Thursday, January 25, 2018

Duterte’s War on Media

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

A week after Rappler Inc., a Filipino online news outlet was shut down, Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finds probable breaches of nationality restrictions to the organization. Philippine media has long been touted as the “fourth estate” or the “fourth power” that juxtaposes a symmetrical power to President Rodrigo Duterte as the vox populi, vox Dei.

The current episode propelled a Pandora’s Box that questions power relations of the executive branch over the fourth branch of the government. How come that foreign ownership is pressed against a manufacturer of information like Rappler when most netizens across the globe paved way by critical infrastructures for news distribution remains borderless? How come that Rappler’s almost decade-long existence since 2011, no government administration has condemned its critical narratives and up-to-date news content, nonetheless, the reputable news outlet has even become steadfast and truth worthy source of information shared in the superhighway information. Is Rappler a threat to national security?

President Duterte’s trust and mistrust with media has been described in his roller-coaster journey’s ascent to power. His appeal to the masses massively constructed or deconstructed both by the traditional and new media are intermittently displaced whenever he disliked misinformation about his power projection. His upper hand denial to compromises and closure of media outfits in the Philippines are countered by ambiguously scrutinizing at flaws of family media owners despite robust contributions and legacy of these institutions to the country’s nation-building, using threats and fear as bold resolutions for submission to solidify his draconian rule. 

Last year, he vowed to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise – the country’s largest network, and retaliated based from his rants when the media giant failed to air his political ad when he ran for presidency. He also singled out the country’s most read print media – the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) for alleged slanted reportage about him and on his banner policy against the war on drugs.

Patterns of belligerence of the government against the manufacturers of information during the Marcosian years and to the present have seen astute and brave media in pursuit of press freedom; nevertheless, these select agents of change revolutionized Philippine society that spurred people power. The difference of media today than before, now there are quiet emergence of censored and uncensored websites, that cling to rampant disinformation that may entice millions of netizens. The appalling side of the information superhighway, it trespasses a country’s sovereignty, and that the absence of regulation on the internet, citizen journalists and traditional media practitioner may mete out wide-scale reparations and malicious information damaging the integrity of the complex political culture.     

The daunting tasks of democratizing journalism in the Philippines, regarded supposedly as the freest in Asia, away from the social ills of political innuendos could spur a Cultural Revolution paved way by the advent of the dotcom era. The frequency of social media substantiated by the new media can become a constant catalyst of change to bridge the wall between elites and the masses subdued by stronger political patronage of mass media that manipulates the objectivity of information and obstructs the reliance of scoops to monopolize the subjectivity of truthfulness.

Ethical issues can escalate as to the extent of the president’s power to shut down institutions, particularly guardians of the right to communicate that have the capacity to expose abuses and inefficiency of leaders. The dichotomy between professional news and government propaganda exude discursive constructs of news gathering and news reportage under the mantle of trust and reliability despite that everything in the post-truth world are now deconstructed. People need critical thinking to absorb truths and realities; but if a leader is petrified of veracities, then he is not a wiser president. 

Reality bites, Duterte’s media warfare has become asymmetrical with the emergence of non-state actors and individuals as truth in information has become subjective. Nationality restrictions sought to be justified on the ground of national security issue but not on political shenanigans that can become legitimate if the genuine purpose is only to protect national interests and not solely personal interest to consolidate power and perpetuate political survival.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Philippines’ Quest for Federalism

Photo from PhilStar
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The idea of a full federal system of “coming together” or shared sovereignty and “holding together” or shared governmental powers presumes symmetric and asymmetric balance of power in the electoral process.  But Filipino policymakers and scholars talk about decentralization but not federalism paramount to issues on fragmentation and secessionism. In this context, decentralization was perceived to be an effective means of diffusing power from the center that would effectively prevent an authoritarian regime. Hence the shift to federalism removes the restrictions to the martial law powers of the president as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.   

Federalism can be taken advantage to deepen the discourse of devolution that flexes opportunity to implement reforms on amalgamation highlighting inter-local cooperation. Since 1967, Republic Act No. 5185 or the Decentralization Act was enacted to increase the financial resources and powers of local governments.

On the other hand, the Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of the Philippines institutionalized a systemic allocation of powers and responsibilities between national and local governments. The Local Government Code assures that powers and structures of cities, municipalities, and barangays shall remain. However, not all regions are equal in terms of opportunities and resources; but proposed federal government shall be created to provide more funding support to depressed regions in order to accelerate development to equalize with other progressive regions, in which effect regions shall acquire more power to control over their funds and resources in pursuit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

Whether or not the fiscal decentralization succeeded or failed in the span of almost three decades, there have been no sharp improvements in local public service delivery. Fiscal autonomy becomes inutile when more local government units depend on the Internal Revenue Allotment from the Philippines national coffers. This will result to massive accountability from the central government where people will demand more services if they are paying their taxes properly. The dilemma also rises with the mismatch of the assignments of revenues and expenditures; on the contrary, local governments have not fully exploited their local taxing powers. In the end, the fiscal social contract should therefore feed accountability in all local levels. If national government refuses to be true to decentralization then policy implementation becomes the biggest challenge.

The current discourse on federalism catches the contours of the form rather on the substance of the subject that bespeaks accountability, transparency, democracy or autocracy. If the common denominator in the parlance of federalism in the Philippines calls for accountability and political participation, in spite of the form of the government, these values should have been the bases of founding a stronger government even before.

Benchmarking from the experiences of other countries on how federalism had worked on to their advantage is conceived as cultural expressions of their political aspirations and synergy to commit to innovative calls of their security environments. The Philippines should breed its own indigenous form of federalism as a prescription to alter the mindset and perspective of Filipino civil servants to assume proactive roles to stand with the aphorisms of the basic local governance as building blocks of robust nationhood.

Rhetoric on demystifying the spoiled Philippine political structures of overconcentration of central power in Imperial Manila, corruption, patronage politics, political dynasty, secessionism and terrorism can be addressed with the promising face of federalism. The devil is in the detail when political ambitions can be launched for an extension of power of leaders characterized by desynchronized or suspended local and national elections. This opens up a judicialization of politics which vest enough powers to key positions in the government.   

To counter such scenario, the Philippines’ emancipation from oligarchical system of clientelistic politics, political reforms must not be limited to relational dynamics between the balance of power of the central and local governments. Federalism must pave way for electoral and party reforms, debate on anti-political dynasty provision in the Constitution, amalgamation of fragmented local government units, restructuring of tax system, reconfiguration of the presidential system, and professionalizing the civil service.

The assurance that Filipinos shall fully enjoy the benefits of democracy by uplifting their lives espouses the campaign of a semi-parliamentary system with a strong presidential system, directly voted in tandem with the vice president. The president nominates the prime minister who will act as the chief executive officer of the country. However, this precludes a condition of a stronger party dynamics for which the president’s political survival relies on the strength of political parties supporting him that contradicts the nonexistence of strong parties in the Philippines.

More so, the promise of political participation insinuates the greater respect for ethnic diversity and political culture change which spans for intergeneration. The centuries-old reality of Philippine regionalism debunks the pitch that through federalism and decentralization, devolution of regional financial and political powers will wield good governance, peace and order, and competitiveness.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

Chill Baguio City

Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2017 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

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