Category Archives: Readings in Media

‘All governments lie’: 15 theses

Varsi TPSF

The Varsitarian covered The Political Science Forum.

I took part in The Political Science Forum at the University of Santo Tomas on February 23, 2018; my jump-off point for discussion was the following set of 15 theses (since slightly edited).

1.All governments lie.

2.They lie out of necessity, to protect state secrets, or to gain an advantage in negotiations. They lie in an attempt to advance the public interest.

3.But they also lie when in a panic, to save face or to defend their principals. They lie to benefit public officials’ private interests.

4.In a democratic setting, there is no place for organized disinformation directed against a government’s own citizens.

5.Governments are not to lie, systematically, to their citizens.

6.Unfortunately, the Duterte government is breaking new ground in this regard.

7.Disinformation is false information intended to deceive.

8.Fake news is Deliberately fabricated information designed to Deceive, Disguised in a news format. The 3Ds.

9.On three critical issues, the Duterte government is either withholding vital information, or intentionally misleading the people.

10.First issue: EJKs. The government refuses to come clean about the casualty toll in the so-called war on drugs.

11.Second issue: The new alliance with China. The government declines to hold China to account.

12.Third issue: The rehabilitation of the Marcoses. The government ignores both history and jurisprudence.

13.The machinery of disinformation includes the agencies in charge of the administration of justice.

14.The machinery has a hands-on leader, the President himself, who is a primary source of disinformation.

15.The machinery of disinformation relies on an outsourced army: DDS social media.

The Varsitarian covered the forum.

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Column: What are we in ‘werpa’ for?

Charot!

The inimitable, irrepressible Ethel Booba. This is one petmalu tweet.

Column No. 465, published on October 24, 2017. I argue that the Duterte administration is trying to “capture total control of the political infrastructure,” and point to five worrying developments.

Sen. Chiz Escudero is a political cipher; I always find myself questioning my understanding of his place in contemporary politics. Is that really all he stands for? I always think he is better than some of us give him credit for — and then he says something again that suggests he is not an idealistic young man with a vocation for politics but rather a privileged politician with a readiness for realpolitik.

At a “kapihan” at the Senate last week, he tried to paint a portrait of political normalcy: “Isn’t this like what the past administration did, threaten the former ombudsman with impeachment, who then resigned? Impeach the sitting chief justice, who was [convicted]? Jailed three sitting senators and his predecessor (referring to President Benigno Aquino III’s predecessor, President Gloria Arroyo)? No one said we were headed toward dictatorship then,” he said in Filipino.

That’s because we were not in fact headed toward dictatorship then. We fail our democracy when we use our UP education and Georgetown degree to argue for false equivalence. Continue reading

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Column: Digong, ‘pataka’

Sona 2017:Joan Bondoc

Bullshit artist, bully pulpit. (2017 State of the Nation Address. Inquirer|Joan Bondoc)

Had fun writing this analysis of President Duterte’s rhetoric from a Bisaya perspective. The comments on the website and on Facebook  (well, many of them) were fun to read too. Here’s the link to the original column, published on October 17, 2017.

As I have written before, there is a real difference between the way the President speaks in private and the way he responds to the presence of a microphone in public. In private, he is courteous, thoughtful, funny; in public, he is a bullshit artist. Continue reading

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Doing journalism in a dangerous time

PJRC 2018

The real highlight of the first part of the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, held at the main campus of the University of the Philippines, was the McLuhan Fellows Roundtable with Tess Bacalla, Lynda Jumilla, and new Pulitzer prizewinner Manny Mogato; the thoroughly engaging discussion was moderated by Kara David. They struck the true keynote; I merely picked up the tune, and some of their themes. 

