all variations-with-a-twist on a theme of love, and Filipinos had a collective sob. I liked the ads; I think they have the potential to teach us something we often forget about love’s true and varied nature. They also make me, a political journalist, realize that Jollibee has the unusual opportunity to remind us about yet another kind of love—but I’m getting ahead of the story.

Make that “stories.”

The three commercials are part of a continuing series of narratives each “inspired by a true story.”

“Vow” is what is known as a meet-cute: Boy meets girl in unforgettable fashion. In this ad, the boy and the girl are side by side at the counter and order the exact same thing, even the exact same upgrade, at an auspiciously empty Jollibee store. The story ends with a wedding, but with a twist in the final frames.

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Column: Why we MUST fight fakes

Published on January 24, 2017.

The inauguration of the Trump presidency is a true, deeply disorienting pivot in history; it may lead to the end of the post-World War II international order. The only certainty is uncertainty: As his dark inaugural address reminded us and his first acts in office confirmed, Donald Trump will upend many rules and traditions designed to limit the power of the American president, and as a consequence dramatically reshape US relations with the rest of the world.

But many Filipinos watching the Trump takeover over the weekend may have felt a shiver of déjà vu. We’ve seen this kind of brash talk, media hostility and enemy-oriented war footing before; when President Duterte speaks of the illegal drugs problem he is fixated on, it can assume the contours of the apocalypse. If Trump has his American Carnage, Mr. Duterte has his Philippine Collapse (or, maybe, Pambansang Bad Trip). If Trump has his “movement,” Mr. Duterte has his 16 million voters (a part of the body politic he sometimes mistakes for the entire country). And if Trump has his Twitter-enabled, cable-news-fueled campaign against media, Mr. Duterte has his social media army (and his sometimes uncontained contempt for inquisitive journalists).

But in at least one aspect, President Trump has trumped President Duterte. From Day One, the American president and his administration have declared war on reality; both Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer have for instance falsely claimed a much larger estimate for the inaugural crowd, despite overwhelming TV, photographic, and eyewitness evidence; and adviser and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway rationalized the false claims as “alternative facts.” The most that Mr. Duterte and his various spokespersons have done is either blame the media for reporting his statements, or ask journalists to exercise “creative imagination” in interpreting the remarks. Continue reading

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Column: The most-read opinion of 2016, and why

Published on January 3, 2017.

A look at the most-read opinion pieces published by the Inquirer last year shows that politics, especially political anxiety over the Duterte presidency, was the dominant concern of our readers. It also shows a healthy mix of the types of opinion that resonated with the audience: columns, of course, but also an editorial, a contributed commentary, a letter to the editor—and a vivid illustration of the digital “long tail.”

But let me begin with a word about the limits of this overview. I am using statistics from the online consumption of the opinion pieces (both web and mobile). I am limiting myself to only the Top 10 pieces read online, which together account for almost one-twentieth of all Opinion traffic. I am basing the ranking on page views, as tracked by Google Analytics (not on share numbers, which can help show consumption only on social media). And I can tell you that all these 10 opinion pieces enjoyed a minimum of six-digit traffic.

(I can also add that traffic increased substantially over 2015 levels, for both Opinion and the website as a whole.)

By far, the most-read opinion piece of 2016 was Solita Monsod’s Aug. 27 column, “De Lima’s record speaks for itself.” This essay on the politics of vindictiveness generated 2.5 times more page views than the last item in the Top 10 list. It begins forthrightly: “This persecution of Leila de Lima is getting out of hand. That it is led by President Duterte makes it even worse. The President, who, in his State of the Nation Address just last month, described himself as ‘not vindictive,’ has proved otherwise.” (It was also shared almost 50,000 times.)

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Column: Seven ‘life hacks’ I learned at the Inquirer

Published on December 13, 2016.

I was one of two Inquirer employees who had the privilege of speaking on behalf of this year’s service awardees in simple rites last week. Please allow me to share excerpts from my response:

… The first of the [seven] “life hacks” I learned at the Inquirer is: Stay humble. I learned this lesson well working closely for over a dozen years with longtime Opinion Editor Jorge Aruta. His approach to editing is exactly the same as his approach to life: Know what’s important, and keep a light touch…. Very few people know that he was, as I wrote back in 2012, one of the most influential opinion journalists in Philippine history. His example of serene confidence and sincere humility continues to inspire me.

