Saturday, December 12, 2009

Martial law redux

“I am so not getting this.”

Seemingly among words, the trigger-happy senator, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, has few peers.

During the joint session of Congress on Proclamation 1959, the senator questioned the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

“Show me the rebellion,” she fired off, according to Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec.11, 2009 story.

But I like better her broadside skewering the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, also contained in Presidential Proclamation 1959: “I am so not getting this.”
“Sakto”: the senator pins it down for me.

But unlike Santiago, who suffers from no inferiority complex in her grasp of the political and the acerbic, I grapple with sentiments that may be the reverse of what she means.

Befuddlement: I am so not getting what’s happening in Maguindanao. Or to the whole country, for that matter. Am I seeing the big picture?

Paranoia: Where’s the rebellion? may be the cry of those who doubt the constitutionality of Proclamation 1959. Mine is: where’s the opposition who confidently predicted that the Filipino people will never allow martial law to be imposed again in the country? “Tama na, sobra na.”

During this year’s Cebu Press Freedom Week celebration, I listened to University of the Philippines (UP) professor and martial law survivor Randy David tell a rapt audience of students and teachers that today, unlike in 1972, guarantees “instant public resistance to any attempt to impose martial law.”

The rise of technology-enabled social media—cell phones, the Internet—gives people the power to monitor, mobilize and prevent the government and the military from overriding civil law.

David shared this belief with fellow journalist and blogger Manuel L. Quezon III, who also spoke about New Media’s empowerment of citizen journalists in a different forum during the Cebu press’ annual commemoration of press freedom and other civil liberties suspended by Ferdinand Marcos when he signed Proclamation No. 1081.

Yet, when President Gloria Arroyo signed Proclamation 1959 last Dec. 4, the immediate reaction against her imposition of martial law was—nothing.

I do not know what you were doing on this day, but I was listening to Newsbreak’s multi-awarded investigative journalist Miriam Grace Go challenge local Mass Communication students assembled during the McLuhan Forum at the St. Theresa’s College Little Theater to “watch the watchdogs.”

From Gigi and other working press colleagues I heard the questions I did not see anywhere on print or on cyberspace: why were there so many journalists, many of them from the same outfit, joining the ill-fated convoy massacred in Ampatuan? If the objective of the news coverage was the filing of Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy at Shariff Aguak, why did the press not go directly to the Comelec provincial office located there?

I am so not getting this.

The irrelevance of lesson plans for learning journalism was set on Nov. 23. In the morning, Mass Communication students listened to the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (Pecojon) talk about the “invisible” victims maimed, killed, displaced by war in Mindanao.

“It is a story that has not been fully told even inside the country,” Pecojon’s Antonia Koop told an academic audience that viewed a sampling of the works of Mindanao photojournalists as if we were viewing the last rainforest tribe, so absent are these pictures from the local and national press.

That evening, we went home and watched the killing fields of Ampatuan yield the first bodies of the massacred 57. Last Dec. 11, I saw my first Facebook photos showing the uncovered remains of Ampatuan victims.

Melting and oozing, the bodies were none too fresh but, in a sense, still meat displayed on an online slab. It took me 15 minutes to read fellow-journalists’ tagged notes on Cebuanos’ concern over martial law in Maguindanao, but less than a minute to scan the ripe body shots.

In Journ 101, I learned and now teach writing captions to contextualize photos. On Facebook, no cutlines are required; visuals talk. My students who come from Mindanao or who visited parts of it complain that what’s hogging the news media is not all of Mindanao, not even 1/99th. It’s just that what bleeds, leads. That’s Journ 101, too.

As I write, it’s 13 days till Christmas. I am so not getting this.

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 13, 2009 “Matamata” column

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