Monday, September 2, 2013

From “Pilipinas” to “Filipinas”

By Florangel Rosario Braid
Published in Manila Bulletin
August 17, 2013

With the problems facing our society today, some may say a controversy emerging from a proposal to change the name of the country should not elicit much of our attention. It is merely a change in name. Further, it involves only a change in one letter, the proponents would say. But this is not just an ordinary change in name of a person or a place. It involves the law and could have negative consequences if ignored – like a constitutional crisis, perhaps. This was how it all started. Last April, the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF) issued a resolution to use “Filipinas” instead of “Pilipinas”. In rationalizing the change, KWF through its president, National Artist Virgilio Almario said the new name (one which he had thought about for several years now), could help the citizenry reflect on the history and progress of the nation Those who did not agree with the proposal argued that any change should be based on studies and extensive consultations with the public.

Even as many recognize the merits of this change, there however exists a legal constraint. It is found in Article XVI, Section 2 of the Constitution which states, “The Congress may, by law, adopt a new name for the country, a national anthem, or a national seal, which shall all be reflective and symbolic of the ideals, history, and traditions of the people. Such law shall take effect only upon its ratification by the people in a national referendum”. KWF President Virgilio Almario assures us that the change will be gradual. Nonetheless, it appears that it is only Congress and a national referendum that can mandate a change in either the name or seal of the republic.

The arguments in favor of multilingualism and debates on possible change in the country’s name must however continue just as long as we are aware of the legal limitations. As Rep. Magtanggol T. Gunigundo, in his privilege speech last week in commemoration of Buwan ng Wika, noted, even as our people have embraced Filipino as our common language, they have done so without repudiating their own native languages” Filipino is still evolving into its ideal multilingual character as it is still predominantly based on Tagalog/Pilipino. In the evolution, Gunigundo expressed a principle that must always guide the process – that change must come from the people who use and sustain languages and not from those who study them.

The change to “Filipinas” is one way of embracing the other Philippine languages which have shown the insufficiency of the old Abakada (the f and v in Ibaloi, Ilokano and Cebuano, and j in most languages of Mindanao. The change further indicates the “non-exclusivist” and multilingual character of the evolution of our language. There is also Republic Act No.10533 or the K-12 law recently signed by President Aquino which provides that basic education shall be conducted in the learner’s native languages throughout kindergarten and the elementary grades. This policy is based on studies which show that creativity and critical thinking are greatly enhanced when a child learns in his/her mother tongue.

These trends, according to Gunigundo clearly indicate that the country has shifted from a “one nation, one language” mindset to one that recognizes our linguistic and cultural pluralism – a “kambyo sa pananaw”. It reaffirms Pres. Aquino’s vision – which is to use English to connect with the world, the national language to connect with our country, and the native language to connect with our heritage”.

A magna carta for journalists?

By Florangel Rosario Braid
Published in Manila Bulletin
August 21, 2013

The Magna Carta for Journalists or S.B. 380 filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada stirred another controversy. It did not pass when it was first filed in the 14th Congress. This time, it is supported by a counterpart bill by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

The bill will create a Philippine Council of Journalists (PCJ) which would accredit journalists and conduct seminars. Those who pass the examination will be accredited. Non-accredited journalists - those who fail or do not take the test will not be issued the card but will enjoy privileges that their employees give.

It promises several sweeteners – “security of tenure, a living wage, humane conditions of work, comprehensive benefits enjoyed by others in the labor force”. It hopes to motivate journalists “to perform their duties as responsible informers of the people”. Those who have been in practice for 10 years will be exempt from the exam but will be interviewed by the PCJ before they are accredited.

But critics had voiced out one objection after another. Most of them come from the proposed members of the council- the PCJ which will be constituted by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the National Press Club (NPC), the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP), the Philippine Federation of Provincial Journalists (PFPJ), the Press Photographers of the Philippines (PPP), the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), the Publishers Association of the Philippines (PAP), among others.

CMFR’s (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility) statement argues that the need of the hour is to standardize wages in terms of equal pay for equal work and to assure job security. It further explains the reality of the journalism profession why it differs from other professions: “There are wide disparities in wages and benefits dependent upon variables such as whether a journalist is employed as a foreign wire service, is based in Manila or the communities, reports for a tabloid or broadsheet, works behind the scenes in TV or appears on camera”.

A possible repercussion from this law according to NUJP Chairperson Rowena Paraan is that it could “create a window for discrimination among journalists”. Journalist groups believe that journalists should only be subjected to qualifications imposed by outfits they work for, and for the self-employed, the code of ethics. Atty. Mel Sta. Maria cites objections that have been noted by other critics: “ it could empower State to control the profession; politicization of Council (infiltration of powerful parties and government, political abuse); discriminates against non-accredited parties – bloggers and citizen journalists; could lead to censorship and is totally unnecessary. Journalists are believed to be self-made, not a product of stock knowledge but of professional skills and work ethics and that a licensing system could put rogue journalists under direct or indirect payroll of government.