… the Inquirer has grown its various audiences and kept its agenda-setting leadership in part through doing new things. The second of the life hacks I learned then is: Stay hungry. I think of Tess Samaniego … who has created a new advertising lifeline for the Inquirer. How did she do it? She looked at the landscape with new eyes, and was able to imagine new possibilities. Continue reading

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Column: Different from other presidents

Published on November 29, 2016.

At a forum hosted by the Asian Media Information and Communication Center last Friday, I had a chance to paint a picture of the conditions journalists labor under when covering President Duterte. With Marites Vitug’s own take, it was meant to prompt discussion:

President Duterte is an unusual subject, different from most other presidents, in many ways. A large part of the challenge of covering him can be explained by these differences. Let me cite four related pairs of unusual.

He was a truly reluctant candidate. This helps us understand why, six months after the election, he can still startle with unexpected talk about his readiness to give up his post. He is the only president who speaks of resigning if certain policies are already set in place, who talks of sitting down with alleged coup plotters, who pledges to leave the presidency if his critics can meet certain (admittedly impossible) requirements.

At the same time, he is the one president who is fully committed to use the full range of presidential powers, the one who casually mentions imposing martial law or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, who threatens to marshall legislative consensus to abolish an office created by law, who readily takes to the bully pulpit to name suspect oligarchs or suspected criminals.

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Column: On Ira Panganiban’s outburst, I call BS

Published on August 2, 2016.

MY RADYO Inquirer colleague Ira Panganiban posted something provocative on Facebook the other day, and it has since gone viral. Unfortunately, the multiplatform journalist got his facts wrong. Even worse, his assumptions did not only lead to the error; they also raise worrying questions about the true value of a human life. In the spirit of free speech and fair play, and as an admiring friend, I wish to set him straight.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Panganiban wrote on July 30. “Andaming matatalino sobrang ingay tungkol sa pagpatay sa mga pusher at adik!!! (So many intelligent people are making too much noise about the killing of pushers and addicts!!!)”

“These so-called decent and progressive thinkers all cry about the number of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his post.”

“The Philippine Daily Inquirer even has a running tally of the killings in their pages. The last number I looked at is 400+ nationwide!!! (Sorry PDI kayo lang may running tally eh.)”

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Column: Cayetano on Duterte and the media

 

Published on June 7, 2016.

I have had occasion to criticize Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano directly in this space, but I believe he does not take it against me. He is a rare breed of politician in that sense; he seeks to engage even his (occasional) critics, confident in his ability to make his case. When I had the chance to interview him during the campaign period, the vice presidential candidate was his usual articulate self—he mentioned the fact that I had criticized him before, but only in passing, and only as an example of the difference in our responsibilities: his as a politician, mine as a journalist.

His views on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s criticism of media practices, and in particular of those of national media organizations based in Manila, hold a special fascination for me then. Over the weekend, I heard him express these views thrice: at the “VIP lane” leading to the massive victory rally dubbed “One Love, One Nation” in Crocodile Park in Davao City on Saturday, on stage at that rally, and in an exclusive interview with Inquirer.net (also carried live on Facebook) the following day.

I found his VIP lane version to be the most developed and on point, and I would like to engage with his views as he expressed them then, in a chance interview (the far better term for ambush interview, which came into use during the first Aquino administration) by national and local media.

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Highs and lows

I was part of a three-person team from Inquirer.net who covered the climate change negotiations in Paris, in December 2015. Belatedly uploading the two columns I wrote there, plus one I wrote before, brought back strong, Seine-filled memories.

“In literature as in life, Paris is a symbol …”
“But five factors suggest that … Paris will succeed.”
“I asked him to say a little more about the central spiritual question.”

Now might be a good time for a quick summing-up.

Our team — Kristine Sabillo, Sara Pacia, and me — wrote over 50 dispatches, posted dozens of tweets, produced several video stories and infographics. Back home, we were backstopped by NewsLab lead Matikas Santos and reporter Marc Cayabyab, and by web designer Sephy Garibay and artist Mok Pusong.

p-to-p

The special site Sephy created featured our Media 21 Asia project on stronger storms and the coping mechanisms of two coastal regions — as well as a Dateline Paris section that allowed us to update our special site several times a day during the Paris negotiations. (All the dispatches are here.)

