Bullying Cheche

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the in the May 11, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, page S1/4.

Ludicrous are the circumstances upon which an upright journalist is being criminally charged for violating the Anti-Wire Tapping Law.

Journalist interviews the bureaucrat from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), which reduced the amount of money disbursed to public school teachers.  The withheld amount is part of the pension that the teachers have gained from years of hard work.  Journalist wanted to get the side of the GSIS, in the spirit of fairness and objectivity.

The bureaucrat didn’t want to be interviewed because “most of the news reports aired in Lopez-owned media entities were biased against the GSIS.”  The journalist, though, isn’t employed by the Lopez group.  She has her own independent production, which “has crusaded against corrupt, irresponsible and sensationalist journalism.”  The documentary show she hosts, aptly titled Probe, is a block-time program.

An exceptional, experienced investigative journalist—think of Seymour Hersh—would not be deterred by inhospitable replies in pursuing an important story.  The story was not the type that would have made sensational headline news.  It was a sad story about the plight of ordinary public school teachers whose hard-earned legal benefits were being denied to them.

And so our crusading journalist tried again to get the GSIS view.   She called the bureaucrat by the name of Ella Valencerina and reminded her that the phone interview was being recorded.

GSIS didn’t like the segment titled Perwisyong Benepisyo of the Probe documentary, which was aired on 10 November 2008.  GSIS was the kontrabida. In the first place, GSIS didn’t cooperate by refusing to air its side.

And so GSIS wanted to punish Probe by filing a criminal charge against the journalist Cheche Lazaro.  To shield the boss, the ever-controversial Winston Garcia, from what is expected to become a high-profile case, GSIS unleashed Ms. Valencerina to intimidate and destroy Cheche Lazaro.

I pity Ms. Valencerina, an obscure personality who is perhaps comfortable as an anonymous person enjoying the perks of a GSIS bureaucrat.  But she has to perform the task of being her boss’s toady.

The case, however, is a no-brainer.  Cheche should be acquitted.  That Cheche is regarded for her credibility and probity—for being the model of Probe’s code of being “socially responsible, ethical , and excellent media professionals”—makes here defense, especially in the bar of public opinion,  more formidable. Even the Palace puppet (aka the press secretary) Cerge Remonde acknowledges that Malacañang is worried about the case because Cheche is “a respected journalist.”

Alas, the Philippine judiciary has been heavily politicized.  Trumped-up or flimsy charges against perceived enemies prosper because of pressure or bribe from above.  Recall the cases against Satur Ocampo, Jun Lozada, et al.

Cheche is being harassed not just because of her documentary about the travails of our public school teachers, which hurt GSIS.  There’s something more diabolical in the plot, which we can infer from Cheche’s statement: “In the last 22 years, Probe has carved a niche in the industry and won recognition here and abroad for consistently adhering to time-honored journalistic values of accuracy, fairness and objectivity. My team and I have no plans of changing the way we work just to accommodate the personal agenda of people in power.”  So there you are—the obstacle to the practice of the time-honored principles of journalism is the “personal agenda of people in power.”

That people in power want to punish Cheche and her band of tough journalists might explain why a television network was forced to let the multi-awarded Probe go.

People in power can’t include Valencerina, the bureaucrat.  Her boss is Winston.  And the boss of all bosses is Gloria.

GSIS never tires of being a villain.  But this is no longer the GSIS that provides service to government employees. GSIS now stands for Garcia Soils the Insurance System.  Or it can stand for Gloria Sullies Institutions Systematically.

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