Manila Times columnist Katrina Stuart Santiago, in a sober opinion piece posted on Monday, asks interesting questions about the May 31 press conference that has led to tension between President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and the media.
“For example, after hearing Duterte speak of corrupt journalists deserving to die, why didn’t anyone in the media ask him: what about journalists who are not corrupt but are killed anyway? Why didn’t anyone ask him about the case of Gerry Ortega, for example, or the case of the journalists who got killed in the Ampatuan massacre? What is his policy on journalists like them?” she writes.
Media’s failure to do so, she says, “revealed they do not really want him to flesh out his answers, nor do they know how to handle the President-elect.”
I was not at the press conference. I was, in fact, doing off-duty drinking while it was happening. That was followed by heavier drinking because of what Duterte said — or, to be fair, what he reportedly said.
So, as Stuart Santiago certainly did as well, I reviewed the video of the presscon:
The question is asked around the 55:00 mark.
As it turns out, and as I remember from previous viewings of the video, there were attempts to ask follow-up questions, but the reporter who asked the original question was only able to get one in.
The discussion was cut after a few minutes when another person, presumably a reporter, took the microphone to praise Duterte and to throw low key shade on the ghost of broadcaster Jun Pala.
I don’t know Pala, but, as the column reminds us, Duterte was talking about “the kind of reporter that one Jun Pala was.” [Sun.Star Davao EIC Stella Estremera knew him and writes about him here]
Would the reporter have asked about Gerry Ortega or the victims of the Ampatuan massacre? Who knows? The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines did mention them, though, in a statement released soon after the press conference concluded.
In any case, Duterte said at the next press conference that he cannot protect every journalist and that the “crusaders” among them risk death too.
I don’t know how Duterte’s press conferences are organized, but the handful of press briefings I have attended in the past usually have people lining up for their turn at the microphone, or raising their hands to be called. Not all are given a chance to ask — more questions are left unasked than are.
Maybe someone who was going to ask the questions Stuart Santiago wanted asked simply wasn’t called. Who knows?
“Wala kasing moderator then, teh. As in raise your hand, pray to God na tawagin ka,” a reporter who does cover Duterte said when I asked about that.
It seems unfair, then, to attribute malice or ineptness over something that could have just as easily been because of logistics.
She is right, though, that some in the media are not quite sure how to “handle the president-elect”.
“You know, when Duterte said that, medyo natakot yung iba, may chilling effect eh,” another reporter who covers Duterte said, admitting to feeling a little guilty at being shocked by the statement. “Sa second presscon na lumaban ng kaunti,” the reporter added.
Lumaban, of course, in this sense, means asking tougher questions, and not actually challenging people to fistfights or whatever.
With tensions high since before the elections, it is good that Stuart Santiago refuses to shoot from the hip and join the supposed bandwagon to bash Duterte.
It is unfortunate, however, that in doing so, she is also shooting the messengers and furthering the narrative that journalists are simply out to discredit Duterte by “[latching] on to nothing but the controversial bits and pieces, not at all the policy statements and the bigger picture he creates.” Never mind that stories were written and filed about those too.
It is unfortunate that she asks questions about questions and offers only this as an answer: “Your guess is as good as mine.”