By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
We are in the age of information technology. But really, what kind of information is available to most Filipinos? With the corporate media , it’s hard to know if you are getting the whole truth or just a side of the story.
During the violent demolition of homes in Barangay Corazon de Jesus in San Juan City, my Facebook newsfeed and Twitter timeline have been filled with criticisms on how the media covered the said event. Among those who have been heavily criticized was Mike Enriquez, a GMA executive, primetime news anchor and radio commentator for one of the country’s biggest media conglomerate, GMA 7.
“They thought that it is the government’s responsibility to feed them, give them shelter while they do nothing,” Enriquez said in Filipino over his radio program at DZBB.
Other reporters dwelled on the fact that the residents, to begin with, were “illegal settlers.” Thus, their report implied that it’s okay to treat the residents of Corazon de Jesus like animals, destroy their homes and send them to remote relocation sites where life is more difficult. They are illegal settlers anyway. They are poor and don’t have the right to be choosy.
But Friday night was different. The news report was about the 3:00 p.m. deadline imposed by the local government for residents to leave the immediate vicinity. Some of the residents have accepted the relocation packages while majority have opted to rent rooms in nearby communities. Local government officials, in their television interviews, could not hide their satisfaction that the residents have left P. Narciso st., a narrow alley where they were forced to spend the night, “peacefully.”
Honestly, I was so upset with the coverage. It was a choice between throwing our 15-year-old television set or turn it off. But I could not do neither. I had to endure it.
I was pissed because if you’re the kind of person who mainly relies on corporate media for information, which I think most Filipinos are, you would think that the local government and the residents have reached a win-win situation. As some would say, a problem out of sight is a problem resolved.
But having witnessed and reported about the conditions of the people in relocation sites, I don’t think that this would ever turn into a win-win situation. I think that the sufferings of the residents have yet to begin.
In our interviews in Kasiglahan Village or in Southville in Rodriguez, Rizal, most of the relocatees have expressed their agony on how their lives have worsened since they were displaced from their homes. These relocatees hardly have access to social services. The nearest government hospital with sufficient laboratory equipment is the East Avenue Medical Center, which is more than an hour from the relocation site. In other urban poor communities that I covered, I interviewed some families who have returned to their communities in the city, leaving behind their house in the relocation site that has inflicted nothing but poverty.
These are the stories you would likely witness in most communities that I have visited. I’m sure other reporters have seen it too. But not all have understood what the people were going through. These poor families prefer to be called “squatters” or “illegal settlers,” as what legalist people would call them, than to die of hunger in relocation sites.
I feel sorry that the woes of the residents of Corazon de Jesus have been oversimplified with a mere “legality.” Their legitimate struggle has been reduced to the violence that erupted during the demolition. Thus, their stories have been distorted and the messages implied painted the already suffering residents as villains. The stories written regarding the plight of the urban poor dwellers of Corazon de Jesus did not include social justice, and respecting the rights of the people.
If you don’t have access to the internet, you would not have witnessed where the teargas really came from, the agony of the people along P. Narciso st. after the police broke into the barricade or how they pleaded to salvage what they could of their belongings. These happened during the demolition but only the alternative media groups published it in their websites or posted it on YouTube.
Among the many incidents in the past, this incident highlights the need for an alternative media that would give voice to the voiceless. As for the accusation of being biased, my editor would always confirm it. He would tell students interviewing him that “Yes, Bulatlat.com is biased. We are biased for the truth and for the people.” And I believe the same goes for other alternative media groups in the country.
From this day on, corporate media would now hardly report the plight of the residents. Stories about how they are trying to rebuild their lives are no longer juicy or “newsworthy” enough to deserve their airtime. It is slowly conditioning the public that everything turned out fine for those who barricaded their community. They have already moved on when they are actually clueless on where to begin.