Thursday, December 6, 2007

Oblivious Human Shields and the Right to Be In Harm's Way

he recently famous statement of ABSCBN's Maria Ressa notwithstanding that "No reporter is willing to die for a news story," Senator Sonny Trillanes did cynically use an apparently all-too-willing, or oblivious, Mass Media and various civilian and military supporters, as human shields in a press conference that suddenly turned into another spectacular standoff this time at the Manila Peninsula Hotel a week ago. This is no way to be a Senator. And there are better ways of taking advantage of the the Mass Media than involving them in Regime Change stunts that are doomed to fail and gets everybody into plastic tie-locs and serious trouble with the Law.

Commodore Rex Robles of the Feliciano Commission investigating the 2004 Oakwood Mutiny, accuses Trillanes of strengthening the hand and hold of President Arroyo on the helm of power by jumping off a political cliff with Gen. Danilo Lim in front of the frankly amazed cameras and befuddled reporters at the Manila Peninsula Hotel last week, who would later be arrested for their perspicacity.

Speaking of which, the Mass Media managed to make itself a big part of the News with ample help from the Police. Of course, both sides claim they were just trying to do their jobs in a strange and unpredictable situation, after all, no one knew what Trillanes and his Magdalo cohort were up to or capable of. After the police authorities had asked for everyone to clear out of the hotel, some fifty media people decided to stay and await events, which quickly began to envelop them. Mercifully, surrender from Trillanes and Lim came swiftly as soon as the acrid smell of teargas from the first floor wafted upstairs and live television showed a battle tank with machine guns blazing away at an expensive glass facade as APC's disgorged SWAT teams entering the hotel.

Just between us girls, I think the Media was playing a Game of Chicken with the Cops, who were not however, suckered into a long, protracted stand-off and decided to call everybody's bluff by showing up in a tank with a battalion of special forces to produce a quite welcome stand-down.

But in our society, can the police reasonably expect cooperation from the Media in crisis situations like hostagings, stand offs, kidnappings, etc.? There could easily have been a blood bath at the Manila Pen. but my favorite newspaper, PDI of course, even defends the Freedom of the Press to put journalists in harm's way --
Journalists do not ask for -- and do not need -- special privileges in coverage; they just need a free, unrestricted environment in which they can effectively carry out their principal function of informing the public about what is happening in the country and the world...The media organizations should make their own rules, and individual media persons should make their own decisions, on whether to stay in a potentially dangerous or even fatal place.
Much as we might want to oblige, that country and that world that are the target of journalism are not themselves "free, unrestricted environments"--nor are situations like the stand-off at the Manila Pen last week. After all, the Police could also say, with even more justification that they too, need a "free unrestricted environment" to carry out the tasks of maintaining peace and order, securing the public safety and arresting criminals caught in the act of direct contempt and rebellion. Surely such things as public order and safety, law and order, and national security have priority over the purported right of the public to know, and certainly over the right of the Press to know! Such lack of priority for this right to know lies in the broad and general nature of the right itself and what it actually encompasses.

It is not as if the right of the public to know is limited to what Trillanes and Lim were up on Thursday morning last week. The public also has a right to know what telecomm load or SIM card to buy, what Kris Aquino is struggling with in her colorful life this week, which minor starlet is plugging some aging Lothario, who died, who's hiring, and all the rest of the ocean of "knowledge" that flows as ceaseless messages through the Media. Yet, precious as this right obviously is, it cannot have the highest possible priority.

I agree with constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas' recent remark that journalists do NOT have more freedom than ordinary citizens, even if their professions necessarily expose them to greater hazards to the exercise of those common freedoms.

But there is a curious and self-serving line of reasoning that goes like this... First, the right of the public to know is accorded the highest priority in our constellation of rights because it is believed that an informed public is the best antidote to a corrupt or incompetent government; second, as agents of information to the Public, journalists therefore have the right to a "free, unrestricted environment" in which to do their job "of informing the public about what is happening in the country and the world." In other words, since the public's right to know has the highest possible priority, the right of the Press to Know so it can tell the Public about it, (for a fee of course), should also have the highest priority.

