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)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Repost: Crimes and unpunishment/Bam Aquino, top leader

From the stands
The Philippine Star

Philippine mass media just commemorated the third anniversary of the massacre on Nov. 23, 2009 of 32 media workers, along with 27 other civilians, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

This fateful day has become the single worst attack on the Philippine press, prompting the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) to designate Nov. 23 of every year as International Day to End Impunity, a reminder to everyone that it should never happen again.

These 32 media workers were all from Mindanao and only the most recent cases of killings of Filipino journalists. They are featured in a landmark book, Crimes and Unpunishment (2012), published by UNESCO and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), and edited by Florangel R. Braid, Crispin C. Maslog and Ramon T. Tuazon.

The book documents the major crimes against Filipino journalists since 1986. Since then a total of 125 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, giving the country the dubious distinction of becoming “the second most dangerous country in the world, next to Iraq.” The book also documents the “unpunish-ment” of the killers of these journalists.

The book will be launched on Dec. 7 at the Annunciation Hall, St. Mary’s College, Mother Ignacia Ave., Quezon City, at 11 a.m. It will be held in conjunction with the Annual Philippine Communication Society Conference. Dr. Maslog will give a talk on the highlights of the book for 15-20 minutes. The launch is the feature of a Philippine Press Institute-PCS seminar on Journalism Excellence and Ethics. The book can be ordered through AIJC, through tels. (02) 7244564 and (02) 7454227.


The story on the late editor-publisher Jacobo Amatong is written by Dr. Cris Maslog, a former journalist with the Agence France-Presse and director, Silliman School of Journalism. A consultant of the AIJ, he is one of the editors of the book Crimes and Unpunishment. Below is an excerpt of his story on Amatong.

Jacobo Amatong: Slain journalist awaits justice

“Jacobo Amatong stood up to denounce military abuses in Zamboanga del Norte at a time when it was foolish to do so, because it was at the height of martial law. Because of his guts, his paper earned a reputation as a fearless, crusading community newspaper in that part of the country — and he paid the supreme price, his life.

“The paper was a crusader against government corruption and military abuses and a champion of human rights. On Sept. 23, 1984, after nine years of running the paper, Jacobo was murdered for his exposes of human rights violation by the military.

“Jacobo was with his comrade in arms in the human rights movement, Zorro C. Aguilar, that night of Sept. 23. They were ambushed as they neared the home of Jacobo. Zorro died on the spot. Kubo was taken to the hospital where he expired six hours later.

“A friend of the slain publisher-editor, who reportedly has connections in the Armed Forces intelligence, told the Mindanao Observer an undercover operative leaked him the information linking the military to the cold-blooded murder of Amatong and Aguilar.

“Amatong’s murder put the Observer in the limelight. But the response of readers was fear. The people were afraid to buy the paper because it carried stories on investigations, ambuscades and military atrocities.The military presence was strong in Dipolog City. Even the local advertisers got scared and shunned the paper. It was only in 1986, after the ouster of Marcos, that the Observer began to recover.

“Undaunted by the risks involved, the Observer ran a banner story on the Amatong-Aguilar case in its October 8, 1984 issue with the bold headline, Slay of editor, lawyer, an army plot? The story read: ‘Confidential police sources said there was a great possibility that the killing was deliberately carried out in order to prevent Amatong and Aguilar from embarking on a fact-finding mission on the salvage of Ramon Sagusay and Jorge Chica in Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte.’

“As a constant reminder to the people concerned with the case and to the local public in general, the paper ran a count of the days during which the murder remained unsolved. The count appeared on the right ear of the paper’s front page.

“Through the crusade of the paper and with the active cooperation of the public, the principal suspect, Army Lt. Wilson Caledo, then assigned to the 44th Infantry Battalion stationed in Anastacio, Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, was identified.

“Other suspects, however, were not yet known. As a response to public pressure, whipped up by the Observer, the Armed Forces of the Philippines created a military tribunal to try the murder case.

On formal appeals of the lawyers and prominent citizens in the province, President Corazon Aquino, as AFP commander-in-chief, agreed to transfer the case to the civilian court. The trial of the case was at first scheduled June 24, 1987, in Fort Bonifacio in Metro Manila, but was postponed indefinitely in view of the presidential waiver. The report said the trial of the case would be held in Dipolog City.

“The suspects, meanwhile, were detained in the stockade at Fort Bonifacio while awaiting trial by the civil court. The suspects were expected to be transferred to the Dipolog City Jail while the case was tried, since the charge of murder is a ca“As of October 6, 2012, as this is being written 25 years later, the military has not remanded the records of the case to the civil courts in Dipolog City as instructed by former President Corazon Aquino.

“The son of former President Corazon Aquino is now the new president. President Corazon Aquino and the lawyer of the Amatong family have died and nobody knows what happened to the suspects detained in Fort Bonifacio. Isagani, the brother of Jacobo, became governor of Zamboanga del Norte. The Amatong family, however, after repeated attempts to have the trial transferred to their province, finally gave up. This is how slow the wheels of justice grind in this country.”

* * *

Two Filipinos have been awarded among Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World. They are Benigno “Bam” Aquino, and Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña who were chosen from a field of 115 entries coming from 37 countries. The y join the illustrious list of TOYPs, which includes John F. Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, and Jesse Robredo.

