Every two weeks, CMFR will provide a quick recap of the media coverage of the biggest stories or issues, noting the same slips that our monitors have been doing. We intend this as a quick mapping of news, providing a guide for journalists and identifying gaps in reporting, the lack of interpretation and analysis as necessary. This section also hopes to engage more public attention and participation in current events, and for them to learn the practice of media monitoring. It is after all the public that serves as the best watchdog of press power.
IN THE midst of a deadly surge of the disease, government officials dared to claim success in addressing the challenge of COVID-19. Often, this comes with odious comparisons with other countries now in crisis, such as India.
The pattern of official spins on COVID-19 figures indicates their realization of the sad and bitter failure; otherwise, why bother to sugarcoat the facts and figures?
But these efforts cannot wipe out the devastating effect of public officials' issuing uncoordinated and even contradictory statements. Even within the IATF, administration officials do not seem to be in the habit of discussing policy options to ensure consensus. Duterte's appointed czars may have been misled by their titles into thinking they can act on their own and everything will fall in place.
The task force seems unable to analyze the problem so as to identify the solutions. No one seems to be looking at the best practices by more successful countries. Government was caught completely unprepared to deal with the surge which the experience in other countries had already clearly flagged. Media reports do not always call attention to the lapses. Presenting timelines, however, may show up the delayed or deficient actions.
A government can only be as effective as its leader. But the lead czar is often absent or unavailable for comment, approval or direction. Instead of addressing COVID-19 problems, his pre-taped speeches have been more focused on insulting his critics.
The last two weeks have confronted the national government with profoundly critical questions. How to get China to honor Philippine primacy in our EEZ? The president lashed back at those who dared to ask. What can be done to lessen the impact of economic recession or the near collapse of the economy? The economic managers "cherry picked" data. Why does government have only Sinovac with its low efficacy even for Filipino frontliners? The president in his April 19 address even forgot to include COVID-19 among the "hottest issues" in the national crisis.
The country reached an unfortunate milestone of 1 million confirmed cases on April 26. In response, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told the public to focus on the high recovery rate; saying that the 1 million cases could be viewed as 1 million recoveries in the future.
To this lame attempt to see the good in the million cases, three news organizations dampened Duque's cheer, reminding him what the government failed to do to protect Filipinos from the full-strength scourge of the virus.
ABS-CBN's TV Patrol, CNN Philippines' News Night and Rappler recalled the first cases, the delay in the travel ban, the imposition of quarantine and the PCP's call for a timeout to regroup their health resources. These reports also reviewed cumulative case counts in 2020 and in 2021 to prove that in recent months, more cases were being recorded within shorter periods.
CMFR cheered Joseph Morong's timeline in GMA-7's Saksi, which contradicted the president's earlier claim that the government did all it could to curb the pandemic. Unfortunately, the full fact-check was omitted in the online version of the report.
In another attempt to spin propaganda, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. boasted that the Philippines ranked third in vaccine administration among ASEAN members, citing data from Bloomberg and foreign service posts. Headlining the correction, Inquirer.net, InterAksyon, The Philippine Star and ANC's Dateline Philippines commendably pointed out that the basis of this ranking did not indicate the percentage of populations vaccinated. If this is considered, the Philippines actually falls near bottom, third to the last in the region. In his April 30 interview on ANC, Edson Guido, head of ABS-CBN's data analytics team, said two questions should be asked when reporting on vaccination data: "1) How many people are fully vaccinated relative to the population? and 2) How long will it take to reach the target given the daily vaccination pace?"
A TV Patrol report also noted that only 11 percent of the PHP66.58 billion allotted budget for COVID vaccines has been paid to vaccine manufacturers, and that the government cannot announce prices yet due to non-disclosure agreements.
This report leads to critical questions. ABS-CBN's Vivienne Gulla showed a clip of Galvez telling reporters that the Philippine government pays only when the supplies are delivered as proof of "due diligence." Media should ask why the government has to wait for actual delivery when there are other countries that secure their supplies by advancing payment. Is this the reason for the slow arrival of vaccines other than Sinovac? The long-suffering public has a right to know.
West Philippine Sea
With China maintaining its presence in the West Philippine Sea, media followed the exchange between Duterte and Retired Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonio Carpio. It has been established for some time that the two have held completely opposite positions, and media had been satisfied with simply presenting their differing views.
CMFR cheered CNN Philippines for Tristan Nodalo's account of Duterte's 2019 statements that proved he allowed the Chinese to fish in Philippine waters. The visual presentation enhanced the presentation of facts and made the correction more memorable. This also showed that Carpio has been right all this time.
Mass distribution of Ivermectin
Unfazed by health officials' reminders that the drug is not yet FDA-registered or approved, House members Rodante Marcoleta and Mike Defensor - neither of whom have any medical background - spearheaded a mass distribution of Ivermectin in Old Balara, Quezon City last April 29. So far, coverage has picked up on all the irregularities in the event, including distribution of prescriptions written on plain sheets of paper with incomplete details of the physician and the waiver in the patient's request form that absolves the distributor of any liability. Some reporters asked the DOJ about the legality of these actions and the event itself. Media carried the Philippine Pharmacists' Association's statement that "strongly opposed" the distribution.
Media should not stop there but follow up on DOJ's actions to hold these officials accountable.
State of the economy
It would seem that the media missed or was simply uninterested in the four-hour pre-SONA forum of Duterte's economic team last April 26.
Commendably, Rappler's "CONTEXT: Duterte's economic team glosses over bad numbers in pre-SONA forum" checked which data on poverty, unemployment, infrastructure and other economic indicators were either conveniently left out for being negative or were deliberately misinterpreted. In a separate opinion piece for Rappler, economist JC Punongbayan also pointed out the outright lies in the forum, calling the data "cherry-picked."
Government communication for propaganda purposes only
So there's sugar-coating, cherry-picking data and fudging figures. It's good to see the media doing more than just stenographic reporting.
Officials have not been inclined to admit their erroneous presentations and false interpretation of data. Indeed, the shared objective is to make them and the administration look good. On April 28, media exposed the memorandum sent out by the PCOO instructing all government channels to report regular updates on global COVID-19 data to show that "the Philippines is faring better than many other countries." Propaganda is official information policy.
Community pantry movement
The one bright spot of the period was the community effort to share food and feed the hungry. The obviously good work did not please everyone, and it was not surprising that government questioned the good intention behind the "community pantry."
The Quezon City Police District made news when it posted on its Facebook account a graphic claiming the community pantry movement was a communist recruitment ploy of the Tulong Kabataan group, which is connected to Kabataan Partylist. It was in fact Ana Patricia Non, a civilian entrepreneur, who started the initiative on Maginhawa Street in QC.
General Antonio Parlade, Jr., spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, followed up by confirming that organizers were being observed and profiled. Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, another spokesperson of the task force, echoed the accusations and demanded a full accounting of the donations.
The press picked up on the static but overall, reports sustained coverage of the movement. News gave prominent space and time to a development that has swept through the country, restoring faith and trust in the capacity of ordinary people to help one another. Government just had to try and get in the way of a good thing. At this point, hardly anyone is surprised.