The string about to snap; Media in dire crisis

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
The floodwaters are rising almost up to her knees. And yet we have a president who seemingly sees nothing, hears nothing, says nothing, not even the ticking of a bomb just beside her. Even the International Herald Tribune, which normally gives her long leash, in a three column front-page yesterday, banged the drums. Graft and corruption, it indicated, have reached the very top of power "in a major scandal implicating Arroyo, her family and close friends."

Little Girl Riding Hood, GMA’s image at the outset. Or Little Miss Moppet have vanished and in their place, we have a Barbie handpainted by Emperor Nero himself, a Barbie seemingly up to no good, forgetting that only last May 10 or just after, the Establishment, the power elite, including the redoubtable Church and Big Business proclaimed her victor in the controversial counting.

Since then, GMA has lost a lot of ground.

Widespread poverty has worsened, so has unemployment. The economy has gone into a mudhole, and almost everybody in power is perceived as a direct blood descendant of Limahong who had the fastest thieving hands in the business. If indeed the First Family is enmeshed in graft, it won’t be long before the people’s hue and cry demand that GMA stand down or step down.

Stand down means at the very least, she will have to stage snap presidential elections. Or if she is stark blind, she will have to turn over power to vice president Noli de Castro with her and her generals still calling the shots. Step down means just that – step down, but ways and means will have to be found to transfer power to a Council of Leaders or Council of Wise Men for a transition period of six months to a year.

Step down means GMA and her family will perforce have to leave the country and go into exile. If she remains, her life and her family could be in danger. Anyway, if indeed they have accumulated fortunes, a lavish life awaits her in any country of her choice. Spain maybe? Or the United States where she still enjoys the friendship and support of a retinue in power places.

There’s no way, or I see no way, GMA can reverse the trends in the Philippines. She is up against a historical tsunami which a cluster of previous presidents stirred the tides decades ago. Her major fault was that she belonged to the elite, could not betray the elite, lived the sumptuous life of the elite, and turning her back on them was like Prince Charles turning her back on Camilla Parker Bowles and the royal family and going into monkhood.

She stays in Malacañang and the floodwaters will continue to rise.

They can only be stopped, stalled or slowed down if before midnight tonight, she addresses the nation on nationwide TV and announces that six of the most corrupt generals have been arrested and jailed, six of the most notorious tax-evaders, six drug and jueteng lords, six smugglers, and manacles strapped on Imelda and a couple of her children. And yes, Jose Pidal.

She does that and she is a heroine overnight. She does not do that and her ship of state will begin to list, the ocean waters will pour in, the rats will jump out as they did desert Erap before Joseph Estrada bowed to superior force and fled Malacañang like a common scoundrel.

I don’t think there will be any nationwide uprising. Filipinos are too downswing and downbeat for that. Nor will there be a communist revolution. The Americans will see to it that, as long as they are still around, the Philippines will remain under their tutelage even if a "revolutionary government" is established so long as it remains within the US political orbit.

A revolutionary junta can take a number of forms or disguises.

But it’s too early to discuss these matters. The thing is to keep the Philippines in shaky equilibrium if that is at all possible. The military right must be prevented from taking over power. They will run the Philippines as they have run Mindanao, with the bayonet more than the brain. The communist Left, try as it might, can never take over a Philippines that will stick to a Christian God and not to Karl Marx, to the hammer and sickle. To the tricolor, and not to red screaming flags.
* * *
Okay, that headline was plumb scary, that the Philippines "is the most murderous place for journalists" in the whole wide world. And it came from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), whose credentials were unquestionable. The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres blasted the Philippines government for allowing the killing of journalists to go unchallenged and unpunished. It demanded an investigation no less than by the United Nations.

The pendulum has swung 180 degrees.

Once, the Philippines was the pride of journalistic freedom, its journalists considered the bravest, the most enterprising, the most free-wheeling in the world. That was during the 50s and the 60s, two decades when Filipinos in the foreign press could hold their own against any competition. They were brainy, resourceful, had some of the best noses for news.

Why? Because the government took its prize journalists for granted, and even when they started getting murdered simply looked the other way. I wish the president can tell her spokesman Ignacio Bunye to shut up or go look for another job. Opening his big, bodacious mouth Bunye said it was unfair and exaggerated for the CPJ to single out the Philippines for this infamy. Unfair? Exaggerated?

Toti. You unspeakable lug, do you know what is it to have two guns pointed at your temple by two criminals, and a long kitchen knife at your heart by a third. All three threatening to kill as they spat cusswords into my face. Well, I did experience this ordeal ten years ago in my residence, while the rest of my family and household were blindfolded and hogtied. I dared them to go ahead. Somehow they desisted at that precise time and the delay saved our lives.

The latest to be killed is Klein Cantoneros, radio station DXAA commentator on his way home in Barangay Santa Filomena early Wednesday. Three unidentified men shot him. They are still at large courtesy of a government which visibly doesn’t give a damn for media, dead or alive.

I’m really scared. I think the Philippines is going the way of drug-infested Colombia, whose ruthless drug cartel has virtually decimated the media population. There is a direct correlation between crime and the increasing murder of journalists. The drug and jueteng lords, whose money empire probably amounts to P500 billion a year, can easily pay mercenaries to kill off nosy journalists.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of jueteng, we are told by Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, go all the way to the top. Names were hypothetically mentioned during the interview by talk show host Pinky Webb, and the names of GMA, Mike Arroyo, Mikey Arroyo were bandied around. Mrs. President, your name has long been linked with jueteng. For your own good, for the nation’s good, why don’t you put a stop to jueteng once and for all?

According to Archbishop Oscar Cruz, only you can do that.

But there is another media issue that rankles and disturbs me no end. The old journalists have died, even their immediate successors after World War II. The remaining ones like Amando Doronila, Max Soliven and myself are the vanishing breed, the last of the Mohicans. As in TV, so in print and radio, no promising youngsters have emerged. Women communications graduates, it seems, have almost all flocked to TV, the glamour medium where money is made more easily.

TV programs are mostly entertainment fare. Information is given short shrift. And most talk show programs are ignorant, insipid and imbecilic, the hosts’ delivery the continuing whine of a toadstool, and if they roar at all, it is an elephant’s trumpet call during the mating season. I can’t mention names. They will be my enemies for life. Oh yes, there are one or two or three who are promising, but in the arid desert that is local TV, they will never fulfill that promise.

Red-hot issues with deep intellectual roots are not taken up at all. Gossip is the favorite fare, one-liners, a verbal slash or two, flicks of the camera where certified idiocy of face after face is beheld with wondrous awe.

Not having built up and trained the forward reserves for the next decade or two, Philippine media will just have to hack it like a pugilistic journeyman up against a bouncing ball that refuses to be snared. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers. In the past, we were never at a loss for good journalists.











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