An annual project of the Junior Chamber International (JCI), the TOYP program honors men and women who have made significant contributions to society by inspiring and empowering those who have less in life to have a more meaningful existence.

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, TOYP, which was originally developed by Durwood Howes, president of the US Junior Chamber of Commerce (1930-31), was officially adopted by the JCI World Congress in Taipei in 1983. Over the past three decades, ceremonies have been held all over the globe.

Bam Aquino was cited for business, economic and/or entrepreneurial accomplishment, and Dr. Salvaña for humanitarian and/or voluntary leadership.

In 2006, Bam and business partner Mark Ruiz founded Hapinoy, a micro-financing scheme to train impoverished women , give them capital, and help them look for markets. Aquino is committed to helping the youth become productive members of society, and addressing poverty by giving people access to small but sustainable businesses. Dr. Salvaña, gave up a lucrative medical practice in the United States and joined the government’s Balik Scientist program. He teaches medicine at the Philippine General Hospital under the University of the Philippines. He is a staunch advocate of combating the HIV disease. (To read the original entry, please click here.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

AIJC's Dr. Braid on the controversial Cybercrime Law

In line with the big protests against the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the Asian Institute of  Journalism and Communication is reposting Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid's column, first published by the Manila Bulletin. 

To read the original entry, click here

Students oppose the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao /

Florangel Rosario Braid

A threat to freedom of expression

At first glance, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or RA No.10175 seems innocuous. Who would not support a law that would regulate cyberspace for the purpose of eliminating hacking, child pornography, and scams?  Several friends including myself who had been victimized by hackers engaged in identity theft would welcome a law that would clean up the Internet. But what we had not foreseen was the stealth, the sneakiness in the process – that it was passed without due consultation and that it allowed at least a certain legislator to insert sinister provisions which would undermine the Constitution. Criminalizing online libel certainly negates the provisions on freedom of expression and of the press.

Section 4 of Article 4 of the bill which was reportedly inserted by Senator Sotto is considered a threat to all civil rights advocates as it includes “the unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future”. As lawyer Mel Sta. Maria of News 5 explains, libel is a content-related offense which can be committed by anybody using the computer. A blogger or commentator in Facebook or Twitter who now enjoys considerable freedom may now be constrained from expressing his or her thoughts in the social media.

Article 355 of the current Revised Penal Code prohibits libel in various channels of communication – writing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical and cinematographic exhibitions. It is based on the libel law which is now 80 years old, one described by the UN Human Rights Council as “excessive.” In fact, sometime last year, right after the UNHRC decriminalized libel, ordered a local journalist immediately released, and sent a delegation to the country to meet with the President and other officials, we thought that our government had agreed to move towards the direction taken by the UN agency. But, we were mistaken. A perusal of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would show that it is incompatible with the Cybercrime law provision on libel.

This new law, including the recent passage of the Data Privacy Law last August saddens local civil rights advocates especially since these two bills were passed into law ahead of the Freedom of Information Act which had been bypassed by the past 13th and 14th Congress – a period of over 12 years.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility fears that this law may arm an unscrupulous regime with tools to suppress freedom of expression. CMFR also believes that the Aquino administrative is now more “restrictive”: rather than expansive when it comes to enshrining principles of accountability, transparency, and press freedom, the hallmarks of P-Noy’s “daan na matuwid”. NUJP (National Union of Journalists in the Philippines) says it even broadens the scope the “antiquated” libel law.

But what appears most bothersome, according to Kabataan Party List president, James Ridon is the provision found in Section 6 - where all offenses defined under the Revised Penal Code and special laws committed through information communication technology (ICT) shall be imposed with a penalty one degree higher than that provided for in the Code of ethics There is no definition of ICT, and thus, it can be inferred that it includes all platforms – blogs, networking sites, and websites.

Critics say the law could justify the shutdown of websites critical to the government even without a court warrant. An international advocacy group for the defense of digital freedom – the Electronic Frontier Foundation, had joined our local advocates in expressing concern on the law’s effect on freedom of expression.

The agencies mandated to implement the law – the Departments of Science and Technology, Justice, and Interior and Local Government must delay action towards its implementation as the voices of the people must be heard. We still have to await action on Senator TG Guingona’s plan to have either to have the law amended or to question it before the Supreme Court.

Now is the time for the community of citizen journalists and netizens to come together and protest the unconstitutionality of the Cybercrime Prevention Law of 2012. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tañada continues support for Freedom of Information bill

The Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication welcomes Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada's continuing commitment to the Freedom of Information bill. 

In the lawmaker's statement, he said he is not going to give up on his support for his pet bill and advocacy, the controversial Freedom of Information bill for the 15th Congress of the House of Representatives.

"Aside from the 117 solon-signatories willing to see this bill towards its eventual passage, the grassroots clamor led by the 'Right to Know' coalition is picking up.  Lawmakers are genuinely committed

to see this through and there are others who would have signed the manifesto but just didn’t make it to printer.  There is definitely still time after the budget bill is taken up," Tañada said. 

“Concerns about media abuse may be addressed as long as a committee hearing is conducted.  We are the lawmakers here, not the press. Safeguard provisions are already drafted for everyone’s

consideration," he added 

"Let us not create demons in our own minds as we have full control of the final language of the law.  Let’s all
keep our eye on the ball -  focus on the fundamentals that this bill stands for – transparency, accountability and participatory governance,” Tañada said.