It is a privilege to speak at the Philippine Journalism Research Conference, and a pleasure to be back at the University of the Philippines; I was very happy here, when I taught a class in opinion writing for a few semesters. Some of my students became my colleagues at work and in the industry; I hope some of you will become journalists too. Not just from UP, but from the University of Santo Tomas, from Visayas State University, from Southern Luzon State University, from Ateneo de Manila, from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila, from Wesleyan University, from De La Salle University in Dasmarinas—and I’m just listing the schools where this year’s finalists are from. We certainly need you and others like you in other schools. We need you, in our newsrooms and in the field, in this turbulent, dangerous time.

I would like to raise three baseline questions today, and the first of these is specific to our time: What does it mean to be a journalist, or to do journalism research, in the Duterte era?

It means fighting back against “fake news” and other forms of disinformation. It means doing journalism at a time of hyped-up hostility against journalists. And it means countering the brazen lies about journalism, press freedom, and free speech that President Duterte and his subordinates propagate. These lies become myths, and are used to justify all manner of suppression of dissent and criticism. We must, all of us, each of us, debunk them. Continue reading

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The Pope and the Protectors

Worldcomday2018

At about 45 minutes long, it was the longest speech I had written—I teased the participants (some 200 nuns, third-order members and other lay persons active in ministry, plus a handful of priests and seminarians) that it was going to be like doing penance, except it would be them doing it. But I was grateful for the chance to reflect at necessary length on Pope Francis’ Message on “fake news”—and on the journalists (“the protectors of the news,” he called them in English) whose special responsibility it is to inform the public. It was my first time at the central house of the Pauline community in Pasay City, but as I told Sister Pinky Barrientos, I felt immediately at home.

[Good afternoon.

You honor me with your invitation. Thank you; I am delighted to be here. I received Sister Pinky’s invitation with a mixture of optimism and a creeping sense of fear—the exact combination of feelings I get when a priest invites me to confession! Only, in this case, and because I prepared a rather lengthy speech, it would not be me, but you in the audience, who would do the penance. My apologies in advance!]

My focus today is on “The Pope and the Protectors of News.” My perspective is that of a believer, in both the purpose of journalism and the faith that gives life purpose, but firstly, principally, my point of view is that of a practitioner—I am a practicing journalist and a practicing Catholic. Continue reading

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“In the real world”

NSPC 2018

It was my privilege to serve—on February 19, in Dumaguete City—as this year’s keynote speaker at the National Schools Press Conference, the annual and massive enterprise an education official called the “Olympics of campus journalism.” Channeling Rizal, I had a few things to say:

Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan.

Secretary Briones, Governor Degamo, Mayor Remollo; education officials, distinguished guests, teachers and coaches and parents; not least, the 5,000 student delegates to the National Schools Press Conference: Good morning. It is my privilege to join you at the largest annual journalism-related conference in the Philippines, the “Olympics of campus journalism.”

As a journalist who believes in the necessity of journalism, in the role of a free press in a developing democracy, I am happy to see so many young campus journalists here, with the proverbial pen in their hand and idealism in their eyes. As a newspaper and online editor who has had the opportunity to serve as a judge in division-level press conferences, I am—like you—thrilled to finally take part in the national finals.

I had the chance yesterday to tell someone that I was at this year’s National Schools Press Conference. My friend, who is now a lawyer working at the Senate, immediately replied: “Wow I remember back in high school I joined that and made it to editorial writing nationals. Didn’t win though haha. Very good training ground!”

There was no mistaking the enthusiasm in my friend’s voice, or the joy he felt in reliving happy memories of press conferences past. I am moved to say to all of you: Stop. Take a deep breath. Look around you. Remember the details of color and sound and scent. Enjoy the moment. You are making a memory that will last a long time, and for most of you, that memory, win or lose, will be a happy one.

Congratulations! Continue reading

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Column: “The unfortunate Aguirre: A Filipino tragedy”

Aguirre 101116

In October 2016, Justice Secretary Aguirre was a guest on our radio/Facebook show INQ&A. (We got tired and stopped after some 40 episodes.)

Some readers were puzzled by my seeming sympathy for a justice secretary actively weaponizing the rule of law. But I saw in his descent into the depths the story of many other Filipinos who had lost their way. Today’s scandal over the proposed dismissal of charges against confessed drug lords shows the new lows he and his men have plumbed. Published on September 19, 2017.

