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Blame fixing antidote

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CEBU CITY — “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past,” John F. Kennedy counseled. “Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

President Barrack Obama re-echoed that theme after a psycho in Arizona shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killed five and injured 13.

“What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” Obama said. Despite polarized politics, resist the itch to “speak words that wound”. Choose instead those “that heal”.

Here, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda didn’t resist the lure. It came in Heritage Foundation’s release of its 2011 Index of Economic Freedom.

Pervasive corruption, a flabby judiciary, and unsound policies sapped the Philippine economy. As a result, we limped in as 21st out of 41 nations measured in Asia and the Pacific. That’s lower than our already cellar status the year before. “The Philippines is saddled by “one of the mostly unfree economies,” the Index concluded.

Index indicators are anchored to data up to June 30, 2010, Lacierda correctly notes. That’s right smack in President Gloria Arroyo’s last year. The Aquino administration is now seeking to reverse that slide.

We agree. But can we budge beyond blame fixing?

It’s no walk in the park. We realized that on reading Freedom of the Press 2010 survey, released in New York by Freedom House. “Press freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year,“ the study says. “(This) produced a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a free press.”

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization. It monitored, over the last 30 years ups and downs of global media freedom.

Once upon a time, in the now fuzzy past, the Philippines stood as an unquestioned haven for liberty of expression. Not anymore.

“The Philippines received a downward trend arrow…and ranking of partly free.” Freedom House says this is due to a “general decline in the rule of law in Mindanao”.

Specifically, it cites the massacre of 57 civilians — 32 of whom were journalists — on their way to register an election candidate.

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.”

The Ampatuans of Maguindanao are in the dock for the Maguindanao massacre. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo shirks any blame for coddling warlords. But she was perfectly willing to accept landslide votes from them.

Evaluate this mindset in the context of the Freedom House report. “Over the past decade, the positive momentum that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall has stalled, and in some cases, has been reversed.

“The steps backwards taken by a number of the new democracies like Namibia, the Philippines, Senegal,and South Africa are particularly disturbing… Journalists in many countries cannot do their job without fear of repercussions.”

The Asia-Pacific region recorded significant improvements. Bangladesh and Bhutan were upgraded from “Not Free” to “Partly-Free“. Improvements were seen in the Maldives, India, East Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Mongolia.”

“Declines were noted in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Philippines, and Fiji. This region also continues to be the home of two of the survey’s poorest performers, North Korea and Burma, plus the world’s largest poor performer, China.”

On the other end are the world’s 10 worst-rated countries. These are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

“In these states, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime. Citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited. Dissent is crushed…”

“Unique pressures are placed on media in countries in the midst of political conflict, as well as intensified constraints on internet freedom. Globalization of censorship by countries such as China, and international bodies such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, poses an additional threat to freedom of expression.”

We must reverse the erosion of press freedom that calls for more than just rhetorical blame pinning. It calls for ensuring swift impartial justice, not just for Maguindanao victims but those 78 journalists murdered elsewhere.

What festers here is “an established culture of impunity and a flawed political system that relies on warlords”, as the International Federation of Journalists says. “That history of power struggles and political patronage continues to threaten the media environment.”

Systematic violence against the media stems from tolerance of the Arroyo regime of a culture of retribution toward journalists who report on corruption and political issues, IFJ adds. Corrective measures should include witness protection to enhance journalism ethical standards

Exacting accountability ensures “we accept our own responsibility for the future”. Even former Presidents must be called account, despite embedded defenders in Congress, Ombudsman, or even the Supreme Court. That is the best guarantee of freedom.

(Back to MetroPost HOME PAGE)

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