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MINDANAO IN THE NEWS
SOME MINU AND A FEW PLUSES
mentioned for inclusion in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) protested that they had not been consulted. Some senators and representatives questioned the “secrecy” in the drafting of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). Others alleged
that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo planned to extend her term by using the MOA-AD to push a shift to federalism through constitutional amendments. These doubts prompted several incumbent and former officials to file a suit before the Supreme Court, which issued a temporary restraining order last Aug. 4, stopping the Aug. 5 signing of the MOA in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The flap over the MOA heightened hostilities between the MILF forces and the Armed Forces of the
The historical perspective of the issue of ancestral domain was not thoroughly discussed
.............................................................. (ABS-CBNNews.com/Newsbreak, GMANews.tv, Inquirer.net, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Center (PCIJ) blogsite).
The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the MOA-AD last Aug.4.
n By Melanie Y. Pinlac and Edsel Van DT. Dura
INDANAO IS in the news again, more than a year after the beheading of 10 Marine soldiers in Tipo-tipo, Basilan and the kidnapping of Fr. Giancarlo Bossi. This time what initially dominated the front pages and the news programs was the supposed breakthrough in the peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).
As expected the press provided daily coverage of the controversy. It also paid ample attention to the preparations for the 2008 local elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)— the first successful and fully automated elections in the Philippines. (See sidebar) But the usual problems, such as lack of contextualization and in-depth reports still haunted most Ma-
Soldiers in North Cotabato last Aug. 11
The peace talks between the GRP and MILF had resumed in 2003, three years after former president Joseph Estrada had waged “total war” against the separatist group in 2000. But the negotiations had been repeatedly stalled. When the media reported that the MILF and GRP peace panels had finally agreed on the terms of the ancestral domain aspect of the talks—the biggest hurdle that has blocked the formulation of a final peace agreement— many thought it was peace at last. But the enthusiasm waned when doubts over its legality and implications were provoked when details of the Memorandum of Agreement were revealed. Several local officials in Mindanao whose barangay were
Evacuees from the renewed hostilities
Philippines, the Philippine National Police, and some civilian volunteer organizations in North Cotabato and Lanao, in what many feared would be a repeat of the Muslim-Christian confrontations of the past. PJR Reports followed the news media coverage of the MOA-AD a week before it was initialed last July 27 until the Arroyo administration announced its cancellation last Aug. 20 (July 21-Aug. 20). The monitor included three major Manila-based dailies (the Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star); the primetime news programs 24 Oras of GMA-7 and TV Patrol World of ABS-CBN 2; and some major news websites
nila-based media, a problem that has been noted in past PJR Reports monitors.
It also provided last Aug. 10 a timeline for the elections from the creation of the ARMM in 1989, as well as previous data from the Comelec and the pre-election report by Anfrel (http://news.abs-cbn.com/ research/08/10/08/fast-factsarmm-elections). Its Aug. 7 election primer “Lesson for the ARMM polls: New problems accompany election automation” was also helpful in putting the ARMM elections from the perspective of the automation experiences of other countries. GMANews.TV discussed in its sidebar section the significance of the ARMM elections (http:// www.gmanews.tv/story/112915/ significance-of-the-ARMM-elections). It also provided a timeline of the poll automation attempts since 1992 (http://www.gmanews.tv/ story/112897/poll-automationtimeline).
Discussing the MOA-AD
The draft of the MOA-AD between the government and the MILF entered the public sphere after several news organizations published the details in their papers and websites. But the press did not adequately explain how the draft was finalized, the exact nature of the meetings on the issue of ancestral domain, and whether civil society organizations and various local stakeholders had been really consulted or not. “In the first place we have to consider the element of confidentiality within which the peace process was conducted. This already limited the flow of information from the negotiations to the media,” Rudy Rodil, former vice-chair of the government peace negotiating panel and an expert on Mindanao history, said in an e-mail interview with PJR Reports.
