(Last of a Three-Part Series)

“By finishing off the MILF with the support of the people of Mindanao, the military finally will bring us closer to lasting peace.” [1]

This was lifted from a reader's letter to the editor, published in the most popular national broadsheet in English. Such sentiment is increasingly shared by more and more people particularly in the capital Manila. More alarmingly, such sentiment is likely to remain for a longer time as the proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) was finally junked by no less than the Philippine Supreme Court [2].

Now on its second month, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 90 civilians and has displaced more than 500,000 families [3].

As a darker cloud of uncertainty hovers in Southern Philippines with the recent development at the judiciary, the media is once more challenged to perform an engendered peace journalism instead of producing sensationalised news which could only fan existing flames [4].

While Mindanao has produced more and more practitioners of alternative media, their news have hardly been seen, read, and heard in mainstream media which is mostly based in Metro Manila. “There is a need for us to reach out to the centre but there is also a need for mainstream media to be part of the process,” asserted Lina Sagaral-Reyes, a member of the group, Mindanao Women’s Writers (Min-Wow) [5]. Sagaral-Reyes is among the feminist journalists in the South, covering news and forwarding these to the more established media outfits.

She admitted that certain dynamics are at play behind the limited news on Mindanao in mainstream media. The number of journalists assigned to physically cover the news in the South is quite few compared with those deployed in Manila. One major paper, for instance, has established a Mindanao Bureau yet its regular staff complement consists of only three regular employees, including the bureau chief himself.

As this and other media outfits are more keen to tap stringers, who often have limited budget and lack insurance and therefore have limited mobility, some news coverage tend to be incomplete. Stringers are locals who gather news and write stories but are paid based on the number and length of their stories. Of the major broadsheets based in Manila, only two have offices in Mindanao while rest relies on stringers.

“A lot of things are happening in Mindanao. Five of the world’s largest mining companies are in Bukidnon, Lanao del Sur, and Misamis Oriental and are undertaking developmental aggressions,” Sagaral-Reyes remarked. Investigative reports on issues on environmental degradation and human rights violations against indigenous peoples which saw print are often a result of back channeling or when authors and organisations have a direct link to editorial hierarchy.

Dynamics are likewise responsible for the dearth of empowering stories on women in situations of armed conflicts. Women journalists are often negotiating with managers and editors who are mostly men.

Raissa Jajurie, the head of the Mindanao office of the alternative law group, Sentro ng Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) added that mainstream media has also heavily relied on reports coming from the military. The north-south and urban-rural divide is likewise palpable in the production and dissemination of information about the proposed MOA-AD and the conflict. “The perspectives that they have highlighted are mostly those of the non-Moros. There are more who are against the MOA in Metro Manila because they are far from the reality of conflict,” Jajurie pointed out [6].

Jajurie also shared that at the beginning of the conflict, ordinary civilians were advising crews of major television stations to proceed to Datu Piang as indiscriminate airstrikes were injuring civilians and destroying their property. “If not for the pregnant woman and the children killed in the area, the media would not have covered the atrocities there,” she said.

Former executive director of Isis International Raijeli Nicole also made a general observation: “Media’s role as the voice of people has diminished. Security and peace became purely militaristic concerns and are no longer looked at from a social perspective that puts the well-being of the people as a priority.” [7]

In their community media initiative, “Women Making Airwaves for Peace” in 2007, both Min-Wow and Isis International stressed the need to surface the gender dimension of peace journalism as women are among the most vulnerable in situations of armed conflict but are also the most reliable in peace-building.

The current armed conflict indeed appears to be the most misunderstood conflict in recent Philippine history. Given the possibility of the civilians experiencing prolonged disruption, displacement, and danger, the future poses yet another challenge and opportunity for the media in the patient pursuit for peace.

Sources:

[1] Libosada, Mario. (September 10, 2008). “Mindanao will have lasting peace only with MILF eradication.” URL:http://www.inquirer.net/specialfeatures/mindanaopeaceprocess/view.php?db=1&article=20080910-159717

[2] On 14 October 2008, the Supreme Court released its decision which found the proposed MOA-AD between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) unconstitutional. An output of years of sincere negotiations between the government panel and the rebel group, the proposed MOA-AD deals with the expansion of what is called a Bangsamoro homeland from the current Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The proposed MOA-AD was supposed to be signed on 4 August 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia but the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order just the day before, angering the MILF and resulting in the ongoing fighting between the military and MILF. Philippine Daily Inquirer. (2007). “GRP-MILF deal: What went before.” URL: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/ 20081015-166448/GRP-MILF-deal-What-went-before

[3] IRIN. (2007). “'Humanitarian crisis' risk in Mindanao.” URL: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=80918

[4] Peace journalism is a transformative media coverage that traces the origins of a conflict; offers diverse perspectives on the issues; and places emphasis on non-violent responses to the conflict. See Isis International and Mindanao Women’s Writers. (2007). Engendering Peace Journalism: Keeping Communities Whole. URL:http://isiswomen.org/downloads/wmafp/modules/WMAfP_guide_en.pdf

[5] Interview with Lina Sagaral Reyes. 29 September 2008.

[6] Interview with Raissa Jajurie. 10 September 2008.

[7] Isis International and Mindanao Women’s Writers. (2007). Engendering Peace Journalism: Keeping Communities Whole. URL:http://isiswomen.org/downloads/wmafp/modules/WMAfP_guide_en.pdf

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