Published in The News Today, Dec.23, 2009
Leaving 2009 behind and looking forward to 2010
By Rhea B. Peñaflor
2009 soon will be over. But how was our 2009? Was it good? Better than 2008? Or was it the year we want it to be?
Indeed, we may have frustrations but Christmas is the time to set aside all these negative vibes. For a moment, let us be thankful for all the blessings that we have received this year.
The News Today wishes everyone especially its avid readers a Joyous Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!
It is with pride that we have our share of good news in Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao famously known as “Manny Pacquiao” and Efren Geronimo Peñaflorida Jr.
Pacquiao won the WBO Welterweight Title and WBC Diamond Belt. The Filipino boxing superstar is the first boxer to win seven world titles in seven different weight divisions.
Efren Geronimo Peñaflorida Jr., on the other hand was named CNN Hero of the Year for 2009 who started the “Kariton Klassroom” to bring education to poor children. He is the founder and head of the Dynamic Teen Company, which offers Filipino youth an alternative to street gangs through education, recreating school settings in unconventional locations such as cemeteries and trash dumps.
These two are the major good news which the Philippines is thankful about but we also remember the most dreadful incident which happened in our country—the November 23 massacre.
In the silence of our hearts though, we pray for our brothers and sisters who were victims of the hapless killings last Nov. 23. May their loved ones and family whom they left will find justice. We also pray and urge the government to cut the horns of these sacred cows for the Nov. 23 Maguindanao massacre will forever haunt each one of us especially journalists who are no longer safe to be civilians or citizens of this country.
The Maguindanao massacre is the worst brutal mass killing ever recorded with a single biggest death toll of journalists ever in a single incident anywhere in the world.
The latest update briefing from the International Crisis Group (ICG), shows how the 23 November killings were not the result of a clan feud, as widely reported, but of Manila’s deliberate nurturing of a ruthless warlord in exchange for votes.
Art. XVIII, Section 24 of the Philippine Constitution states that “Private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled. All paramilitary forces including Civilian Home Defense Forces not consistent with the citizen armed force established in this Constitution, shall be dissolved or, where appropriate, converted into the regular force.”
This constitutional provision has no teeth simply because it is the national government itself protecting these abusive warlords. The Ampatuans amass absolute power, including the possession of a private arsenal that included mortars, rocket launchers, state-of-the-art assault rifles and only-God-knows-what-other kind of ammunitions because even the military is afraid of them. Ask the locals and they know that this kind of lawlesness has been going on for decades. The “Ampatuans” are Untouchables, or, were.
But what now, after this tragic, animalistic massacre?
As responsible journalists, The News Today calls that justice be served and by that, we mean expeditiously. We mean, put to trial and convict the killers. We mean, put a stop to private armies because they have no place in a civilized society.
We also call for the government to put up livelihood programs for the people in Maguindanao because poverty is the cause why they joined the private armies even if it is against their conscience. When the stomach is already complaining, people forget that they have a conscience. What do you do when your family or children goes hungry?
ICG is correct in stating that the government’s tasks include improving security by ending private and local funding for civilian auxiliaries to the police and military and asserting far more control over procurement and issuance of firearms and ensuring the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) moves forward. It was on the pretext of fighting the MILF that the Ampatuans built their private force.
There is thus a need of massive campaign of educating and rehabilitating the people especially in areas of armed conflict. Educating them of the effect of the armed conflict and exploitation may not easy since emotional trauma can not be quantified. Still, we urge NGOs and trained individuals to impart their knowledge and skills in helping appease the anger and sad fate of our unfortunate brothers and sisters in Mindanao.
For our fellow journalists, responsible journalism is about thinking long term.
Recalling the very words of Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism Professor and Director Shiela Coronel during the 2008 Bangkok Media Conference, “Journalists should think long term. You may be a very brilliant journalist but when you’re 6 feet below the ground, that’s the end of you.”
I agree with Coronel. While it is true that journalists should not fear to speak the truth, to tell the truth, it must also go with responsibility of preserving one’s self. We can be better instruments if we remain alive. Of course, we have to also weigh if we are putting our life and limb in trouble. It is a balance of being courageous at the right time and place.
Our fellow journalists who joined the convoy of the Mangudadatus has committed no violation. They have the right to be there. They have the right to be agents of truth since the central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. Maybe in their hearts, they believed that they will not be harmed since they are civilians, but they were not spared.
That is why the Maguindanao massacre is the most odious, blatant violation of basic human right—the right to life. The greatest lesson here is taught. Do we need all these people killed first before a change be made?
This Christmas, we all wish especially our fellow journalists, a peace of mind. Each day, we are faced with new issues, new tragic events but we have to deliver and report the news.
We have to speak only the truth. Voir dire. This is the first obligation of the journalist to its audience, the readers.
Let us leave 2009 behind with lessons learned and look forward to a better 2010.
As we move forward, The News Today commits itself with bringing you only the truth.