I’m absolutely exhausted but will write this lest I forget everything. As my last entry indicates, around 3:30 p.m. yesterday (I’m writing this roundabouts 1 am today) journalists began exchanging texts that something was afoot at the Philippines Marines Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio. Journalist friends used to taking it easy on Sunday were recalled to do duty. The messages were contradictory and confusing: the Marines were uneasy, there was something going on, something was going to go on, a call for people to pray for them, or pray with them, was being made, people should go to Fort Bonifacio, people should not go, there were troops movements…
So off I went to Fort Bonifacio to see what was going on. Passing the route that takes you past Market, Market! it struck me as all so very surreal: people lining up to ride the large Ferris wheel, families flying kites, people off on Sunday drives loaded with weekend shopping -then the civilian world receded and it was long stretches of road with the gates to the camps dotting the landscape. Passing by the headquarters of the Philippine Army, one could spot some rather derelict trucks and jeeps carelessly blockading the gate; then a line of more derelict PA trucks, and on the wide, grassy sidewalks, Philippine Army troops sort of lazing about, but dressed in full battle gear with Armalites at the ready. Strangely enough, other soldiers, also in full battle gear, snoozed away on portable black mesh hammocks, or swung idly from side to side, one leg drooping over their hammock’s side.
By the time I got to Gate 3 (it seemed to me) of the Marines H.Q., it was obvious something was, indeed, afoot; and yet a polite couple of sentries still made the cars pause and took driver’s licenses and handed out car passes. Journalists and others stared at small groups of Marines, also in full battle gear, starting to line up and stand at attention.
Attention was focused on the Marines chapel, where a Mass was just starting. Going past it, one could turn and drive by a tennis court where, with all the tension going on, two young men were enjoying a game of tennis. A little past that, there was a kind of club house, and I stopped there and poked around. Outside the club house, there were young teenagers looking very uncomfortable in suits or frilly dresses: at first it seemed to me perhaps there was a wedding reception going on, and maybe they were part of the bridal entourage.
I went inside the club house, eavesdropping on some of the chatter going on. Apparently the original text message calls had evolved into a call for civilians to come to the Marines chapel, to pray for the safety of the Marines. A bartender switched on a television and news coverage began to blare out details, such as they were, on what was going on. I won’t go into what the news reports said, because they’ve been adequately covered by other bloggers. Suffice it to say that people began to huddle around the TV, as it began to be reported that Col. Querubin, from his previous location in the chapel, was marching to Head Quarters, surrounded by civilians. Great confusion followed, as a contingent of Marines materialized outside the HQ, an officer was heard to be shouting at the newly-appointed Marine Commandant, all sorts of armored vehicles started to roar up and park in front of the HQ: the atmosphere was getting more and more tense. Journalists forwarded text messages that yes, the Archdiocese of Manila had given permission for the chapel to be used for a prayer vigil, and no, the Archdiocese had ordered the chapel closed.
Outside the club house, I spotted Bro. Armin Luistro of the de la Salle Brothers walking with some other brothers and some nuns; they wanted to see what was happening in the HQ. They were quite worried about possible bloodshed and wanted to try to pray there. I gave them a lift; upon parking, we alighted from our vehicle, but Marines shooed everyone away from the vicinity of the HQ and out the main gate.
The Christian Brothers gathered in a circle with the nuns and began to pray the Rosary. Soon after they began praying, what I originally thought was a Philippine Navy 6×6 truck (perhaps it was Philippine National Police, as it would turn out), fully laden with sailors in riot gear, thundered out of the gate of the compound directly across the Marines’ facility, and jerked and shuddered to a stop after narrowly missing ramming through the Marine checkpoint. The truck belched smoke, it reversed gears, made a sort of snort-like but aborted attempt to push through again (the Marines came forward, yelled, raised their hands), reversed again and pulled over by the sidewalk. The blue-clad riot police descended with a great clattering of shields; some feints were made, as if they wanted to get into the camp. Then orders were barked, and the riot policemen formed a line directly in front of the Marines.
