On the 9th of May, Filipinos will go to the ballot box. Since the demise of Ferdinand Marco’s military regime in 1986, the Philippines have consistently held democratic elections, with freedom of the press guaranteed through constitutional protections. Despite this progress, there is still much to be achieved in promoting liberal values in the Philippines. Corruption among government institutions is rampant, and political violence, especially against journalists, is commonplace. As part of a three-day program featuring some of the Philippines’ most notable media professionals, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom invited a round of experts to discuss key issues at stake in the upcoming Philippines elections and the important role the media plays in this context.
Corruption and Violence
According to Bart Guingona, convenor of the MediaNation summit, a national conference of the news media in the Philippines, the South –East Asian country has yet to recover from the legacy of the Marcos regime, with sympathisers of the old regime present throughout all levels of bureaucracy and the late dictator’s family members still successfully running for political offices. He compares parts of this political power structure with historical feudal and dynastic systems Describing the current situation, Guingona stated that while the “heads” of the Marcos regime’s power machine have largely been removed from prominent positions of power, the “body” -the large number of pro-Marcos civil servants, still remains to promote the political resurgence of the past regime. The legacy of the past is still felt in the corruption and violence that is commonplace in Filipino politics. For journalists, the constitutional guarantees of free speech are all too often threatened by acts of violence.
The Role of the Media in Election Campaigning
According to Jacqueline Sierda, Program Manager for News and Information at the TV5 Network, journalism in the Philippines often fails to hold politicians accountable on critical issues such as corruption and human rights abuse. News media often assumes a tabloid style, focussing on irrelevant matters in politicians’ private lives while neglecting critical issues facing voters. Bart Guingona described a situation in which media outlets focussed their attention on a sex scandal involving a candidate’s sister while neglecting to provide coverage of a case involving political corruption. It was agreed that competent political journalism is a much-needed weapon in the fight for democracy in the Philippines. By drawing voter’s attention to important political issues, relevant,
fact-based journalism has the potential to achieve significant progress in advancing democracy in the Philippines. Abelardo Ulanday, associate editor at Inquirer.net, in this context also emphasised the increasing impact social media has in the Filipino political landscape and predicts that the role of social media in the upcoming elections will be greater than ever before. It has great potential of exposing corruption and advocating democracy.
During the discussion, relevant political reportage was identified as a critical weapon in the fight for democratic values in Philippines. A key priority of democracy advocates in the Philippines is facilitating effective engagement of the voting population with the political debates. The role of the media in directing political debate and educating voters must not be underestimated. Ultimately, the future of democracy in the Philippines will be decided by voters’ ability to make informed decisions based on the merits of each candidate. Only then will the Philippines achieve significant progress in upholding human rights and advancing democratic values.