Ali G. Macabalang
Press Freedom is ideally absolute and mandated by the Philippine Constitution. The exercise of it, however, should also come with utmost responsibility. One is free to say his/her piece all the way, but he or she is not free to malign persons or entities. Otherwise, libel suits will lead the practitioners to jail.
So in real practice, media entities adopt self-censorship for varied reasons ranging from the need to evade law suit to preservation of vested interests.
During my stints with the major national dailies – the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and the Manila Bulletin (MB), I’d experienced such internal censorship in stories involving controversial issues.
The Manila media noticed my daring stories about personalities in the uniformed and civilian elements of the state as well as business entities. My stories about excessive logging operations in Mindanao, particularly in Maguindanao, drew corrective sanctions from government authorities on a logging company founded by a former President and taken over by a Manila-based oligarch.
At the height of drawing Palace sanctions, the PDI publisher, late MRs. Eugenia Apostol, flew to Cotabato City to talks to me with a plea to “slow down” on the logging firm owned by Victor Consunji, who happened to be son of business tycoon David Consunji – a kumpare of Apostol. I noticed the private jet that enplaned Mrs. Apostol had a property marking of the Consunji family.
When I shifted to MB after appointed as first executive director of the Bureau of Public Information back in 1994, I was given a provincial column coming biweekly and titled Mindanao Punchline.
In that column, I pursued my exposes on the same logging firm, tagging its owner-operator “untouchable” when it transferred operations in Sultan Kudarat province. A friend from the Palace told me that my columns drew notice from the sitting President.
Before the firm’s operations could get reprimanded anew, then MB editor-in-chief Ben Rodriqgues (now deceased) called me up to seek personal appearance at the editorial office in Manila. In our one-on-one meeting, the EIC told me: “Ito ay pakiusap lang kung pwedee. Hinto ito mando (order). Pwede ka bang mag-lie low on Consunji?” He mentioned the names of MB publisher Emilio Yap and BOD member (retired SC Justice Sarmiento) as interceding.
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Even in sphere of press freedom, there always lies kumpadre system that censors free press. Publisher/business people of major media entities, whom Pres. Duterte fondly called oligarchs, maintain personal interests that writers, no matter how dedicated to true journalism, cannot contravene.
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By the way, the ABS-CBN still has a chance to gain franchise, which the 18th Congress voted down to grant. Watch for my upcoming vlog in the Youtube. Part of the vlog will be reprinted in this column hopefully. Salaam.