The riot policemen were obviously intent on dispersing the crowd. Marine sympathizers, kibitzers, and the rapidly proliferating members of media (a GMA and ABS-CBN remote van was parked on either side of the gate) started buzzing about how a dispersal would leave the Marine gate an easy target for entry. At this point, perhaps sensing this, the brothers and nuns sat down, in front of the riot policemen. They continued to pray, and from time to time, they’d sing. Every so often, the riot policemen would bang their shields together, and try to take a step forward. The media would press forward, expecting the nuns and brothers to be shoved aside; the riot policemen, seeing the nuns and priests weren’t about to budge, would fall back a step or two. The process kept repeating -for hours on end. The small group of brothers and nuns kept them at bay for at least two to three hours.
The foreign media recorded the hymns (“Ave Maria” particularly struck a French correspondent who began mumbling to someone in Paris and then put his phone near the singing religious); photographers crouched and wriggled to get photos of the religious clutching their rosaries. Darkness began to fall. Periodically, rumors of troops movements would send the correspondents and reporters buzzing; as would frantic calls from news desks to try to confirm what was going on inside. I shuttled back and forth between friends I knew in the crowd, and other clumps of people. Other times, I’d go to the ABS-CBN van to catch the news on their monitors; other times, I’d go to the GMA van, which had generously plunked a TV on the sidewalk, connected by an umbilical cord to their van. A lady was wheeled up in a wheelchair and proceeded to watch, giving a cluck-filled and spirited commentary on whatever happened to be on the screen.
Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. appeared, chatted with the policemen, talked to the Marines at the gate, was surrounded by the media, disappeared, only to reappear sometime later. It was quite dark by this time, and he proceeded to discuss the need for peace and how this was all a sign of discontent due to the pervasive poverty of society; he praised the Marines, hoped it would all be settled peacefully, remarked the President was in an increasingly tenuous situation, and suggested she should consider going on leave to resolve the issues against her, or even resign. He disappeared again.
The riot policemen by this time (around 8 pm) had moved their front line forward, at times almost entirely encircling the brothers and nuns, who kept praying. I spent more and more time simply sitting across the street on the sidewalk, observing the scene, or spending time by the GMA van’s TV (by this time, the other side of the road had been sealed off, placing the ABS-CBN van behind the riot policemen’s line. Close to 9 pm, a group of teenagers materialized, dressed in suits and frilly dresses: it seems they belonged to the same group I’d spotted a few hours earlier, who’d had their graduation ball. They chirped and gossiped, scrutinized the riot policemen, and accosted a gentlemen they assumed to be part of the GMA crew and kept chanting, “Kapuso kami!” Then they’d run down their list of favorite shows and celebrities. Eventually, tiring of the scene, they left.
With no politicians or other people left to interview, some reporters drifted away to catch the action in the other gates. The news camera crews stopped taking footage of the policemen and the brothers and nuns. A couple of Army-looking officers strode past, reconnoitering the scene. A young Naval officer periodically walked back and forth, videotaping the crowd, paying particular attention to those who were clearly not from media. From time to time, rather befuddled-looking off-duty soldiers would putt putt by on their motorcycles, and be directed to detour into the police camp; jeeps bearing families would drive by, and if bearing military families, be diverted to the police camp or waved through. Surprising, too, was the constant stream of vehicles entering and exiting the Marine camp, requiring the adjustment of both the lines of Marines and the riot police.
At 10 pm came the information, whispered from ear to ear, that all civilians would have to leave. The riot police, beefed up substantially over the last half hour or so, began to push forward their line some more. By now, they crossed the road in a straight line from gate to gate. Then news that civilians at other gates had departed, and that the Marines had returned to military discipline. Civilians began to leave the vicinity of the gate. With a last burst of singing and praying, the nuns and brothers, their mission done, prepared to leave. And with a final clatter of their shields, the riot police began to move steadily forward, signaling that it was really time to go. I must say there were two Japanese journalists who were particularly intrepid, practically allowing themselves to be trod underfoot just to get good video.
As the last group of stragglers and journalists walked away, information kept being exchanged: there were tidbits about the goings-on within the Marine hierarchy; a discussion of what the Chief of Staff’s comments (the armed forces had to settle this in their own way, without interference from civilians and politicians) meant; what the Palace’s pronouncement that they’d leave the resolution of the crisis to the military meant; and whether it was true 3 senators and 15 congressmen were going to be rounded up. There were jokes about the presence of Imee Marcos, speculation as to what Mrs. Aquino hoped to achieve by praying the rosary, ongoing debates about what the Marines had actually set out to do.
