Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scoopin’ ‘n Twistin’ ‘n Character Assassins

They say never the kick a man when he’s down, but they just won’t let up. The Mayor did not win his bid to be the city’s representative in congress, and in a recent press conference, tears fell as he was bidding goodbye to his office and the members of his staff. But on a local news program the story was that the Mayor cried because he lost in the election.

With this TV news program, it was like that during the whole campaign: while their features on this one particular candidate always told us about his vision, his platform - his promises should he win the election, with the other candidates it was always something negative. During the launching of the Mayor’s candidacy when not every single member of his ever growing clan showed up, the story was that his family was not in full support of his candidacy. They relentlessly pursued that angle practically during the whole campaign, earning them a few scathing words from one family member from whom they hoped to get a few sensational sound bites. This is the same outfit that instead of telling the world that despite Baguio’s precarious location it survived the onslaught of twin typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, told us that 90% of Baguio is in danger of landslides. And we wonder why the Ad Congress was cancelled last year. Well, we can’t expect much from a new program that in an interview with the actors playing Jesus and Judas in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, their reporter asked: what’s the significance of your roles in this play?

The Mayor is as rich as Manny Pacquiao, says one columnist of a reputable weekly. Where he got his figures (read: not data) only he knows. He enriched himself while in office, the same columnist said. He did nothing , nothing at all, about the garbage problem of Baguio, he added.

Yeah, yeah, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, I guess especially those who write opinion columns. But still, one has to be responsible enough to draw the lines between hearsay, opinion, perception and actual facts. Sensational claims must still be backed by spectacular evidence.

For example, hearsay: there was vote buying in Baguio in the recent election. Fact: some camps relentlessly engaged in black propaganda.

Are we sourgraping? Perhaps. But not particularly because the candidate we were rooting for did not win, but because elections in Baguio have become what it is – the politics of money, character assassination and rotten journalism. Oops, a rash generalization, you say. Perhaps. But don’t we say also that an attack on a journalist thousands of kilometres away is an attack on every single journalist elsewhere?

Fact is, the above are not the kinds of politics and journalism Baguio knows. Baguio generally had peaceful and orderly elections, they say. Not entirely true – while in other places they killed politicians with bullets, here they did so with black propaganda and certain corrupted journalists.

The winners could’ve still emerged as winners and the losers as losers even if we didn’t have all of the above, but I guess we’ll never know now.

Maybe next time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In black and white

I went there that morning fuming mad to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. The news spread like wildfire on the internet – the Athletic Bowl is being “sold” to the Koreans and online rabble-rousers claimed that: for a measly 10k a month, a Korean company would take possession of the sports complex where they plan to build a resort hotel, a commercial complex and a golf course. On the way there I was already composing the questions I would ask, the things I would say.

Afterall, I was among those who worked to get the guy elected.

I was the first to get there and soon the office was already filling up with members of the local media and other concerned citizens. And what would I say if I am once again asked to help him if he decides to run again.

After the usual greetings and handshaking, the first questions were fired. I looked around to see if anyone in the room would actually bring that issue up – and soon the question of the day was asked: what’s the deal with the Athletic Bowl issue. The man explained the whole thing and slowly my mood was already shifting from being angry to skeptical. I asked around for a copy of the actual Memorandum of Agreement - the resort hotel was actually a dormitory facility for athletes, the commercial complex would actually be some shops that would cater to the athlete’s needs and the golf course, well, it was actually a driving range.

And soon the call came: he’s running again, this time as representative of the city’s lone congressional district. I said yes.

As in the past two elections that we handled, we set up camp at the old house at the school’s parking lot. Several brainstorming session later, we decided that our main job would be to tell the people about the truth – the whole truth and nothing but. Sa totoo lang. And everything will be in black and white.

On the first day of the campaign, we gathered the volunteers (some of our staff members were really surprised to learn that the volunteers were indeed, VOLUNTEERS and not “professional campaigners). We started with a mass, then the candidate spoke briefly to thank everyone who came to show their support. We then explained our campaign strategy: simply, tell the truth. A lawyer friend then capped off the first day’s meeting with a lecture on COMELEC rules and guidelines, and urged everyone to strictly abide by these. No dirty tricks, no mudslinging. Bar none. That would eventually be the first thing on the agenda every single day: reminding everyone to obey the law. And at the end of the day, we’d gather one more time to make sure that nobody broke this primary rule.

In the last days of the campaign, black propaganda materials maligning the candidate started spreading around town. What do we do? The campaigners asked. Nothing, absolutely nothing. We reminded everyone that no matter what happens in this election, at least we can sleep soundly at night knowing that we did nothing wrong – legally and morally.

It’s been a long and tiring road and here we are now, about to decide what direction our city, our nation, would take.

I can sleep soundly now.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Look-see

The bad news is, good news isn’t news. Sadly, that’s the way it is. 90% of Baguio is allegedly landslide prone is news, but that Baguio has a not-so-bad-at-all 95% employment rate is not. A local tv crew has been hounding the relatives of a particular congressional candidate who happens to belong to a big prominent family because of rumors that his clan is not 100% behind his candidacy. Of course this news crew won’t show footages of one particular gathering where members of his clan showed up to reiterate their support for their candidate. They won’t even take footages in the first place. They would instead scour the city looking for that one kapamilya who could validate that rumor, at all cost, for that, my friend, is news.
The glass is either half-empty, or half-full. Never mind that the people are not informed of the real cause of our garbage crisis – a video clip or a photograph showing piles of uncollected garbage is enough to guarantee viewership or readership that of course results in higher advertising revenues. While agitating the people will only result in, well, agitation, educating the people as to what the real picture is can perhaps result in a better-informed populace who can now do their part in helping the city get over this crisis.

Don’t get me wrong, I myself have been a critic of so many things – from the rape of Session Road during Panagbenga to, yes, even the garbage issue. I am not a journalist, but I do believe that those who in the mass communication business have a responsibility to present the whole truth. Whether one is a news anchor or a news cameraman, whether you’re a two-bit columnist such as me or an editor-in-chief, whether you write for the city’s most read paper or a blogger.

Given what we are being fed by television, newspapers, radio and the internet, one can’t help but wonder why the population of Baguio keeps on growing. Why new businesses keep on opening up. Why tourists keep on coming. Think about it, why come to a city where they say nothing’s being done about the garbage problem, or where the traffic situation is unbearable, or where the pollution is at its worse, where the tourist attractions are dilapidated, or where the incidence of crime is horribly high? A lot of people claim to love Baguio, let’s do this for the love of Baguio, they always say, and then proceed to paint an ugly picture of the city for the whole world to see.

While we need to let the people know of the city’s problems, we also need to let them know of the good things about it. While there are times when showing the people how bad certain things are, we also need to let them know that there’s hope. The headlines seem to want us to believe that all’s lost, it’s hopeless. I don’t think so.

It’s true, there’s Session Road in Bloom where for a week Session Road is turned into an epitome of crass commercialism, and there’s Earth Day where it’s left to breathe and meditate quietly and beautifully. There are lip-synched pseudo-theater performances, and there are plays staged by local legitimate artists. We do have a garbage problem, but there are a lot of things that we as citizens can also do to ease the burden and help the government solve it. 95% of us are employed. We were spared even a single death during the last Dengue season. The damage that Ondoy and Pepeng wreaked in Baguio wasn’t as bad as in other places (considering that according to a local news report, 90% of the city is landslide-prone). El NiƱo’s here, but a gentle shower’s blessing the City of Pines as I write this.

We do see what we want to see, let’s look at things properly, and see the real picture.