The Perils of Journalism in Asia
Journalism Awardee Speaks About Perils faced by RP Journalists
By Edwin C. Mercurio
Carolyn O. Arguillas, this year’s winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Prize for Investigative Journalism in two separate forums in downtown Toronto spoke about the problems faced by provincial and community journalists in the Philippines and the continuing search for justice on the gruesome murders of 55 people in November 23, 2009. Thirty two (32) of those shot and killed on the same day were members of the Philippine media, mostly from South and North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao City. The other victims, mostly women were sexually abused and mutilated before being shot and killed.
Invited to speak Monday, September 26 at the Novella Room of Toronto Reference Library by the Faculty of Information Coach House Institute - University of Toronto and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Ms. Arguillas described the conditions, risks and dangers facing Filipino journalists in her lecture “Assertions from the Margins: The Practice of Community Journalism in the Philippines.”
In a dinner forum at the Aristokrat Restaurant hosted by the Philippine Press Club of Ontario (PPCO) last Tuesday September 27, she also spoke about threats and the perils faced by journalists who continue to investigate, speak out and write about economic,political and socio-cultural realities to shed light about the source of the conflicts in Mindanao, Luzon and the Visayas, the destruction of the country’s environment due to mining and logging, the continuing killing of journalists and the prevailing culture of impunity against those suspected of having ties with anti-government forces.
Among the issues discussed were the slow pace of the trial against those involved in the November 23 Maguindanao massacre because of threats posed by the Ampatuan political clan, two of whom are in custody while other family members are still in privileged political positions in Mindanao. The trial has been postponed by the Philippine court due to the resignation of a sole Muslim interpreter after receiving death threats. The trial delays not only affected the families of those killed but also hundreds of imprisoned police officers who were deputized by the accused town mayor to block the roads at the height of the massacre, Ms. Arguillas disclosed.
Ms. Arguillas also took note of the continued postponement of the peace talks between the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The peace talks were hampered by the Philippine government’s position not to release political prisoners. The NDFP insists that the GPH release political prisoners as agreed by both parties during their previous peace talk agreement. GPH representatives insist that there are no political prisoners in the country under President “Noynoy” Aquino.
Human Rights advocates in the Philippines disclosed those arrested for speaking out against the government and other political activities such as union and rights organizing for professionals, workers, farmers and students have been slapped by common petty crimes and have been charged with criminal offences by the government. The case of the Morong 43 health workers attests to the practice of the Philippine military authorities fabricating evidence such as arms, grenades and bomb making equipment against persons arrested, in this case, for attending seminars on nursing, health care, community health education and nutrition in Morong, Rizal, Philippines.
Talks between the GPH and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), she said also broke down repeatedly adding to the problems faced by people in Mindanao. In addition, she said, there are charges that US troops were seen with government forces in ground combat operations and skirmishes versus the NPAs and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Ms. Arguillas also disclosed that textbooks used by various schools in the Philippines contain erroneous information about Muslim communities in Mindanao. “There is a need to correct erroneous textbook information about Mindanao used in various schools.”
Ms. Arguillas who is based in Davao city, is the Editor-in-Chief of Our Mindanao, a monthly news magazine and News Editor of Minda News and Information Cooperative Center which she co-founded in May 2011. She has worked as a reporter for Mindanao Reporter and the Manila Chronicle and worked as Mindanao Bureau Chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
She has extensively covered the conflict and peace processes in Mindanao for the past 27 years. In 2003, she attended a summer course on media and peace-building at the University of Sydney. She has taught “Reporting about Conflict and Peace” to journalism students at the Ateneo de Manila’s Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism. She received her Bachelor of Arts (BA) from the University of the Philippines and her Master of Arts (MA) from the Konrad Adenauer Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Scholastica’s College Manila in March 2011 gave Ms. Arguillas a lifetime achievement award in the 5th Hildegarde Awards for Women in Media and Communication. The Rotary Club of Manila also bestowed her the prestigious Investigative Journalist of the Year Award in 2010.