For about half an hour, departing vehicles were held up, because no order had been given to let us through another gate, barricaded with trucks. Eventually, the order must have been given, and everyone who was a civilian went off into the night. It was one of those days that reminds me why I am not cut out to be a reporter: the long, hot, thirsty tedium of waiting -for news or even rumors- and then sudden bursts of activity and a frenzy of reporters and correspondents jockeying for an interview, a photo, video, or all three. Then more tedium, a creeping feeling of not being in a good position to really observe what was going on, then, the end -going home, exhausted, and still wanting to know more about what, exactly, had taken place. I think we still don’t fully know.
TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA PRESS FREEDOM PRESS CONFERENCE
FEB. 26, 2006 AT THE NEWSDESK CAFE
CALOY CONDE, NUJP: The position of the NUJP is we’re very alarmed
with what happened to the Tribune, casing of publications, deployment
of troops in TV stations, and unconfirmed reports na sinusundan si
Arnold Clavio. We’re very alarmed. Some of our colleagues are
wondering hanggang kailan ang ganitong atmosphere. The NUJP is
enjoining our collegues and members of Civil Society to take a stand
on this issue -PD 1017.
DEAN LUIS TEODORO: The PD 1017 is supposed to be merely a statement
of what’s going on, what Malacanang is saying. But it seems to me
it’s going further than that. The arrest of some members of
Congress and people who are allegedly involved in coup plots. But
the most worrying of all is what happened to the Tribune yesterday.
I think it’s an assault to the free press and unconstitutional.
And the press should unite on the basis of freedom, press freedom is
under threat. And we can see this from the statements of the PNP.
The statement that media organizations will be taken over unless they
hue to the standards that govt. has set. I’m wondering what the
standards will be. I am sure they are not talking about the
standards of accuracy, fairness, accountability and press autonomy.
I don’t think these are the standards they are talking about. I
don’t know what they mean by standards.
MANUEL LUIS QUEZON III/PDI : I think what we should point out is the
broad extent of the govt’s plans being implemented at present. PD
1017 has its implementing paragraph lifted word for word from PD 1081
which is a proclamation of Martial Law. And for journalists, when
they lift the proclamation from a proclamation of ML, you see the
intent – that media is a threat to national security. The govt.
is waging a campaign on a very broad front. There are cases of our
brethren in the broadcast media being tailed or troops being deployed
in their premises. The PCIJ blog is concerned because they say ther
content is being analyzed. Radio is being made to prioritize govt.
spokesmen and fearful of dissenters. Thus, your capacity to deliver
the news is being compromised because it is based on very unclear
rules. The people who cannot write, edit, people whose main job is
propaganda are being tasked to impose on the media what counts as
fair news. This, the public has not comprehended. Media should
standby its cherished rights. This is the beginning of the
systematic intimidation of media as in Martial Law days. We have to
stop this before it reaches fruition.
LEAH NAVARRO: I am here as a citizen with the right to listen and
view news. This the citizens of this country has enjoyed. It’s
what we fought for: to get this freedom. I am appalled, along
with many of our other friends – civil society and people who
listen and read you, who go by the information that you give
everyday. We are enraged and outraged at this return to the dark
ages of Martial Rule. By any name 1081 or 1017, they are stiffling
our freedom. What next? The internet? Censorship? Are we going to
go back to the time when we have to cower under this fear. So we
hope you will continue to fight for this right. We will support you
because we cannot let our freedoms die.
CARL WILSON/FOCAP: This all happened very quickly. I am not
speaking on behalf of all correspondents. The point is FOCAP grew
from martial law and I think press freedom at the end of the day is a
fundamental cornerstone of any democractic society anywhere in the
world. At the end of the day, we have the same job. We report
fairly, accurately. I think what happens here, it’s the way this
story is being reported and carried overseas will have a massive
impact on how this government will be seen. Thus, the job of the
correspondent is very crucial. The job is fundamental. We need to
report what we see. If this is taken away..
JOSE CUCIDO/National President of CEGP: Nangangamba ang CEGP sa
ganitong sitwasyon. Kung nagagawa nila ito sa national papers, lalo
na sa campus publications. Sa kasalukuyan, very critical ang campus
papers sa gobyerno. So kung ginawa nila ito sa Tribune dahil
critical sa govt., mas kaya nilang gawin ito sa campus publications.