At some level, I knew writing this installment in my occasional series on unfortunate appointments was inevitable, but I resisted because I’ve interviewed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and I thought I glimpsed the essential decency in the man. (Teddy Locsin once wrote about this occupational hazard, of encountering the difference between disagreeable policy and agreeable personality.) Aguirre told me, to my face, that he would not file a case against Sen. Leila de Lima without obtaining the necessary bank documentation, what he called a paper trail. He said he knew from 40 years in litigation that he needed that kind of evidence, and he did not want to lose. That he proceeded to file the case anyway — based on what we can call a finding of improbable cause — proved to me that he was under severe pressure from President Duterte to put De Lima behind bars, even if only temporarily. Continue reading

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Column: “Dutertismo: New Filipino, or anti-Filipino?”

Duterte Nery CDO Debate | GMA

ALL SMILES. I made a courtesy call on Rodrigo Duterte, then the mayor of Davao City, before the start of the first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign. Cagayan de Oro City, February 21, 2016. (Borrowed from GMA News Online | Thank you to Amita Legaspi)

President Duterte is trying to change what it means to be Filipino—by appealing to his countrymen’s worst impulses. Published on September 5, 2017.

Rodrigo Duterte ran on a simple promise; it is in the nature of political slogans to be conveniently vague, and “Change is coming” was short-term specific (get ready for an untraditional politician) but long-term ambiguous (change was however one defined it). He did stand for something in the public mind: He would be tough against crime and drugs, ready to fill Manila Bay with 100,000 corpses; he would be firm against China, flying the Philippine flag in the Chinese coast guard’s face while riding on a jet ski; he would take care of his people, the same way he paternalistically took care of Davao City; he would negotiate an honorable peace with communist insurgents and with Moro separatists, because he understood their struggle; not least, he would be decisive, unlike President Noynoy Aquino.

Today we can say that the President has kept his promise: Change is here. And it is soaked in blood, submerged in uncertainty, saturated in the brine of betrayal. (I have previously noted that the three main changes under “Dutertismo” were the unprecedented wave of extrajudicial killings, the underprepared pivot to China and the unjust rehabilitation of the Marcoses.) Continue reading

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Kian’s story

Kian.png

The PCIJ Story Project on the tragedy of Kian delos Santos started as a (deeply moving) children’s book. ABS-CBN then made an animated version, hauntingly narrated by Agot Isidro.

The link is here: http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/multimedia/video/09/21/17/si-kian

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“To the gallant journalists who work in Catholic media and to the Catholic journalists who work in secular media”

Signis 011918

A response to Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s keynote speech at the “Catholic Media in Challenging Times” forum in San Carlos Seminary, Makati City. Friday, January 19, 2018.

The responsible shepherd 

It is an honor to be here; I don’t know if taking part in today’s forum qualifies as a plenary indulgence, but this sinner certainly jumped at the chance when the invitation arrived.

I share Cardinal Chito’s misgivings about not having a female perspective on this panel; I hope we can help cure that in the Q&A. But I look at the panel and I realize—this is not only missing the female perspective, it’s missing other male perspectives too, because we are all graduates of the Ateneo. It’s the Jesuit mafia at work! But keeping our limits in mind is good. We are only offering our views from the limits of our own experience.

My experience is primarily that of a journalist.

Indeed, I am wearing black today because today the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and other alliances and associations are marking #BlackFridayforPressFreedom, in support of our colleagues at Rappler, the staff at the 54 Catholic radio stations whose licenses to operate have been I think deliberately ignored, and other journalists on the receiving end of the government’s iron fist.  Continue reading

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An assault on press freedom

A 10-part Twitter thread on the SEC decision revoking the certificate of incorporation of Rappler, the social media network. (With a link to today’s column—and an 11th tweet.)

