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COMMENTARY: Presidential visits and preferential treatment for national media

column commentary mindaviews

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 24 November) — The November 23 visit of President Ferdinand R. Marcos to General Santos City in the aftermath of the Magnitude 6.8 earthquake that hit the city and its neighboring localities on November 17, 2023, has given rise to another string of controversies. 

This undesirable happening is directly attributable to the segregationist presidential protocols employed by faceless media handlers who prey on  hapless members of the local media during presidential visits in the localities.  

I am pretty sure that the media handlers in Malacañang have already received volumes of feedback(s) pertaining to this kind of controversy for this has negatively dotted the otherwise smooth and well-received presidential sojourns in the pursuit of that noble task to bring government closer to the people.

The constant propensities of physically segregating members of the local media from members of the national media and of enforcing different sets of rules between them have perennially pestered each and every presidential visit in various localities for many decades now. 

But no one is lifting a finger to hammer out the kinks that permanently beset presidential visits. This probably finds its anchor in the misguided belief by Malacañang media handlers that the members of the local media are too naïve, too gullible, and too powerless to oppose not only their physical segregation from members of the national media but also their seeming class categorization and stratification that situate them in the lower stratum of the social pyramid. 

This cannot continue and should not be allowed to continue, if we have to pay homage to the cardinal tenets of our modern civilized society.

It was a pitiful sight for myself and the rest of my fellow media practitioners in the city to be confined in an isolated space away from presidential engagements, and directed not to make unnecessary movements and refrain from flashing our cameras while  members of the national media were free to roam around in the pursuit of their trade.

Candidly, looking at that situation, my better angels within me were revolting. But the indignity that we suffered did not end there.

When it was time for President Marcos to listen to the assessment reports from national and local officials on the extent of the damage wrought by the earthquake, all members of the national media were made to enter the conference room of the City Mayor’s Office with the President. Media practitioners here were ushered to a cramped room in the City Administrator’s Office to witness the proceedings inside the conference room through a small TV monitor.

But this was still not enough for one to throw handles in wild abandon. After about an hour, we were made to proceed to the door where President Marcos was expected to make an exit. We occupied a space on the left side of the door to wait for him to come out.

But we were later on removed from that space which we occupied, and made to line up with our backs against the wall, with the instruction for us not to move and to refrain from producing any noise. Members of the national media came out of the room where the President was, and were immediately ushered to the very space we were removed from. 

24media11
SO WHERE’S THE PRESIDENT? Only the national media could cover him properly during his visit in General Santos City on November 23, 2023 to check on the impact of theNovember 17 Magnitude 6.8 earthquake. In this photo, members of the local media could not ask questions or even get a glimpse of the President as he stepped out of the briefing room, having been asked to move to the back, their location by the door given by the media handlers to the national media. MindaNews photo by BEN SUMOG-OY

As a result, when President Marcos finally emerged from the conference room, local media practitioners were effectively boxed out by the members of the national media who were able to ask four questions. Local media practitioners were deprived of their right to ask. 

My heart was wildly pounding in protest, causing me to do some overt acts which were later on described as childish by one of the officials of the Philippine Information Agency. 

This description made me remember Mahatma Gandhi who, when he was refused audience by the King of England, protested childishly by reciting prayers in an upside-down position, while in loin cloth (bahag) and sandals. I also remembered how the Zapatistas got all their demands from the government of Mexico by simply acting childishly. 

However, interpreting what had happened during that farewell part of the presidential visit, with moorings on crowd management, it is simply unequivocal that the members of the local media were deliberately subjected to an insidious, if not treacherous, crowd management strategy for the purpose of easing them out to favor members of the national media.

This annoying scenario that pesters presidential visits as far back as we can remember must end. It is not only because it is repugnant to the exercise of press freedom but also because it is painting a black mark that warps the wondrous abstractions appurtenant to every presidential visit. 

This issue is so simple that it can easily be given a solution. It is not beyond redemption. How? The PIA in the region can organize a workshop among the members of the local media, with the representatives coming from the Presidential Communication Office (PCO), whatever name it has now, for the purpose of formulating new protocols that treat media practitioners as equals under a common set of rules, while ensuring the security and safety of the president. 

It should be remembered that the adjective aspect of press freedom is equal in importance to its substantive aspect. It is not enough that we are free, we must also be able to enjoy such freedom within a well-balanced landscape where everyone operates under common set of rules. 

The class stratification, categorization and segregation that we are continuously subjected to are akin to apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination in the US of the olden days. This is why their abolition is worth fighting for.

Let us fight. Let us begin!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ben Sumog-oy is a former human rights and labor rights activist who is now working as a KBP accredited broadcaster at RPN DXDX-General Santos as his singular way of sharing his experiences to successor-generations and of participating in the processes of becoming of the community, society and nation.)

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