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SESSION 3: Difficulties of Reporting Human Rights and Making the Relevant Interesting

RESOURCE PERSON: Mildred Galarpe, SunStar

Transcript of Mildred’s talk

I’m not sure if it is human rights fatigue, or this just simply lack of understanding on human rights protection. There is less appreciation of the audience or people just want to read some good stuff. You know, after the fall of the Dictator, during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte it was a different ballgame, because even before he was elected president, he had already conditioned the public’s minds that he would rid the country of drugs while killing people in the process, he laid out a compelling reason for appealing to the emotions of people whose lives were destroyed by drugs one way or another.

So when he took office and the extrajudicial killings began, most Filipinos who supported this anti-drug campaign accepted it like it was a good riddance for the victims. People accept that without question, that people were killed because they were involved in the drug trade. During this time there was this arrest made by our regional police office where I think a total of eight people were picked up, placed in a van and were brought to the mountain by one guy in Cebu City.

And then they were killed, except there was one survivor. There was a woman who survived because he pretended to be dead. So, you know, everybody was reporting it then, “the survivor who was put in custody by the church”. So there was a continued story and everything. But what we noticed is that the police just simply claimed the sources so reporters cannot pursue anymore, like when you there was this, for example, there was this claiming of the victim.

But  when you want to get the reaction of the police, they just simply don’t react to it. So they’re just killing the story, right? Even before it can prosper. So I think they’re very good at it. And we were not prepared for that ballgame. Parang naisahan tayo. And in Cebu, for example, when you start the reporting, like, you know, against police authorities who are accused of these irregularities, you get immediately tagged as anti-government and you can already feel that somebody is following you.

So that thing alone, our poor young journalist got overwhelmed and they asked, “Can I be reassigned to another beat?” So that alone is creating what you call this… Parang na-disturb yung… how can we prepare for this? The number one priority, the newsroom, is to protect our reporters. There’s no story worth dying for. So if nobody among our reporters wants to pursue it, it’s a big challenge for us.

We cannot just send them out just for a story. So that one, that actually, those things made it difficult for us to report. Number one, because people are not interested, because every time we report about that, they just say, “well, look, they were in the drug business anyway.” They’re just taking  the claim of the police as it is.

It’s an accepted truth, parang ganon. When you report, you are tagged as anti-government. And number one, no witnesses are coming out. Nobody is crying, “My rights have been violated because I was picked up illegally”. Nobody is. So it was if you’re going to report that it was, it’s like it’s your own crusade, it’s your own advocacy.

So it gets, parang, there’s no victims. It is our paper’s fight against the authorities. So if and if somebody comes out and takes the courage to go out to, you know, to expose things in a few days, they’re just gone. It’s difficult to sustain stories like that when there’s no there’s no sources to talk to.

Well, for me, there is really just an apparent lack of public understanding and appreciation of human rights, and human rights protection that, you know, they’re right. They have the rights. It’s been violated, and they need to stand up. There’s just, parang nawala lang siya if no media reports about human rights.

I think because Juan and Maria do not understand the importance of protecting human rights in a way, fear is around. So that is why no one came out or spoke up.

And the challenge in the media industry further aggravated the situation. Downsizing, there were resignations, there were retrenchments. So what remains in the newsroom are mostly the young people. Well, except me. I’m one of the old ones who are left in the newsroom and a few others. So this current newsroom set up, you know, is also a challenge because the old ones who are more knowledgeable on how stories should be pursued and presented to the public, they’re no longer there. So the ones left behind are groping in the dark as far as the issue is concerned.

And also, not just that, the usual sources, our usual sources on you know, about human rights, they’re also no longer there. They have also aged. So they either laid low or they migrated somewhere else. So that compiles that, you know, further complicates things. There are a few young and upcoming personalities who made human rights topics interesting. But after getting the airtime and the space, they just copied it, capitalized that and moved on to another career, which is very attractive. Politics.

So that’s one. Now, is this the end of human rights reporting? Absolutely not. Not in my lifetime. So what are we to do? I think we have to go back to the beginning. I will not just present to you the problems, but I have a few recommendations and I think one is to train our messengers. We have a new set of messengers.

They’re not the ones who we train before. We have a new set of messengers. They are young and I think they need your help because the newsrooms cannot do it alone. Supplementary training like the IMF is doing is a big bonus. And another thing there is also a need to develop something like, debriefing exercises. This is what I noticed.

Most of the police reporters, they tag along during raids and everything… They have the tendency to act like policemen themselves. They talk and they write like it’s a police blotter. So I think there is a need…while newsrooms are downsizing, but I see that as an important exercise. So constantly reporters are reminded that you are not a policeman, that you are not somebody else, you’re a reporter, you’re a watchdog.

You’re supposed to document what is happening around. You can be friends with your sources, but not to the extent of, you know, sacrificing what your job really is. Human rights should be at the core of the news agenda because anything that happens in the society involves human beings. Be it crime, be it politics or socio-economic issues. And to make it interesting and making sure to include, you have to make sure that including the story, that this will affect every Juan and Maria in the community because, you know, Filipinos are very tribalistic.

If it does not directly affect them, their family or their community, they will be unlikely to care. Just like a few examples in 2020, I think this was in 2021. Remember, there were 19 miners who were arrested who were rescued in a university in the University of San Carlos retreat house, that was a very controversial one. It was a very important learning for us, though.

I agree. There were mistakes committed by us, by the media, although it was not openly admitted, but discussions in the newsroom. We have identified these concerns, and we have put up some protocols to make sure that it will not be committed again. This is what happened, our reporter was informed, was called up, we were going…the place was not even disclosed.

We are going to rescue miners who were forced to come to Cebu and has been trained to be, you know, like this. And what makes the operation, like, you know, parang totoo, parang hindi police operation because there was a group of the DSWDpersonnel…so that makes it parang, totoo talaga ‘to. And with technology, when you go live, hindi mo controlled yung environment, it’s not like yung mga recording na you can edit.

So what happens…our reporter goes out there, and just reporting all the scrambles, and everything, like that…It  was all about the rescue. Hindi nakuha right away, during the live, yung side nung kabila. It was only later that you know…but it was reported on the next day’s paper. But during the live…that was very crucial, that coverage was very crucial.

It was just really on the side of the authorities rescuing the children, “rescuing the children” Hindi siya na-present right away…yung side na: why were the children there? So for me, that was a lapse on our side. But, yun lang din yung challenge when you go live, hindi mo right away makikita yung picture na yon. So, that was very, ano, involving technology, ‘yon yung parang challenge namin in reporting things like this.


Mildred Galarpe is the Digital Media Director of Sunstar, based in Cebu. She previously worked for GMA-7 and The Freeman as a reporter in the 1990s. Mildred began working for Sunstar in 2000, holding editorial and content management positions. Her current work involves managing the entire digital operations of Sunstar. 

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