Postponing the ARMM elections
................................................................................................................................ The “successful” ARMM elec- ing system through an infographic tion was significant since it was a last Aug. 10. The infographic comdry-run for the first automated presi- pared the two devices, and plotted dential elections in 2010, how it in a map the location where each might be conducted and the prob- would be used. The DRE was used in Maguindanao, while the four other lems that may arise from it. The PJR Reports reviewed the ARMM provinces used the OMR. Alcoverage of the ARMM elections by though published after the electhree Manila-based newspapers (the tions, the Inquirer also provided a Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily diagram on how to use the two kinds Inquirer, and The Philippine Star); of voting machines (Aug. 13, p. A19). Other reports explained that this the primetime news programs TV Patrol World and 24 Oras; and some is the third and most successful atonline news sites from July 21 – Aug. tempt in computerizing the elections. The Inquirer’s “In the know” 20. Most of the reports did explain sidebar explained that the Comelec the procedures for the automated had previously employed automated elections, and pointed out its impor- counting machines in the ARMM tance not only for the 2010 presi- elections—the first time in 1996, dential elections, but for all future and the second in May 1998. It elections. As in the 2007 barangay noted the problems the Comelec exelections, the press provided enough perienced in both efforts. Most news media mentioned information on the ARMM elections. What were lacking, however, were the the technical problems encounexplanatory reports that could have tered by voters and elections officdeepened the public’s appreciation ers. Last Aug. 11, TV Patrol and 24 Oras reported how some machines of the event. failed to work or overheated, but were easily replaced. Automated machines The Aug. 20 Abscbnnews.com/ Most of the reports focused the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) Newsbreak special report noted that using two kinds of automated count- the machines “prevented cheating ing machines—the Optical Media in the counting and canvassing of Reader (OMR) and the Direct Record- votes” but failed to stop vote-buying Electronic system (DRE)—for the ing and other forms of cheating. This was based on the report of the for2008 local elections in ARMM. Abscbnnews.com/Newsbreak, eign observers of Asian Network for for instance, explained the new vot- Free Elections (Anfrel).
N ADDITION to the peace talks between the Arroyo administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the resurgent Mindanao conflict, the press also reported the first fully automated elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) last Aug. 11.
The news media also reported the attempt by the Arroyo administration to postpone the ARMM elections. The reports explained that Malacañang wanted to accommodate the request of the MILF to postpone the elections in view of the creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity under the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) aspect of the 2001 Tripoli peace agreement. A July 23 report by 24 Oras for example said that the reason behind the request was that if the signing of the MOA pushed through, the MILF and the GRP would have to wait for the end of the terms of the new ARMM officials before they can elect BJE officials.
The press reported how the ongoing hostilities between the MILF and government troops were affecting the conduct of the ARMM elections. The firefights between the members of the MILF and the military heightened in August after the aborted signing of the MOA-AD between the MILF and the Philippine government. Despite the Comelec’s claim that elections was “generally peaceful” amid the ongoing hostilities, the press almost uniformly pointed out that voting in some of the provinces was affected by the hostilities. In an exclusive report, 24 Oras showed how troops delivering ballots to the town of Tipotipo, Basilan were attacked by alleged MILF and Abu Sayyaf forces. Others reported on the failure of elections and incidents of ballot snatching and cheating during the Aug. 11 poll. Most reports compared it to past elections saying there was less violence and cheating. n
SEPTEMBER 2008 fore that biased reports could help create additional problems in Mindanao. In an interview with PJR Reports last Aug. 14, Zainudin “Zen” Malang, executive director of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy, said that disinformation and misinformation could “fan the flames of communal conflict.”
