Barangay kapitans, beware!

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


THE suspension of Asingan Mayor Heidee Chua and Vice Mayor Carlos Lopez Jr. by the Ombudsman certainly gave that chilling effect on many politicos who were similarly situated.  The two were suspended for doing what everyone was doing – to put their names on government-issued ambulances.

The duo’s suspension certainly gave mayors and congressmen the scare. Many rushed to have their names and faces on the ambulances painted over, covered, erased, deleted!

Now comes the report that the Ombudsman suspended barangay officials in Lingayen for nepotism. The barangay officials felt privileged to have their close relatives assigned to barangay task force on youth development.

Like the case of plastering names and faces on ambulances, it is no secret that most, if not all, barangay officials in the province are guilty of the same practice.

We know of several kapitans in Dagupan City alone who feel it’s their privilege to have their children and other relatives run the affairs of the barangays.

So here’s a fair warning to our barangay officials. Let go of your relatives tomorrow, lest you get tagged by an anonymous constituent guilty of nepotism that carries a three-month suspension.

Three-month suspension may be considered a negligible penalty but to be suspended for abuse of authority creates a question on one’s integrity as a public official. Remember the dictum: Public service is public trust.

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ATTACK ON PRESS FREEDOM VS. HARASSMENT. The fight to keep and sustain our God-given press freedom and freedom of speech in our country is every journalist’s responsibility. In the same vein, journalists must acknowledge that the practice carries with it the established maxim that journalism practice is a public trust, very much akin to the principle that public service is public trust.

It is in this breadth that I maintain I cannot support the howl from the NUJP that press freedom is being attacked simply because the Securities and Exchange Commission has directed the company operating Rappler Online to close shop.

The issue started and ended with the finding that Rappler violated the constitutional provision on media ownership. And Rappler management was given a chance to explain the financial arrangements involving a foreign investor. There was nothing in the probe that cited Rappler’s critical view of political developments, specifically contra Duterte administration.

The Rappler management did right to question before the Supreme Court SEC’s decision to find it guilty of violating the constitution because that’s what the issue is all about. It is a case on ownership, not about its editorial policy.

Truth be told, I was saddened on hearing Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa claim that the whole issue was about curtailment of press freedom pointing to Rappler’s critical view of the present dispensation. That’s her take. I thought it was a desperate move to extricate itself from a purely legal case.

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LIBEL CASES AS TOOLS FOR HARASSMENT. In my view, an attack on press freedom is when a newspaper or an online operation like Rappler is told to stop criticizing government. Not even a libel case can be construed as an affront to press freedom.

When I was publisher of Manila Times in 1999, I and my editorial staff were sued for P50 million by President Estrada over one news story about President Erap being an “unwitting godfather”. (Two of my editors then are in fact with Rappler today).  The libel case was clearly an attempt to make the Gokongwei family give up the paper to one of Estrada’s cronies, Mark Jimenez. To make a long story short, the paper was given and the libel case was withdrawn. Did we cry ”it’s an attack on press freedom”? No. We faced the libel case squarely with the owners and proceeded to assess the bottom line – the impact on the business empire of the Gokongweis. The latter issue to me became the primordial issue and I supported the option to let go of the paper.  Press freedom issue? No. Harassment, yes.

In 2013, The Citystate Savings Bank sued everyone in the PUNCH’s staff box (from editors to cartoonist to columnist to correspondents) on two counts of libel over one news story on the sale of MC Adore Hotel. We faced the case squarely and it was dismissed by the Pasig Regional Court in 2014. The case remains pending before the Supreme Court because the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision.  Did we describe the case as an attack on press freedom? No. Harassment, yes.

In the case of Rappler, it couldn’t be construed as an attack on press freedom. Harassment? Perhaps but there is the constitutional issue, not even a case for libel.

To my mind, only the Marcos martial law pursued a policy curtailing press freedom and freedom of speech in this country.  In fact, sheer harassment and even murder of journalists comes with the territory of journalism practice.

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EMPOWERING WOMEN AND CHILDREN. Little understood if not taken for granted by most is the thrust of both the Espino (provincial) and Fernandez (Dagupan) administrations to focus on activities that empower both government employees and their constituents that promote personal values.

 While the impact of building roads and bridges may be easily measured and appreciated, the impact of molding sense of fairness, respect for law, respect for others, integrity and education, building competency and skills are immeasurable for life. 

The attention given by Mayor Belen Fernandez to the development of children, both physically and mentally, and Guv Spines’ thrust in empowering women in the countryside as productive partners in livelihood activities assure a community of families that they can make the difference for others.

Competency on technology alone can never be expected to enhance a community life if those that use it were never equipped to make a difference for themselves.

The future still lies with people, not in advances in technology.

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NO TO BUTED. Our correspondent in California, Leonardo Galvez wrote us to react to our report on the suspension of PSU president Dexter Buted and PSU Binmaley Executive Director Marcelo Gutierrez by the Ombudsman.

Nards, himself a retired division supervisor of DepEd, strongly feels the provincial board and other political power brokers should block the return of Messrs. Buted and Gutierrez. Taking the cudgels for teacher Ricardo Tapia, a faculty member of PSU Binmaley, he said oppressing a teacher whimsically should never be condoned nor tolerated.

He also took the PSU board of trustees to task for failing to give a lowly teacher the benefit of the doubt given the dilemma he was forced to face.

A school official determined to have been oppressive, he said, has no place in the education sector, worse if the official has no respect for the Magna Carta for Teachers.

If teachers are summarily sanctioned for being cruel to their pupils, the same standard should be applied to teachers’ abusive superiors.

He noted that Mr. Buted was already named persona non grata by the provincial board for refusing to appear before it to explain a discovered anomalous policy in the university.

Nards feels that to be thought of as persona non grata and as oppressive should be enough to block the return particularly of Mr. Buted to his post.

I can’t agree more with Nards.

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