Protecting the rich?

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

The job of a journalist is never easy. You can even say it’s a thankless job that’s not even worth the pressure many reporters and editors handle each day. This explains why people in the world of reportage have been stereotyped as alcoholics, chain smokers, and punching bags of the political elite. Of course, this is far from what actually transpires on the field, in the newsroom, and during slow news days when muggings are the least of your worries.

But if there’s any consolation to what you do as a journalist, it’s the fact that you’re right smack in the middle of it all – in every disaster, murder, theft, and scandal that disturbs the very fabric of decency and order. Nothing compares to the thrill you get being invited to press functions and getting information that could send another corrupt yahoo to jail (that is if the justice system isn’t already run by yahoos). Then again, we’re always free to continue dreaming of an institution that doesn’t reek of sulfur and brimstone.

The free press, for sure, has its fair share of repulsive characters who are better off as staffers in the devil’s PR department. Hell has had a bad rap ever since the Fall, so they’re hiring just about anyone to sell Sin as the next big thing. It requires a certain amount of megalomania and moral sordidness to qualify as a cohort of disinformation and marketing skewed towards screwing other people. Sticks and stones? Nope. To write ill about a person is like skinning an innocent lamb alive and getting paid for it. Indeed, our politicians are every bit the innocent lambs you see in every election ad or flyer or poster, and so they deserve better than to be lynched by devilish press goblins out to make a quick buck out of the hack-work they leave behind.

That being said, there’s some truth behind Mr. Duterte’s recent tirade against certain members of the media, accusing them of being money-hungry puppets that favor the rich by “protecting their secrets.” This diatribe against the press followed a report released by the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism  (PCIJ), detailing a sudden spike in the wealth of the Presidential family based on Mr. Duterte’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Networks going back to the late 90s. Mr Duterte referred to the report as a hack job by journalists who practice “attack and collect/defend and collect.” In other words, it has all the trappings of an election season smear campaign when so-called hao siao reporters churn out press releases packaged as straight news stories that favor their benefactors or derail the campaign of their targets.

Was there ever any doubt about the existence of hack journalism? It’s already common knowledge that hao siao reporters exist. It has become such a tolerated practice that we couldn’t imagine Philippine elections without any mention of the terms “spin masters” and “envelopmental journalism.” Mr. Duterte himself has summed up this sad reality by evoking an all too familiar Filipino phrase: “Pera-pera lang yan.”

Then again, we will have to draw line somewhere to separate the hao siaos from actual journalists who do their job in the most systematic and detailed way, which is something that the PCIJ has, for years, perfected when it produced stories on the extravagant campaign spending of many politicians; on the environmentally destructive habits of mining firms; on the issue of kickbacks from government construction projects; on the slow response by the P-Noy administration in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda; and on the  list of pork barrel politicians, a majority or 33 of whom were Liberal Party stalwarts.

Of course,  Mr. Duterte is frustrated only by the fact hunch that he’s being targeted by the PCIJ despite the fact that the organization itself can be a helpful partner in this administration’s anti-corruption campaign. To say that the PCIJ protects the rich doesn’t really mean anything when it seeks to draw out the relations that many big businesses share with politicians. At this point, should we be more concerned about the utter secrecy with which our politicians are able to compensate themselves for the mysterious wealth they’ve accumulated after the polls?

Think about it over bottles of Pilsen and Camel cigarettes.

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