“Bear in mind that minority problems, like the issue of ancestral domain, are not something that can be decided or solved by majority vote,” Rodil said. Some reports pointed out that some persons in the executive department and the MILF were also against the MOA-AD. An Inquirer report (“Muslim, Christians slam land agreement”, p. A1 & A18) last Aug. 4 quoted an MILF official in Western Mindanao as stating that “he did not support giving parts of Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi to the MILF.” He said that those who had agreed with that part of the MOA were with the “Maguindanaon-Iranon Liberation Front”, replacing “Moro Islamic” with the ethno-linguistic groups that comprise those MILF leaders who had agreed to the MOA-AD. The claim, however, was not balanced by the views of the leaders referred to, and the report was not followed up. (The Bangsamoro people are divided into at least 13 ethno-linguistic groups including the Maguindanaon and the Iranon.)
n By Jose Torres Jr.
SERIES of unfortunate events”— from “bad beginnings” in the past to what could be the “penultimate peril” lately — can best describe the situation in Mindanao and how the Philippine media reported it. There were shining moments: We were not as ignorant as we had been in the past about the situation. We did our best to provide context to our stories, to look at the situation with maturity, and to give voice to the different players in the conflict, conscious that the post 9/11 world that witnessed the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is watching. Unfortunately, as the situation on the ground started to get blurry and emotions to run high, many of us, as Froilan Gallardo of Sun.Star described it, started to “rave and rant” and forgot all the lessons we ‘ve learned from previous mistakes. The events in Mindanao—the kidnapping of Cecilia Victoria “Ces” Drilon in Sulu, the controversy over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the armed clashes in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato, and the bomb threats and actual bombings—have all the ingredients for front page and prime time stories. But to the dismay of our audience, and even some of us, many of the stories we churned out were incomplete and wanting of the facts that could have cleared up the confusion. The stories on Ms. Drilon’s abduction continue to link the Abu Sayyaf Group to the incident even after those involved in the “unfortunate event” had said otherwise. On the issue of MOA-AD, Mindanaobased journalist Gallardo, a veteran in the coverage of the conflict in the region, complained in an open letter to media that reporting on the issue had gone “directly to the color without looking at the meat of the story.” Reporters and commentators delved into the MOA-AD story without reading the document even after copies had been released to the media. Thus we have, for instance, conflicting figures on how many villages are supposed to be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). Some reported that 1,000 villages would be included in the proposed BJE, others said about 700. Actually, the MOA-AD initialed by the government and the MILF on July 27 identified 735 villages under Category A and 1,459 villages under Category B. Gallardo said Moros predominantly reside in most of these villages, which by the way were not picked at random. The residents signified their intention to be part of the entity when the MILF conducted consultations in the past two years. Even the term BJE has been taken as synonymous to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao when it is only used in the document as a description of the
Reporting the fighting
To be fair, there were some improvements in the coverage compared to, say, the coverage of the fighting in 2000. The press allotted airtime and space to stories on the situation in the evacuation centers as well as to the victims of the attacks and firefights. The press did not limit itself to sources from Malacañang, the MILF, the military, and the local government units when reporting on the firefights. Although most reports did focus on the shooting war, many media organizations also interviewed civilians, civil society organizations, and a few experts on the effect of the war on civilians and evacuees. For example, GMANews.tv wrote last Aug. 12 a special report titled “Away from armed encounters, evacuees confront new dangers” (http://www.gmanews.tv/ story/113251/Away-from-armedencounters-evacuees-confrontnew-dangers) explaining the hardships of evacuees in the centers. The online site also posted other reports outside of the monitoring period which focused on the psychological effect on civilians and the poverty exacerbated by the war (“War trauma may haunt Mindanao evacuees for 30 years – expert”, http://www.gmanews. tv/story/116198/War-traumamay-haunt-Mindanao-evacueesfor-30-years--expert, Aug. 26 and “Armed conflicts and poverty: How war has taken its toll on Mindanao”, http:// www.gmanews.tv/story/115515/ Armed-conflicts-and-povertyHow-war-has-taken-its-toll-onMindanao, Aug.22). In the Aug. 22 report, GMANews.TV also mapped the war-torn areas in Mindanao and noted the levels of poverty in those areas. But the effects on the economy of the conflict were seldom reported. GMANews.TV did post a short report on the effect of the continuing offensive on the economy last Aug. 20 (“Escalating conflict to cut competitiveness of RP”, http://www.gmanews. tv/ story/114982/Escalating-conflictto-cut-competitiveness-of-RP). TV Patrol, meanwhile, reported last Aug. 12 that countries like Australia had advised its citizens to leave the region “due to the very high threat of terrorist attacks”, but did not include its implications on Philippine tourism. n