But the biggest fault in all this still lies with with Sonny Trillanes. He refuses to grow up and be a Senator and insists on making an utter fool of himself at every opportunity instead. This time, it looks like he's gotten not only his military buddies in trouble, but "the civilian component" of his support as well.

Rebellion charges have been filed against the following for the Manila Pen stand-off are:
Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Gen. Danilo Lim, former Vice-President Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr., Infanta (Quezon) Bishop Julio Labayen, Rev. Father Robert P. Reyes, Capt. Gary C. Alejano, Capt. Segundino P. Orfiano, Jr., Navy LTSG Manuel D.G. Cabochan, LTSG James A. Layug, LTJG Arturo Pascua, Jr., Lt. Eugene G. Peralta, Lt. Andy G. Torrato, 1Lt. Billy S. Pascua, 1Lt. Jonnel Sangalang, ENS Armand Pontejos, Jose Virgilio "JV" L. Bautista, Argee Guevarra, former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo, Julius J. Mesa, Cezari Yassir T. Gonzales, Corporal Clecarte D. Dahan, Private First Class (PFC) Juanito Jilbury, PFC Emmanuel C. Tirador, PFC German M. Linde, Myrna H. Buendia, Dominador E. Rull, Jr., Romeo C. Solis, Roel J. Gadon, Rommel R. Loreto, Julian L. Advincula, Francisco N. Bosi, Leodor G. dela Cruz, Sonny B. Madarang, Francisco C. Peñaflor, actress/scriptwriter Elizabeth Siguion-Reyna and the senator’s brother, Antonio III.
The presence has been noted on the above list of Myrna H. Buendia, said by Police Chief Avelino "Sonny" Razon to be a "common law wife" of Jose Maria Sison, and mother to his illegitimate child, as well as a ranking member of the CPP-NPA. What she was doing at the Manila Pen has become one of the side issues in the whole affair, with Gabriela Party List Rep. Liza Maza calling for Ms. Buendia's immediate release. A far more prominent Leftist personality also on the list is former UP president Francisco "Dodong" Nemenzo, who however, defends his presence at the Manila Pen as a form of "academic research." Into what? Experimental Regime Change Techniques?

Among the Catholic clergy, most noteworthy were Infanta bishop emeritus Julio Labayen (from the most NPA infested corner of Quezon province); and Father Robert Reyes (whom I thought was safely in China doing missionary work among the Red Guard instead o running around fomenting protests, hunger strikes and other uhmm, performance art). Both have lately been involved with Tito Guingona and the Kapisanan ng Makabayang Ekonomista (KME) in calls for the formation of a "transition government" run by a Junta headed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno. The latter's lukewarm "declining to accept" the offer and protestations of neutrality and non-involvement in the proposal seemed to me a less than a definitive rejection of the hare-brained and patently anti-constitutional scheme.

"Was the police planning a bloodbath at the Pen?" Neal Cruz naughtily asks after the Mass Media became a major part of the news event at the Manila Pen last Thursday:
"Did they perhaps think that with Trillanes, Lim et al. dead, the threat to the Arroyo administration would be gone? No, sir, it won’t. It would have aroused other soldiers to anger and the desire to get rid of the tyranny of the Arroyo administration would increase and more and bigger mutinies would follow again and again until one of them succeeds. So they should thank the journalists for being there and prevented a bloodbath."
Neal is being convoluted but he wants us to be grateful to the brave and dedicated media men for having prevented a bloodbath! The public should be grateful. Trillanes, Lim and the Magdalo Guy-in-a-Wig should be grateful. And even the government should be grateful -- that by preventing a bloodbath, the media also prevented a military uprising. By preventing the anger of soldiers from being aroused, more and bigger mutinies have been prevented thanks to the media, don't you see?

The Manila Standard's Emil Jurado thinks it was obstruction of justice.

