Now, finally, and thankfully, the Filipino people have said “Enough”, and have demanded better stewards for their country. The backlash has begun. A social revolution – a people’s revolution; a real one hopefully this time – is underway.
President Duterte’s crushing victory in the May elections was a message from the people to the elite, corporate-backed, political class that they would no longer tolerate institutionalised government corruption and the repeated poor performances of Congress in representing the people’s will – its prime purpose.
The rising wave of challenges to the near-untouchable priestly class and the Church’s overwhelming and once-sacrosanct authority on matters of marriage and birth control and state involvement are starting to turn the tide towards a shore where the people can take responsibility for their own lives – their God-given right.
The hypocrisy of these two institutions has worn thin. It is a threadbare tapestry, woven in gold thread and cheap cotton, depicting wealth and deprivation in the same tableau – chauffeured officials alongside shoeless street urchins; the horn of plenty next to abject hunger; lavish residences in safe compounds by the side of makeshift hovels in the stamping fields of thieves and rapists. This is the social gap which Congress and Church Inc. – a conglomerate that has held sway over the fortunes of the people since Spanish times – has created and upheld. This is their legacy.
And the media; where have they been? Well, they are in that tableau, too. They are higher up and can be seen as lofty silk strands, often too busy admiring themselves to recognise the hideous picture right under their noses. They interweave here and there with the gold threads – the symbiosis between the media and the political/ecclesiastical world is legendary – but mostly their role in this freeze is a self-portrayal as the country’s intellectual elite. They believe they are the thinkers for the nation: as the Church has assigned to itself the duty of defining and channeling the country’s moral processes, the media in its intellectual arrogance has taken upon itself to define and channel its thought processes.
Between them, in their own ways, the media and the Church have been socially engineering the Filipino people to become compliant with their will – the Church by fear, the media by stealth. They made considerable progress but, like the political class, they grossly underestimated the citizenry; a people with a deep national pride and an unshakeable faith in God. And the fuel from these is what has brought Duterte to power, diminished the moral autocracy of the bishops, and is driving an exodus from the traditional media to the Blogosphere. And it’s only just begun.
But while the clerics and the politicians are slowly absorbing the message that Filipinos require accountability, and that they will be ignored or rejected unless they provide it, the media owners and their appointed editorial scribes and mouthpieces remain resistant to change.
After all, their life blood comes via an infusion of advertising dollars from the large business corporations – the same ones that bought stakes in government, bank-rolling senators, and have their new offices and homes blessed by bishops and monsignors. They are hardly dependent on the scavenging communities of Manila’s Smokey Mountain and Payatas. After all, those people can’t help circulation figures and broadcast ratings. Heavens! These people never bought a newspaper in their life. They don’t own a TV set either and if things don’t change they never will.
So where were the press campaigns to highlight their plight and millions like them right across the archipelago? Where was the media pressure on successive governments to provide for these people? They got some coverage, of course, like in 2000 when up to 1,000 perished, buried alive under tons of garbage in a Payatas landfill landslide. And the media will likely pick up their story briefly again the next time the hopeless lives of these people are snuffed out in another shameful tragedy.
But the whole purpose of the press is as a Fourth Estate. Its job and its duty are to independently report on the very social injustices which have befallen this nation and to campaign against them. It is not there to promote itself by cosying up to politicians and corporate VPs in a ridiculous puppet theatre of mutual adulation.
The people it is supposed to serve don’t want media showbiz; they want a serious and committed professional press with a journalistic integrity they can depend on. They want the news celebrities – the talking heads and the anchors – to remove themselves from the story; a press to speak for them, not for itself; to focus the cameras on the issues and the facts, not on themselves and their opinions and their interpretations of the facts. They want real journalism; old school, hard-edged and uncompromising.
The politicians and the priesthood – at least for the time being – are showing some signs of change. The media needs to do the same. It needs to do its job. To find its way back from being another sapless branch of the entertainment industry to being the driving force of an accountable information industry. It needs to establish itself as a true Fourth Estate.
That the people are totally fed up with their media is well beyond doubt; a quick glance at some of the comments to The Volatilian™ survey – It’s your turn to tell us something… – should tell them something. Old habits die hard though, and the likelihood of the Philippine mainstream media having a sudden epiphany looks slim.
It will take time for the editorial brotherhood and sisterhood to struggle out of that straightjacket of self-importance and go cold-turkey to quit their habits of spin and self-censorship; it will take time for the print and broadcast bosses to realise that their audiences have headed for the exit; that their circulation and ratings figures can no longer attract the mega bucks which flow from their pals in the corporate country club. The society for which they were supposed to look out has paid a high price for their neglect; that same society is now issuing them with its own invoice.