“The sound we heard, then … must have been a controlled explosion …”
“In a move certain to raise the Philippines’ profile …”
“The Ice Watch does nothing but melt.”

The two-week coverage had many highs and lows; seeing actual Arctic ice melting in the heart of Paris (in front of the Pantheon, in the art installation called Ice Watch), hit me like a great shock. It was many highs and lows, all at once.

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Column: Doubt everything

Published on March 15, 2016.

I HAD the privilege of giving a talk at TEDxADMU on Sunday. The topic had seized my imagination: “How to train your outrage.” Here, with your indulgence, is an extended excerpt:

What is this outrage culture we are living in, and what do we do about it?

The Urban Dictionary actually has a definition. The outrage culture is where people “bend over backwards to be as offended as possible.” Ryan Holiday of the Observer defines it by its product, “outrage porn,” and describes it by its characteristic: “perpetual indignation.” Jon Ronson wrote an entire book about its corollary, Internet shaming, which “targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive.”

The outrage culture, then, is that state of constant offendedness, or at least a heightened sensitivity to take offense, which results in what we can call virtual outrage: outrage that is itself insensitive, one-dimensional, skin-deep—and ultimately self-regarding. It is opinion, not as Ego, but as Id. Continue reading

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Column: The ‘handpicked’ hypocrisy of the Rappler lawsuit

Published on March 1, 2016.

I HAVE many friends in Rappler, and I think highly of the work of a good many members of the Rappler staff. In fact, just three weeks or so ago, I found myself in the position of recommending a senior editor from the online-only news organization for a prestigious fellowship.

But I vigorously take issue with Rappler’s decision to sue Commission on Elections Chair Andy Bautista; the case is not only based on a highly selective reading of the facts, but also wrapped, self-justifyingly, deceivingly, in the mantle of freedom of the press and public interest.

What is essentially at issue here is Rappler’s unarticulated assumption that, because it is an online-only news organization, it deserves lead-organizer status in all three presidential debates. Continue reading

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Column: Eyes on the first debate

Published on February 16, 2016.

PROTOCOL AND prudence require the Vice President of the Philippines to be protected by a close-in security detail. Will these gentlemen be included in the list of 10 staff members each presidential candidate is allowed inside the venue of the first official presidential debate, in Cagayan de Oro City? Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla wanted to know.

Remulla is the kind of natural politician who will stand up in the middle of a meeting to literally pick up a seat or two and bring them to the table, just to make sure women at the meeting are not left standing. The polished way he asked the question made his request—he wanted the security men to be added to the list—sound even more reasonable than it probably deserved to be perceived.

Are we making an exception for Vice President Jejomar Binay’s security men? Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez retorted immediately. Continue reading

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Column: A president with only one-fifth of the votes

Published on January 19, 2016.

AT A corporate retreat of the UN Development Programme and its project partners in Tagaytay City last week, I had a chance to very briefly revisit an idea I first proposed in 2009, as a way to understand Philippine presidential elections.

In “The 20-percent presidency,” I offered five theses to frame my reading of the 2010 vote. The third thesis posited that “There are two kinds of presidential mandates: the 20-percent presidency and the 40-percent presidency.” I wrote: “The inevitable multi-candidate race in 2010 will follow either of two templates: the 1992 elections, which saw four evenly matched candidacies (with two more viable enough to end up with at least 10 percent of the vote), or the 2004 elections, which were marked by two candidacies of relatively equal strength. (With a little help from Garci, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won with 39 percent of the vote, against Fernando Poe Jr.’s 36 percent.)”

As we know, Benigno Aquino III won the 2010 contest, with about 43 percent of the vote. That made him the third post-Edsa president to secure a 40-percent mandate, after Joseph Estrada and Arroyo, and left Fidel Ramos (with 23 percent of the vote in 1992) as the only member of the exclusive 20-percent club.

Will Ramos induct a new member into the club after the May 9 vote?

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Column: ‘Noted with excitement but with trepidation’

Published on December 29, 2015.

A text message Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc sent me about a year ago captures for me both her trademark wit and the character of our working relationship. On Jan. 6, I sent her an advisory, that an event I was helping organize in the run-up to the Pope’s arrival was surprisingly moving forward and pushing through. “In the last 2 days, we got unexpected confirmation from the 2 main PH bishops that they will take part in our Inquirer Conversations on the papal visit,” I texted. I gave the details, and then aired the hope that, despite the late notice, she could still grace the forums. The first one was in a mere four days.