 

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Kay G. Pen Medina, tunay at tapat na konsensiya ng bayan

Pen Medina 092117

The actor Pen Medina “whipping up a storm” at the Luneta rally on Sept. 21.

In my Newsstand column last Tuesday, I wrote:

The actor Pen Medina delivered a scorching speech at the Sept. 21 rally in Luneta; he was right to hold to account the so-called “dilawan” for their role in creating an elitist system, but he was wrong to gloss over the militant Left’s participation in the current elite.

As it turns out, I was wrong to think that the iconic actor had deliberately left out the militant Left from his bracing analysis. He wrote the following comment as a gentle rejoinder to my column:

Pen Medina comment

Mr. Medina posted this in the comment thread on the same day the column was published.

I stand, gratefully, corrected. And I hope to catch Mr. Medina in one or two of those other venues for discussion.

 

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On the level of craft alone, this movie is must-viewing

Respeto

I saw “Respeto” a second time last night, and it was even better than I remembered. Just on the level of craft alone, the movie is must-viewing: The actors do not seem to be performing at all, but only living out their portion of life. (Dido De La Paz is unforgettable as Doc; the rap stars Abra and Loonie are a revelation—but it seems unfair to point to individual actors when the ensemble acting is so fluid and generous and on point.) The story is gritty AF but punctuated repeatedly by genuinely funny moments. (In this sense, it is very much like the Noli.) The cinematography finds the hidden poetry of Manila’s ugly quarter (the tracking shots,  the chase scenes in what is our own flyover country, above all the calming, clarifying episodes in the cemetery). The writing is first-rate (and the English subtitles match it). Not least: the music! I am not a hiphop or rap fan, but I came away from the first viewing with a new respect for this nasty, brutal but legitimate art. (That the rap battles were improvised on set, as director Treb Monteras said in one interview, is another reason to respect this angry, difficult form.)

The theme is bleak, and the reality the movie gives vivid life to is as complicated as our own tortuous history. But that this independent movie even got made, and that it is so good, equal parts heart and craft, is both proof and source of hope.

 

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A series of unfortunate appointments

Without meaning to, I started an occasional series of columns on unfortunate appointments to key government positions. It was prompted by Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay’s kowtowing (a word with Chinese roots!)  to an aggressive China; I patterned the use of the word “unfortunate” after Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” (Irony, though, sometimes refuses to travel.)

“The unfortunate Mr. Yasay” was published on July 12, 2016, the same day the arbitral tribunal awarded the Philippines a near-complete victory in its case against China. “No one wants to go to war,” I wrote. “[T]hat’s what diplomacy and international law are for, to assert our rights and our claims without recourse to violence. It is unfortunate that, even before he starts, Yasay has surrender on his mind.”

On August 23, 2016, I followed up (that is, it became a series in my mind) with a column on “The unfortunate Salvador Panelo,” then, as now, the chief presidential legal counsel. Many things are unfortunate about Sal Panelo, but I focused on the quality of his lawyering. “He argues like an ambulance chaser …. The great principles that animate the higher practice of the law, not merely to resolve disputes but to discover truth and dispense justice, are inconveniences that must be rationalized away.” Also: “Panelo has … argued, in more than one instance, that basic principles of law do not mean what generations of lawyers have been taught they meant.”

Both Panelo and Yasay (since rejected by the Commission on Appointments because of his American citizenship) were appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The third column was on an appointee of President Gloria Arroyo’s—Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Diosdado Peralta. His decision rationalizing the burial of the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani provoked great outrage. On November 15, 2016, in “The unfortunate Justice Peralta,” I wrote: “There is none so blind as he who refuses to see. Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta’s ponencia in the Marcos burial cases will go down in history as the cowardly rationalizations of a willfully blind man; he deserves the opprobrium coming his way. He still has six years to serve in the Supreme Court, but his legacy will be forever defined by this badly written, ill-thought-through, deliberately obtuse majority decision.”