I think everybody got lucky and should thank God because this could easily have turned into a blood bath. It's silly for Neal Cruz to claim credit for the media as having prevented it. There is no doubt of course that a sizeable number of reporters, camera men, and civilian and military supporters of Sonny Trillanes and Danilo Lim could have been subjects of a bloodbath as Neil Cruz grimly suggests. Of course, "BLOODBATH" is a melodramatic ratcheting up even in speculation, from OVERKILL--which was the headline description a few days ago.

Both of these labels fly in the face of the fact that no one was actually killed or hurt. The tactic used by police forces to effect the arrests of Trillanes, Lim and their supporters actually worked like a charm. Carpers in the Press cannot take that away from Razon and the PNP with epithets like "bloodbath" and "overkill" or worse, violation of Press Freedom.


john marzan said...

new look.

Eric said...

I like it. It looks a lot neater now.

I agree with you regarding the media; they can be so full of themselves, especially now with their current stand-off with the police.

I remember when Trillanes' stupidity was ongoing, and my dad was irate about how ABS-CBN was revealing the location of the police teams around the hotel. The network, deliberately or inadvertently, aided and abetted the idiots holed up in the Pen. I remember that I was, too.

People like Neal Cruz, William Esposo and Isagani Cruz (the former SC Justice) like to pretend they're experts on tactics and strategy when they criticize the police, when in fact, they probably have no idea what the situation was actually like. I think the police acted correctly in quickly suppressing Trillanes' stupidity, and showing him, and others who may have ideas, that the government will not tolerate such blatant disregard of the law.

manuelbuencamino said...

DJ, When are you going to join the Manila Standard?

Amadeo said...

Dean, the new easier-on-the-eye format notwistanding, you sliced and diced this issue very adroitly, like a seasoned chef. HeHeHe.

And for this expect flak from media who got what they wanted - becoming the story themselves.

One wish, though. I wish our dainty media personalities would also do the same in the hinterlands of Mindanao, where the amenities may not be as hospitable as the fabled ones in the Manila Pen. Like ever-ready clean wash towels for tear-gas protection.

manuelbuencamino said...


media covers the conflict in Mindanao. Maybe it's you not reading their reports from the war zone

blackshama said...

The new look is more refreshing!

As for the "meddling" media, what the PNP could have done is to have carted the reporters put them on a bus and dropped them off at the Mall of Asia (not Glorietta mind you. It is still a crime scene! and definitely not Bicutan!).

In this case no arrests would have been made and the police would have acted within publicly acceptable limits in crowd control. This reminds me of an incident in another country when a tree hugger chained himself to a tree and what the police did was to ball the tree and moved it to a safer place hugger and all!

This involved some imagination. The PNP top honchos whose formative years in the service was in the Marcos years evidently lacked that kind of imagination.

As for imagination, Trillanes and Lim seems to have had too much of it and that resulted in some delusions!

We have known that kind from the CPP-NDF leadership for a long time! Now some commies seem to be involved as what the PNP says.

And worse we have the Tres Marias of media giving us lectures of what they think press freedom ought to be!

As for our old Marxist Dr Dodong Nemenzo, I have nothing against his research. But while academic freedom has greater leeway in Palma Hall, we couldn't say that in a hotel. I have received cruel and hilarious SMS jokes on the raison d etre of his being in the hotel!

In fact academic freedom can be limited even by the university. Proposals for research can be axed or limited by funding constraints, applicability, originality and even safety considerations.

A professor emeritus like Dr Nemenzo would of course be treated with more deference (by colleagues) than that given to other professors but even being an emeritus still would not give any academic a licence for stupidity.

And my last word summarizes the whole Trillanes affair.

cvj said...

kudos on your new look. quite neat! and the left pane no longer jumps into the middle.

DJB Rizalist said...

Amadeo, CVJ, Eric, Thanks for the feedback on the site change. Been meaning to fix all that for months, just haven't gotten to it. My apologies to everyone using Internet Explorer.

BURAOT said...

it is given that the country's media are a bit spoiled. no argument about that. in fact, being arrested gave you more prestige as a practitioner don't you think? it's like being slapped with a libel case. such a badge of honor.

but we should also beware, if they can do it to media personnel, they can easily do it to a simple man who got no access nor connections.

anyhoo, i liked the new look too.