Meron kaming planned actions sa PD 1017. Mananawagan po kami na ang
campus publications ay magsuot ng black t-shirt at mag noise barrage
sa harapan ng campus to condemn this.
RICKY CARANDANG/ANC: Its very clear that we are under threat. These
are threats that we face overtly in front of us. But I also say
watch your back beca use there are threats like advertising boycott,
libel suits that can be filed against some of us. These are not
direct threats. These are subtle threats and because of this we need
to adhere to the highest standards of our possession. Let’s not
give them more amunition than they already have.
CONRAD DE QUIROS/PDI: My feelings about this, I expressed in my
column tomorrow. The title is “Dictator” I think we should not
be cowed with anything like this. I relate in particular my
interview with Blas Ople where he told me that when Marcos declared
Martial Law, he didn’t think that it will take very long. He never
thought that ML would last a low time. But Marcos was so surprised
that nobody was resisting it , so tinuloy-tuloy na niya. Our best
defense is just to do what we do at this time.
JIMMY ANTIPORDA/ REMATE/Alyansa ng Pilipinong Mamahayag: Ang laban
lang natin coverage. Lalo tayong inaapi. So dapat magkaisa
tayo. Kasi ang nangyayari ngayon, pati calls namin pinuputol nila.
Lahat tayo, dapat marami tayong pagpilian.
CALOY CONDE/ NUJP: Regarding the hotline, we have not set up
anything for this. But we have an existing hotline 411-77-68.
MANUEL LUIS QUEZON III/NUJP: The Achilles heel of media are the
owners of publications, TV and radio stations. So you have to apply
pressure on your owners not to fold. The first thing the Palace does
is to talk to the owners.
SONNY: Can we put our unity in black and white, establish a central
office where we can monitor breaches, monitor and protect our
colleagues. Is it possible to make an audience with the President?
CALOY CONDE/NUJP: Maybe we can talk about a centralized
communication system for harm done to our colleagues. So para
malaman yung mechanics diyan kung paano gawin. So we can respond in
case something like what happened t o the Tribune happens again.
LEAH NAVARRO: Civil society groups have lawyers. There is FLAG and
they are more than willing to help. There is another group of
lawyers, apart from CODAW of Atty. Colminares. I believe that this
lawyers’ groups will question the constitutionality of PD 1017 in
court. Civil society will also help by spreading this issue. So you
can continue to write about it. We can inform via fora. That’s
how we can help you.
ISAGANI YAMBOT/PDI: We find it strange that on the 20th anniversary
of EDSA 1 which toppled the dictatorship, the nation is again in a
Martial Law situation or albeit in a disguised form. This so-called
State of Emergency has all the earmarks of martial law. The
President herself and her generals have said the situation is under
control. So, where is the emergency situation? What is the
justification for the State of Emergency. If things are under
control then they can go after erring individuals or group legally.
The taking over of media publications is sending a chilling effect to
media men, although it is not sending a chilling effect to the
Inquirer. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said the PDI is big fish,
they are only going after small fry. So, if we are considered as
erring then they should proceed to go after us. The law should be
applied equally. We are also concerned that the police is setting
standards for the media. What right have they? Are they
professionally competent to do this? We the media demand that we set
the standards for ourselves. And as a matter of fact, we have set
standards for ourselves. In the Inquirer, we have the Reader’s
Advocate. We have a manual. We abide by the Code of Ethics for
Journalists, etc. Also, there is the legal venue. We have laws on
libel, inciting to sedition. If the administration believes some
journalists have violated these laws, then they can use the law and
accord them due process. Due process is basic to any democratic
society. Or are we still a democratic society? I think 1017 is a
case of overkill. It should be overturned immediately so we can
return to a situation of calm. If I remember correctly, the
President said she prefers a licentious press than a bridled one.
She said it was government policy. She said this during the World
Press celebration in May 3 2002 at the ceremonial hall of Malacanang.
Sabi niya, we are known as a free press, a licentious press. But we
would rather be known as a licentious press than a bridled one. So
why does she want a bridled, suppressed press now?
