Be vigilant, Tatad tells students

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PHILIPPINE democracy is becoming trivial by the day, no thanks to “media oppression.”

With this “controlling reality” in mind, former Senator Francisco Tatad reminded Thomasians to be vigilant and responsible conveyors of truth in the light of recent moves by the government to supress media practitioners during the 5th Jose Villa Panganiban (JVP) Professional Chair Lecture last January 23 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex auditorium.

“The fight must be waged not only when the freedom of the journalist is directly threatened, but above all when truth itself is deprived of its value and meaning,” said Tatad, who talked about the “Plight of the Media Under the Arroyo Administration” before journalism and political science students of the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

Citing the handcuffing and detention of newsmen who covered the foiled Peninsula Manila Hotel standoff led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV last November 29, extra-judicial killings, and 40 libel cases filed by First Gentleman Jose Arroyo against journalists as the “most glaring examples of media oppression,” Tatad lambasted the government for depriving journalists of their freedom to perform their role as “agents of social change.”

“When common sense fails, one must appeal to the courts of law for justice. But what happens when the entire justice system have been weakened and corrupted by power and money?” he asked.

Tatad likewise underscored the findings of institutions such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, which have ranked the country among the most dangerous places for journalists and activists.

“This is what we all must see,” Tatad said. “It is not simply a fight for the freedom of the journalist to cover coup attempts, mutinies and public demonstrations without any undue interference from the police. It is a fight of the Filipino people to become truly free and for the nation to become a genuine democracy.”

In the open forum, Lynn Mae Sarmiento, a fourth year political science student, asked Tatad’s opinion about “pre-emptive measures” employed by the police during the Peninsula siege, which was described by Defense Sec. Gilbert Teodoro as “necessary” to ensure the safety of the journalists covering the event.

Tatad answered: “They are human beings and must be treated as such. If they are concerned with the journalists’ safety, they could have just asked them (the journalists) to leave peacefully and they need not be brought to Bicutan at all.”

Prior to discussing the topic, Tatad paid tribute to Panganiban, the founder of the Varsitarian, and gave a comprehensive lecture about the press’ beginnings.

A joint project of the Varsitarian and UST Journalism Society, the JVP lecture aims to educate student journalists about pressing issues confronting the media.

Previous lecturers include former press undersecretary and New York Times correspondent Alice Colet-Villadolid, Philippine Daily Inquirer founder Eugenia Duran-Apostol, and former Manila Bulletin editor-in-chief Jullie Yap-Daza.

Students from the Holy Angels University in Pampanga and the University of the Philippines also attended the lecture.

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