DJB Rizalist said...


The best point is from Bernas: When it comes to freedom of speech and expression, journalists do not have any greater rights than ordinary citizens, even if their profession exposes them to greater dangers to those common rights and freedoms.

Do you agree with this?

AdB said...

Hi Dean,

Nice Philippine Commentary layout.

Cheerful too and neat (as cvj says, left pane no longer blocks the post.)

AdB said...

"but we should also beware, if they can do it to media personnel, they can easily do it to a simple man who got no access nor connections. -- Buraot

I think there's an enormous risk that that can happen.

DJB Rizalist said...

Dodong and Joma's No.2 being present along with the kind of political operatives and personalities that made up Trillanes' "civilian component" at the Manila Pen certainly speaks volumes.

It says they've been working on him, getting him involved with their thinking and analyzing, pumping him up, and so what if he suffers a fall. All the better! Now that Trillanes has gotten into some really deep doo doo as a result, he needs them more than ever, and they will be more than willing to oblige, sympathize, and radicalize him even more, set him up for some grander scheme and an even bigger fall.

Theirs is the politics of attrition, like termites eating away at foundations, patiently subverting hearts and minds.

DJB Rizalist said...


I think if the police tell a bunch of civilians they have to clear out of a place, and they don't, then the police are allowed to do other things than just ask.

The problem is that the reporters claim they have a right to be where the news is, and the police don't have the mental capacity or inclination to argue against them, since they also have a job to do.

But if even a single journalist had been hurt or killed last week, I am sure we would have had a fiesta of police brutality charges and "blood bath" accusations.

Well there really are only a few brave ones, and lookit, as soon as they all smelt teargas, they folded like a tent without its poles!

Any other country, they'd be in jail serving prison terms by now for interfering with police work.

AdB said...


Don't argue with you that police have a job to do and have the authority to execute legal orders. Can't argue either that those media people caught in the mayhem need to explain what they meant by what they were doing.

But on one hand, I think I go the way of one Philstar European correspondent who said in Manolo's blog that the presence of media in the Lim Trillanes perimeter at Manila Pen prevented blood bath.

In you opinion, would I be really maligning our excellent, law-abiding, absolutely blameless and wonderful police if I too believed that there could have been a "rub out" without the presence of some members of media with Gen Lim and Sen Trillanes? What do you personally think.

AdB said...


Who was Joma's no 2 present in the Pen incident?

AdB said...

How about this way? "Any other country, the police should be in jail serving prison terms by now for interfering with honest to goodness work by some members of media."

manuelbuencamino said...


I agree with Bernas but I would add something to it so that fascists don't pervert it for their own ends.

I would add: "But it doesn't grant the government license to have news covered when, where, and how they want it covered."

Reporters have to face the same risks as usiosos. Because essentially, stripped of all the rhetoric, that's what they do. And that's the only thing that the statement by Bernas means. We shouldn't read more into it.

Death, injury and all that are the risks of the profession. Imprisonment or arrest on a stretched definition of obstruction of justice is not part of that.

All the PNP had to say was: "Our attack will begin in five minutes, get out of the way if you don't want to be caught in the crossfire"

The thing that pissed me of about the journalists was their whining.

DJB Rizalist said...

but isn't that exactly what the cops did by giving a deadline, first at 2pm and then at 3pm. If they'd listened to you there might 've been a bloodbath!

As it is they may have realized that trillanes wasn't really that serious and that he would quickly fold if shown a tank and an APC or two.

I think Esperon called his bluff, realizing that trillanes would not sacrifice the media civilian allies that have buoyed him up all this time.

He's not mass-suicidal like Jim Jones. I'm glad of that!

manuelbuencamino said...

No Deanie, if the cops had listened to me they would have turned their guns on Gloria, Razon, and Esperon.

Anyway, the cops had no business arresting the reporters. Theu didn't interfere with the arrest, did they?