There are valid arguments for the organization of associations of the journalism profession – that it could “facilitate the development of a coherent system of values and principles, and so constitute the public order, that is, if that term was understood widely, notes the Intra-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which cites “legitimate reasons” for creation of associations and licensing: first, it appears to be the “normal” way to regulate the profession in many countries (but not in the non- democracies, ); second, it sought to promote higher professional and ethical standards which would benefit society and ensure the right of the public to receive full and truthful information; and third, it guarantees the independence of journalists in relation to their employees

IACHR however emphasizes that “public order would benefit more from scrupulous respect for freedom of expression”. Freedom of expression is not conceivable without free debate… and that dissenting voices be fully heard. It is in the interest of..public order that the right of each individual ..and society be.. respected…In contrast to lawyers and physicians, the activities of journalists – seeking, receiving, and imparting information and ideas – are specifically protected as a human right, namely, right to freedom of information…A system that controls the right of expression in the name of..guarantee of the correctness and truthfulness of the information…can be a source of great abuse, and ultimately violates the right to information.

How do you solve a problem like Janet?

By Florangel Rosario Braid
Published in Manila Bulletin
August 14, 2013

Her two-part interview with a national daily had gone viral on the Internet. Stories on how she got away with the P10 billion barrel scam and the P900 million Malampaya gas funds are on the top list of the most well-read and viewed reports on media But after reading the unedited roundtable, one is left wondering how someone like Janet can successfully pull a scam of this magnitude for over a decade without anyone from the government, the media, the NGO, or the Church suspecting that something unusual is going on.

The media has its own speculations about Janet’s motivation in wanting to speak to the editor. Was it an intent to bribe? Or, as she herself had said, is it to seek the last bastion that she could trust, the media? But as one rightly noted, it is not the media, but the court that can address her problem. Some thought that the interview series was a waste of space as she was not ready to answer questions. In fact, it made her look ludicrous, a pitiable sight, as she was unintelligible in most of her responses.

My own perplexed mind led me to ask questions such as: What does it take to succeed in a venture like this? Would it have happened if we had an FOI? Maybe not, but in this case, even the existence of a law is not enough. Corruption will continue unless we have a vigilant media , a fully awakened civil society, and enough courageous whistleblowers. Unfortunately, we do not have that culture of accountability that would nurture passionate advocates to watch out for signs that would threaten the integrity of their communities, and which would prevent the Napoleses or their kind from further exploiting our citizens. These are in the form of adequate accountability structures within relevant units of both national and local governments, the media, and nongovernment agencies.

Many among the members of our media are trained to report news and momentous events. They are either unable to spot indicators in ordinary happenings that could break into a potential crisis or are comfortable in their existing roles. Many of our information personnel in government and NGOs and corporate organizations are the same. We have few Marlene Esperats among our community journalists who have the sensitivity to smell potential danger. Esperat was not a journalist but a government employee who had that curiosity that led to her questioning figures brought to her in connection with the fertilizer scam. When they did not add up, she squealed. And of course we knew what happened when she did. She was shot in broad daylight while having lunch with her son.

We lack adequate safety and security systems that could have saved the life of Esperat and other courageous journalists and whistleblowers. We need to build within each NGO and government structure, information systems that would monitor performance of government and their own organizations. The availability and accessibility to the new social media of Internet and mobile technology like I-phones and the I-pads and tablets, can now make monitoring and reporting of illegal practices much easier.

The FOI law, when passed, will not merely benefit the investigative journalist. It will be a critical enabling legislation that would facilitate the effective utilization of technology by government in its anti-corruption and advocacy for climate change, peace, anti-illegal drugs campaigns, and other development concerns.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Advocates hope for passing of FOI bill in 15th Congress

Advocates of the passing of the Freedom of Information bill urged House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Majority Leader Rep. Neptali Gonzales II to allow the sponsorship and start plenary debates before the 15th Congress ends on Feb. 8.

"If the House leadership is serious about giving the FOI bill a chance to pass through Third Reading within the remaining nine session days, Speaker Belmonte and Majority Leader Gonzales must ensure that the sponsorship of the committee report on FOI is in the Order of Business for Jan. 21," the Right to Know, Right Now! said in a statement.

The Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication is a member of the Right to Know, Right Now! coalition. 

The broad coalition said each day the passing of the FOI is delayed would "serve as additional evidence that the less-than-spirited action" towards the FOI bill may have been "deliberately calculated to prevent the timely consideration and passage of the FOI bill." 

If this will will continue, the the Right to Know, Right Now! said in its statement that would lead to the "death, or murder" of the bill just like what happened in the previous Congress.

The Freedom of Information bill has been pending in the House of Representatives for nearly twenty years now. Pres. Aquino, during his election campaign, promised it he would help in pushing for its passing if he becomes president. But advocates of the passing of the FOI bill is yet to see if he will be true to his promise.

The Right to Know, Right Now! coalition kicked off last Monday a nine-day vigil for the passing of the FOI bill with a mass at the St. Peter's Parish Church in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City before proceeding to Batasan to attend the House session. (by AIJC)