Rodil (left) in a forum on the MOA-AD
cent developments in the MILFGRP peace talks to the overall peace condition in Mindanao, particularly its impact on GRPMNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) relations, or, for that matter, on MILF-MNLF affairs. The MNLF signed a final peace agreement with the GRP in 1996, and is in effective control of the ARMM, which would be absorbed by the BJE. Teresita Quintos Deles, former presidential peace adviser and INCITEGov (International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance) managing trustee, said “media can only do so much...if the government itself did not know and did not think about it (the implication of the MOA-AD on the MNLF peace agreement).” Deles added that media should look into the government’s real agenda behind the MOA-AD and the lack of preparation for its implementation. A few reports noted the alleged similarities between the resistance to the BJE today and the resistance to the formation of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and the Southern Philippine Development Authority during the negotiations between the MNLF and the Ramos administration in 1996. The press, however, for the most part failed to explain the similarities and differences between the SPCPD and the BJE.
Other aspects not reported
Most of the reports did not review other aspects of the peace negotiations with the MILF, such as the issues of security and rehabilitation and development. In a forum at the University of the Philippines College of Law last Aug. 8, the participants noted that the ancestral domain aspect is just one of the three aspects of the talks. The MILF and GRP had previously agreed on the security and development aspects which led to the agreement on the cessation of hostilities and the formation of the Bangsamoro Development Authority. Other reports also seemed to imply that the MOA is the endall, be-all of the peace process. It should have been noted that a Comprehensive Compact would still have to be drafted after the MOA is signed. The Comprehensive Compact is supposed to be signed within 15 months after the Aug. 5 signing of the MOA. There was also no in-depth or investigative report detailing the possible role of the United States (U.S.) in the peace process. The claims of U.S. intervention were reported by some news organizations, mostly by noting and quoting from a study by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the statements of militant groups such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.
ample, Michael Tan, an anthropologist from the University of the Philippines, explained the issue of ancestral domain in his Inquirer column. He also briefly discussed the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA). IPRA was supposedly one of the legal bases for the MOA-AD. But still missing from the coverage were in-depth reports that could have put in context the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination, and which could have explained the MILF claim on Moro ancestral lands in Mindanao. Neither were there explanatory reports on how the MILF was formed and why it broke away from the MNLF.
Bias against Islam
Some commentaries and reports were obviously biased, which even other journalists noted. Aside from bias against Muslims, Froilan Gallardo, editor of Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro, also noted in a statement that some media organizations tended to use a religious framework by labeling the opposing parties as “Muslims” and “Christians”. He reminded fellow journalists that it is dangerous to to “pit Christians against Muslims”. Most TV news reports also tended to use the language of their sources, which were laden with bias. Some TV reporters with the military tended to identify themselves with the military. In 24 Oras, two reporters who were covering the military called the rebels “kalaban (enemy)” in their reports. An Aug. 20 report of 24 Oras, for example, showed a male reporter saying: “Nagdarapaan tayo ngayon kasi sunud-sunod yung putok ng sabi nila’y sniper fire mula sa kalaban doon sa mga niyugan na iyon.”(We are stooping down as consecutive sniper shots from the enemy are fired from the rows of coconut trees.) Peace advocates and other journalists have warned the press be-
The Bangsamoro struggle
Because the media mainly focused on the MOA-AD’s constitutionality and the Charter amendments required for its implementation, the historical perspective of the ancestral domain issue was not thoroughly discussed either. Some opinion writers were the exceptions. They used the history of the Bangsamoro people and the concept of ancestral domain to explain their points for or against the MOA-AD. For ex-
Looking into other peace processes
Another shortcoming of the coverage was the inability of many reports to connect the re-