The fourth column in the series went back to a Duterte appointee: the solicitor general who told the public, and by extension the Court of Appeals, that he was effectively a member of the Supreme Court. In “The unfortunate Calida, ’16th Justice’,” published on February 21, 2017, I wrote: “it is both unethical and illogical for a solicitor general to assert that he is ‘considered’ as another Supreme Court justice, because in fact he isn’t and because the separation of powers requires that he shouldn’t be.” I concluded: “Calida’s invocation of his supposed stature as the 16th Justice was plainly meant to put pressure on the Court of Appeals.”

The subject of the next column in the series is probably Duterte’s most famous, and possibly most consequential, appointment: In “The unfortunate Bato dela Rosa,” published on May 2, 2017, I gave three reasons (reasons shared, of all people, by Speaker Bebot Alvarez) why “No chief of the Philippine National Police has brought as much disgrace and discredit to the institution he heads as Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, a likeable enough police officer promoted beyond his capacity and competence.”

Who should I write on next?

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Column: The transformations of Rodrigo Duterte

Written on the day of the controversial second State of the Nation Address, and published on July 25, 2017.

Since I first met him in August 2015, I have tried to describe Rodrigo Duterte, the man and politician, as fairly, as completely, as I could. In this column and before various audiences—rule of law advocates in The Hague, student leaders on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Asian news executives in Bangkok, campus writers in Legazpi, journalists in Perugia, even residents of my hometown of Cagayan de Oro—I have sought to give President Duterte his due.

I have always pointed out that, in private, Mr. Duterte is unfailingly courteous, and thoughtful and responsive in conversation. He makes bold statements (arguing, for instance, that the presidency is not powerful enough) but leavens them with an earnest mien, a healthy sense of humor, even a talent for mimicry. I’ve met him only thrice — a group interview at the Inquirer that lasted for about four hours, a chance encounter at the Naia 2 airport, a presidential debate — but my impressions have found an echo in the recollections of the senators and Cabinet secretaries I’ve interviewed since his election.

I have also always noted that Mr. Duterte is a genuinely charismatic personality; I have seen his effect on an audience of about 50 as well as a massive crowd (the thanksgiving rally in Davao City after his victory) of perhaps 500,000. There is really something there that many people respond to. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen this charisma at work, not only in the President’s native Davao but in Tokyo, too, when Mr. Duterte came visiting. It is a mistake to dismiss this talk of mass appeal or reduce it to cult-like conduct. (To be sure, there is that, too.)

But put a microphone in front of him, and (time to look afresh at this tired phrase) all hell breaks loose. Continue reading

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About the EJKs: The signs were there; we were warned

Another 10-part Twitter thread, starting here. (You can of course click on the card below.)

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Scenes from the Forum

Haven’t yet had a chance to write about World Justice Forum V—held at The Hague last July. Aside from allowing me to meet rule of law advocates and role models, it moved me to take the next step in a rule of law project I’ve been worrying for some time. It was good to meet kindred spirits, including exemplary Filipino delegates.

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The truth is, Filipinos have long been anxious about Duterte’s #warondrugs

A 10-part Twitter thread, starting here.

 

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Column: But where is the President?

When the President went missing. Published on June 27, 2017.

I understand, from the official daily schedule circulated on Monday by the Presidential Communications Operations Office, that President Duterte will make a public appearance today for the first time in almost a week. The “tentative schedule” (these releases are almost always classified as tentative) shows the President attending the “Eid’l Fitr Celebration” in Malacañang at 7 p.m.

This marks the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Duterte has been missed. He was not seen in public from June 12 to 16, and again from June 21 to 26 — assuming, that is, that he keeps his appointment tonight. (It is the only appointment on his agenda today, according to the schedule shared with the reporters and bloggers who cover him.)

At a general meeting of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines last week that I was privileged to address, a gentleman during the Q&A noted the traditional media’s “failure” to report on the President’s whereabouts. I understood what he meant, and conceded his point (in a word, the media should dig deeper), but I also noted other factors at work that made the President’s first prolonged absence controversial. Continue reading

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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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