Her reply: “Noted with excitement but with trepidation!”

I have been mulling over that phrase, in wonder and with gratitude, since the sudden, shocking news of her death. Like many, I was driven to look for traces of her life on mine; it was inevitable that I was led, too, to the text messages she was so assiduous in writing.

She encoded our universe in so many other ways, of course. At this point I must apologize; we see the beloved through the prism of our experience; there will be too many “I”s in the following account, but it cannot be helped.

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Column: Thoughts on the Jesuits, going forward

Published on November 17, 2015.

ROOTING THROUGH my notes while doing research on the first Jesuit pope, I realized I had not yet shared the following remarks I made at a Province Forum of the Philippine Jesuits last year. Perhaps they may still be of some use:

Let me start from where I work: Journalism needs more Jesuits. I do not mean the profession needs more Jesuit columnists like Fr. Joaquin Bernas or Jesuit bloggers like Fr. Joel Tabora or Jesuit entrepreneurial advise-dispensers like Fr. Javy Alpasa. Or at least I do not mean that necessarily; it is also true that we in the media can always do with more Jesuit-produced content. The rotating column God’s Word Today is yet another good example; it has the advantage of being written by Fr. Jett Villarin and Fr. Manoling Francisco, among others. It only suffers from the disadvantage of appearing in the wrong newspaper!

What I really mean is that journalism needs more Jesuits as subject experts.

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Column: What we (still) don’t know about Antonio Luna

Published on September 29, 2015.

In “Heneral Luna,” the actor Alvin Anson portrays Jose Alejandrino—the revolutionary general whose memoirs serve as a supplemental source for the acclaimed movie. Those memoirs, published in 1933 and translated into English in 1949, offer the fullest portrait of his good friend, the mercurial Antonio Luna. It gives us vivid impressions (to borrow Luna’s favorite literary style) of his student days in Europe, his tumultuous year with the Army of the Malolos Republic—and, in 1896, his hour of treason and cowardice.

A two-paragraph section in Alejandrino’s “The Price of Freedom” and titled “Antonio Luna in the year 1896” makes for necessary reading.

“It appears in official documents that in this period Luna committed the greatest error of his life in denouncing the existence of the Katipunan and in revealing, during his imprisonment after the first outbreak of the rebellion, the names of some of his friends affiliated with the Society. Later, he explained however to me his aforesaid acts by saying that with the physical and moral tortures which he suffered during his imprisonment, and upon being assured by the Spaniards that he had been squealed upon by his own friends, denouncing him as an accomplice in the rebellion, his violent character made him lose his better judgment. And having fallen for the scheme woven by the Spaniards, he declared that those who had denounced him were more guilty than he.

“The events of 1896 separated us from each other, he having been prosecuted and later on sentenced to suffer imprisonment in Spain, while I left the country for China and Japan [on official missions for Emilio Aguinaldo to procure arms for the revolution]. We were able to see each [other] again in Kabite toward the month of July, 1898. He was returning home after having served his sentence in the Model Prison of Madrid, and he brought with him in his baggage books on military strategy and tactics and treatises on field fortifications. Above all, he brought with him a desire to atone for his past mistakes.” Continue reading

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Column: Apolinario Mabini vs General Luna

The first of five columns provoked, or inspired, by two viewings of Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna.” Published on September 22, 2015. 

Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna” is a masterpiece of filmmaking; we should all see it. But it is, primarily, art; only, secondarily, history. Learning to distinguish one from the other is an exhilarating, necessary, education.

The “but” in the lead is a testament to the movie’s persuasive power. Much of this power lies in the astute casting, in the sweeping cinematography, in the compelling pace of the storytelling; some of it rests on the familiar structure of the narrative: of one against many, of country before self, of nation above class, of good versus evil.

The movie begins, and ends, with a disclaimer about creative license. Tarog’s reimagining of parts of Philippine history has inspired spirited discussion in the classroom or animated conversations over coffee or beer, about the shape of our history and about our own role in the shaping. (I overheard one conversation between early-twentysomethings; they were hoping that, perhaps, just perhaps, box-office results would lead to a trilogy of movies—a trilogy about Philippine revolutionary heroes, not comic-book or Young Adult characters!) Continue reading

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A revolutionary movie

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