How our media can become a national security problem
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-11-06
President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) has solid reasons for his “NO to all-out war, YES to all-out Justice” policy with regards the Basilan encounter where 19 of our soldiers and officers had perished.

We simply cannot afford the cost of war — not just the financial burden but also factors like the human misery, social dislocation and economic dampener. A United Nations (UN) commissioned study in 2005, The Philippine Human Development Report, identified that from 1970 to 2005 at least 2 million Filipinos had been dislocated by the fighting in Mindanao, easily half of this from Joseph Estrada’s all-out war folly of 2000. The same study discovered that from 1970 to 2001 the Mindanao War had cost at least U$2 billion. Per the World Bank, the indirect economic impact of the conflict could go as high as $10 billion.

Then there is the need for a reliable ally if we’re forced to go to war. Some analysts believe that the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) is receiving external support. Malaysia and the US are the favorite suspects. Thus, it was not surprising that the US announced that they would not support the Philippines if we go on an all-out war.

Despite the big percentage of the national budget that’s allocated for the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), still we keep hearing of the complaints about lack of ammunition, gear and war materiel. We cannot simply say that the shortage of funds is due to corruption in the AFP. That made for good propaganda for the Oakwood mutineers of 2003 but the truth is the cost of war is far bigger than what corruption can siphon off.

How does the MILF get the means to wage and sustain its war? Even if we assume that they’re only spending a fourth of the AFP war budget, still the amount would be enormous and something that they cannot raise locally. The fact is their local economy is the poorest in the country.

Indeed, these are more than enough reasons for P-Noy to junk all notions for an all-out war. He heeded Sun Tzu who advised that one must never fight a war that cannot be won. Weakness and the lack of leadership, as the “evil eyes” are charging P-Noy, have absolutely nothing to do with this decision. It’s all about acting for the best interest of the nation. As history teaches us — it takes fortitude and character to do what’s right even if it’s sometimes unpopular.

There is however an X Factor that should stop us before we engage in an all-out war. That X Factor is the over entertained and under informed Filipino public mind. Sensationalistic and shallow media have further worsened the state of the public mind. It’s almost impossible for a nation to win a controversial war such as the Mindanao separatist rebellion if Filipinos do not understand the reasons why we’re forced to fight and are easily manipulated to even weigh down the government efforts.

Respected veteran journalist Ed Lingao correctly described in his October 27 Internet posting titled “Media Goes to War” the problem that our media had magnified with sensational but mostly speculative reporting on the Basilan encounter and the MILF.
Ed wrote: “However, what I cannot understand is how media screws it up every time. Every time. Is it a problem of ignorance, or arrogance? Or is it simple laziness?” Ed was commenting on how media had muddled the issues and incensed the public.

Ed added: “One newspaper used the word slaughter in its lead to describe the death of the 19 troops. Talk about loaded words. The troops were not lined up and shot. The firefight lasted more than ten hours. Ten hours. This is not the only example. Time and again, we would come across the word ‘massacre’ to describe what happened in Basilan. Again, loaded words. We are agitating further those already agitated by using words in the wrong context. Why? Perhaps because they are sexier? BTW, I read the Inquirer.”

Ed was disturbed by the radio commentaries that he heard pertaining to the P5 million that the government had given the MILF for leadership development. He wrote: “Last night, some marvelous commentators decided to talk about the P5 million that P-Noy gave to the MILF for leadership training. Now, that issue is explosive enough when viewed under present circumstances. The two commentators however chose to lay it out some more.”

He clarified: “In the context of peace negotiations, both sides try to have confidence building measures. This is not the first time government committed an amount to rebel groups with the proviso that the amount be spent for building peace and understanding. In that context, P5 million is small change compared to other government expenses such as waging all-out war or keeping our congressmen and senators happy.”

“I understand how some troops want a war to finish everything. That is gut instinct after losing so many men. But the decision is not theirs, so the responsibility for enlightening the public and the body politic falls on us (media practitioners). Yet we have just proven plain stupid, uneducated, and unenlightened. So many commentators are agitating for all-out war, as if they had ever stepped onto a battlefield. Too many strategists and armchair generals are out there, beating the drums of war, telling our troops how to fight,” Ed wrote.

Senator Chiz Escudero looked pathetic when he tried to ride on the P5 million that were donated to the MILF. How could he relate that with “arming” the MILF for more battles? That was an idiotic notion and an altogether irresponsible comment.

Maybe his pollster for the 2013 Senate race tipped him that he’s not leading the pack. Maybe Escudero is setting the stage to leave the administration coalition. If he could not attain his presidential ambition in 2010 with the NPC (Nationalist People’s Coalition) behind him, we have to wonder where he can go now to attain his ends. Even Vice President Jojo Binay is not with him in this issue. The Vice President had expressed all-out support for P-Noy’s “all-out justice” policy.

The US lost the Vietnam War not in the battlefields but in the battle for the American public’s mind. Public pressure removed the sting from the US armed forces in Vietnam. Assuming that we find the means to go to war and have powerful allies to support us, still that would prove insufficient if Filipinos continue to think the way they do and our media persist in dishing substandard and irresponsible news reporting.

We can easily be our greatest enemies.

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  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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