(applause) Thank you. Good Morning. Please sit down. Her Excellency Malayvieng Sakomhninhon, Secretary Sonny Coloma, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, Secretary Jun Abaya, Mr. Manny Mogato, General Catapang, Lt. General Hernando Iriberri, Lt. General Jeffrey Delgado, officers and members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, fellow workers in government, honoured guests, ladies and gentleman: Again, good morning. I always make it a point to partake in this Annual Presidential Forum, not simply because we all acknowledge it as a healthy practice of democracy, but also as tribute to what the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines has stood for since its inception. You came into existence during a time when our people’s right to the truth was under assault.Our country was under Martial Law, a time when the media was controlled by the government, and simply running stories inconvenient to the dictatorship was a one-way ticket to prison. Deprived of the truth, we knew all the more that the truth would set us free. This is why, knowing the risks, members of your organization chose to jump into the fray: you stood for freedom of the press against an oppressive dictator, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for everyone who was part of that effort.
Back then, media taking an adversarial role to government was a symbol of bravery, social responsibility. It was a badge of honor, and rightfully so. For the past generation, however, despite our country winning back democracy and regaining freedom of the press, I have noticed that some veteran journalists have maintained their jaundiced eyes towards government. This is an understandable effect of Martial Law: that some members of the media continue to believe that criticism is the be all and end all of principled journalism. I propose, however, that this attitude is no longer compatible with our times.
The situation has changed: We no longer live in a country where the media is muzzled, or where the government tries to impose its will on journalists. In fact, we have been in active pursuit of all those who have allegedly committed extralegal killings, including those involving media, and one can already see the effects of our efforts. We have made high-profile arrests, recently most prominently that of Retired Major General Jovito Palparan for alleged violations of human rights. Furthermore, there has been a significant reduction of recorded or validated extralegal killings, from a total of 168 during the decade of my predecessor when she was in power, to 42 in the four years of our administration. Indeed, one could consider this as progress, but make no mistake: Our administration will not be content until this number reaches zero. As we continue our efforts to bring to justice all those who have resorted to violence or intimidation to skew or hide the truth, my only request is that the media fulfill its obligation of protecting the truth as well. When reporting on different matters, it is my hope that you could perhaps exert more effort in defining the problem and describing the situation accurately: If there was a crime committed, for instance, then we must be clear about the facts, and the motivations of the culprit so that the problem is indeed solved.
Media is part and parcel of society, and it is incumbent upon you to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. These days, that also means accurately representing the national condition by striking a healthy balance between the positive and the negative. Negativism has driven some members of our media for far too long, and it might one day convince our people that a disproportionate amount of national events are negative; that all is lost and it is foolish to hope. I encourage you to act on this, because just as it is your role to keep government in check, it is also your duty to keep a watchful eye on your ranks, in view of publishing the truest possible accounting of our national life. By all means, criticize; dialogue has, in many cases, helped accelerate our nation’s development. My only suggestion is for you to make room in your reports for hope. After all, it is also one of the tasks of media to inspire our countrymen with uplifting news.
I am sure that, at one point in the education of many of the people present here, we studied two schools of thought when it comes to art: one, the stated Art for Art’s sake, and the other Art for Man’s sake. I am firmly in the latter’s camp. Art must not be inaccessible; it must serve a social purpose. Your field is no different; thus, you must constantly ask yourselves how can your work benefit society. Perhaps the paradigm shift I am proposing can be characterized by one of the founders of FOCAP, Teddy Benigno. He was a man who fearlessly covered the Martial Law years, and who was a staunch defender of the freedom of the press. But when freedom was restored in our country, he knew that his approach had to evolve. He joined government precisely to reform state media, so that it would never again be in a position to oppress the independent media. When he eventually left government and returned to media, his reputation was unaffected; if anything, it was enhanced. If I may add: He was able to distinguish between the different roles he has taken during his professional life, from his early work as a reporter, which requires scrupulous objectivity, to his later career as a columnist, where he was free to express his opinion. Indeed, to this day, Teddy Benigno continues to be a fine example to all journalists of how, as democracy evolves, media must evolve with it.
These days, there is no shortage of positive, inspiring news in our country. Just to give a few examples, there is the enormous progress we have made in the Mindanao Peace Process, which promises to free our countrymen from the shackles of conflict, and shepherd them towards better futures, not to mention laying the foundations for a more progressive Mindanao. There is the performance of the Philippine economy, which has continued to surprise the international community, and has our country climbing most of the measures of competitiveness the world over. There are the more than four million families who are benefiting from our conditional cash transfer program, being empowered to regain control of their destinies. It does not even have to be about government efforts. Everywhere you look, there are outstanding Filipinos who are deserving of our attention: whether it is 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, Efren Peñaflorida, whose continued efforts deserve more coverage, or 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Randy Halasan, who has dedicated his professional life to educating indigenous communities, and should be hailed as an example for aspiring teachers.
Through the brilliance and compassion of our people, and through our continued reform efforts, our country is teeming with positive stories. Rest assured, the government will do everything in its power to produce even more of these developments to report. My only appeal to media is that you give these stories their time in the sun even as you retain the sharp critical eye, that you still look to inspire and encourage our people along the path to progress. This is perhaps a significant part of the responsibility you bear as members of the press today: To wield the truth not only as a check against public officials like myself, but also as a beacon of hope for the millions who rely on you. Without doubt, if we all fulfill our individual roles in the grand task of nation building, then we can all propel this country of ours to heights never before seen; together, we can give rise to a Philippines we can be proud to bequeath to future generations.