DJB Rizalist said...

of course they interfered with the arrest, which should have taken place hours earlier if not for them. they're lucky they didn't get themselves killed. but, practice makes perfect...

baycas2 said...

great new look!

manuelbuencamino said...

How did they interfere?

tiki said...

Weren't Trillanes and others under the custody of police and military, and yet was able to leave the court house with very little challenge from them? What, then, is this talk about the media not knowing police tactics and military strategy?

Next, hasn't the government been investigating the very problems raised by Trillanes and others, about military and police personnel not receiving enough funding for necessities ranging from combat boots to even food? And hasn't the media been reporting about these problems? If so, why focus on irrelevant points like the media "whining" too much or being "spoiled"?

DJB Rizalist said...


They "interfered" how? You tell me, but here is proof that they did: The mere fact that the Media became the Message, and became a Part of the News Event itself is always prima facie evidence of such "interference" imo. The Media and the Police of course interact on a daily basis, but when the police decide to arrest fifty journalists--rightly or wrongly--that IS news, and it is abnormal and irregular for the Media to become an integral part of the news.

How did they interfere? You tell me.

Or tell me what they did was by their own code of ethics.

Or tell me, what would YOU have done when you heard the ultimatum to clear out?

manuelbuencamino said...

From your explanation it is the cops who interfered with news coverage

DJB Rizalist said...

you are right about that. the cops interfered with the news coverage. And they were not only right, they were within their legal rights. You'd be less cavalier about this though if some of your journalist buddies had been killed. But dare I ask, were some people HOPING that was what was gonna happen?

manuelbuencamino said...


we lament deaths. but many journalists die for the story contrary to the claim of Maria Ressa. Remember the Japanese photographer who died while covering the Burmese protests or the one beheaded by the Taliban? They are only two out hundreds maybe thousands who have died through the years.

Death and injury are a professional hazard for certain types of reporters. They are willing to risk their lives to bring you a story.

You and the cops should recognize that. Let the reporters do their job and the cops theirs, If someone wants to get in harms way then it's their call to make not yours.

Your innuendo makes sense only to the ignorant and the politically naive

DJB Rizalist said...

Do a gedankenexperiment MB and imagine that say, six or seven reporters and camera men were accidentally caught in a cross fire and killed.

Would you actually have said things like, "The are willing to risk their lives to bring you a story. You and the cops should recognize that. Let the reporters do their job and the cops theirs, If someone wants to get in harms way then it's their call to make not yours."

Be honest, MB.

You'd wetting your panties fuming in high holy anger, wouldn't ya?

You are just saying this now because in the end, Trillanes' hopes for a bloodbath were prevented, not by the Media whom he was really setting up, but by Avelino Razon, a cool cop. Thank God.

If not for the cops, there would've been a bloodbath, which I think is what the left was counting on, if not Sonny, who at least lost the nerve or the stomach for it.

Can't you see that, MB?

We all got lucky the journalists didn't get themselves killed.

I don't necessarily credit GMA as the field commanders on the ground. Give them that you scoundrelly curmudgeonly rascal, you!

Sef said...

Surely some media people are part or Trillanes' group.. I bet people in media know who among them are with Trillanes.

I hope someone could tell the truth what really is happening in our country!

manuelbuencamino said...


Don't put words in my mouth. I told you what I thought and that's it. We won't get anywhere accusing each other of lying.

If journalists died there after they were told there would be fireworks then so be it.

DJB Rizalist said...

So , you mean to say you would have said exactly the same thing even if one or two or ten journalists had been killed in the crossfire? That it was their lookout? I find that hard to believe but so be it. For once you are insisting that you agree with me.

Does that mean you also agree that the cops were being baited into a bloodbath by trillanes, but were wise and patient enough to avoid the trap and adopt tactics that really worked to defuse the situation without a bloodbath?

Do you think Trillanes ought to be publicly criticized for exposing the media to a possibly life threatening situation? Surely it was not the police that put them in harm's way but Trillanes, di ba?

If you insist that the journalists "prevented" a bloodbath, who would you accuse for provoking the possibility of a bloodbath, trillanes or the cops?