The freedom of expression is perhaps one of the most important
freedoms we enjoy in a democracy. When this is lost, all other
rights and freedoms go. So, anyone who wants to be a dicta tor
suppresses this freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, we lost
this freedom of expression. I myself had to face clearance from
NICA. They told me “Mr. Yambot, you are facing two criminal
cases.” It turned out they were libel cases and this is normal for
journalists. So I talked to E. Reyes of the NISA. Today, we are
facing again the danger of losing this freedom of expression. I
think we should all join together and resist this attempt to restrict
this freedom with all our strength and all our might.
CALOY CONDE/NUJP: The NUJP will continue to keep in touch with media
colleagues in the coming days. We will communicate with groups and
determine what course of action we need to take.
JOEL EGCO/Manila Standard/ARM: First, definitely, the President’s
proclamation is testing the waters. I am representing the ARM
journalists and we are now disarmed because they cancelled our PTCs.
Mas lal o tayong vulnerable ngayon. Practically, we have no other
way to protect ourselves. Marami sa kalaban natin sa media yung
Armed Forces and Police. So, they are testing the waters. So we
must not be cowed. Let us move on. The most dangerous thing na
mangyari sa scenario na ito, baka may third parties na mag-take
advantage ng situation na ito. We support the NUJP in this effort.
We will press on with the fight. If the need arises, each and
everyone of us have to strengthen our ranks. We have to protect
press freedom no matter what the cost.
GANI CASTRO: May mga troops daw outside TV stations, pwedeng humingi
RICKY CARANDANG/ANC: I don’t know. Kanina umikot ako sa ABS, wala
naman akong nakita.
ALLAN : Parang yung mode of contention kanina ay what to do next.
Actually, walang banta e. ACTUAL ITO. Kailangan ba nating maghintay
na maulit iyong sa Tribune. Hindi ito 1081, ito ay 1082. Ang
sinasabi nila, ang kritisismo ay continuing crime. Ang totoong crime
ay ang patuloy na pagtatakip ng katotohanan na hindi legitimate si
Gloria. They use every possible means. They destroyed the
institutions -NBI, DOJ. Ngayon, media na ang ide-destroy nila.
Ngayon, si Lumibao, gusto niya maging publisher. Sige, general,
bigay mo sa amin ang baril at kami ang mag-pe-peace and order. This
is the darkest day of all time.
CALOY CONDE/NUJP: Whoever wants to join this, please coordinate with
the people from NUJP.
SONNY : Will this assembly demand the govt to rescind 1017 and stop
all forms of media harassment?
CALOY CONDE/NUJP: Now, I think I speak for everybody that we want
this (PD 1017) to stop.
ISAGANI YAMBOT/PDI: Probably we can write a pooled editorial on this
issue and I’ll try to convince our editor to have this on p age 1
and I hope that the other publishers will do the same thing.
CALOY CONDE: The question of the pooled editorial is probably one of
the things we can discuss. Drafting an editorial may take some time
but this is certainly what we will do.
CONRAD DE QUIROS: There was a pooled editorial in 1989 and I think
we can do another thing like that. Just a couple of other things, I
agree that this is not a threat. This is already a transgression
against press freedom. They went after the Tribune kasi weak and
later go after the big ones. I guess the best example is from a
quote of Bertolt Brecht. If we don’t do something about the
Tribune situation and the arrest of people, tayo na ang susunod. I
think we should be prepared. We should demand certain things. Our
best defense really is to do what we have been doing -this is a
matter of legitimacy. President Ramos was right in this respect –
Cory Aquino was su bjected to so many coups but she never declared a
State of Emergency.
ISAGANI YAMBOT: Maybe we can draft a resolution
CALOY: The NUJP can draft that resolution and circulate it sa media.
We can demand the withdrawal of 1017.
RICKY CARANDANG: Flag is drafting a resolution
JIMMY DOMINGO, Phil. Center for Photo Journalism: Gusto naming
ipahayag na ang PCP ay nakikiisa sa pagkilos na ito para labanan ang
panunupil sa pamamahayag.
CALOY CONDE: The lady is saying some FOCAP members are finding it
hard to enter Malacanang dahil hindi daw sila member ng press corps
ng Malacanang. The press corps of Malacanang is also complaining of
not being treated properly.
NOEL BARCELONA/ PINOY WEEKLY: Meron pagkakataon na mahirap mag-cover
pag hindi kilala ang dyaryo mo. In behalf of Kapihan sa Cypress, we
support this move. We are expressing the highest condemnation
against PD 1017.