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How Media in the Philippines Inflame War in the South

By Darwin Wally T. Wee

The ongoing military operations in southern Philippines have not just created a firefight between state troopers and “lawless elements,” but also fierce rows between civil society groups and mainstream media especially on social networking sites.

It started after a bloody battle in Al-Barka where 19 soldiers and five Moro rebels dead. The national media asked President Benigno Aquino, III, whether he was exploring the option of an “all-out war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and putting a definitive halt to peace negotiations

The president rejected idea and instead sought for “all-out justice” to bring end to the hostilities while preserving the gains of the peace negotiations.

An investigation within the military revealed that the operation on October 18 did not have a proper clearance from the military superiors and was a totally blunder. It said that the primary target of the military is to serve arrest warrants on “lawless groups, including kidnapers” in the island province of Basilan, which happened to hide near the camp of the MILF.

The firefight ensued and some MILF who thought that they were under attack by the government joined the clashes.

MILF said the government should have engage with them using the agreed peace mechanisms.

Following the investigation, the President sacked some of the commanders. But some sectors, including some senators and former government officials have criticized the government for its weak approach.

Worse still, mainstream media has created a situation where “war” is the sole solution to the cycle of conflicts in Mindanao.

A popular evening news channel even conducted a text message poll on October 20, asking the viewers if they would favor an all-out war against the MILF.

It triggered a rally in some Muslim-dominated areas in Mindanao calling for boycott of a major television network for feeding on the grief and anger caused by the 19 soldiers’ deaths.

Zainudin S. Malang, director of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy, said the several media organizations in Manila failed research the sensitive conditions in Mindanao.

“The general tenor of conflict reportage is to maneuver public opinion into supporting an escalation of the conflict, an all-out war,” he wrote in an online message.

“Questions to interviewees are framed in a way that tends to draw a response that will highlight contentious positions,” he said.

He said the several media focused mainly on the pains of those soldiers who were killed during the gun battle but never took the sides of the civilians who were affected by conflict.

“Background knowledge and research: absolutely none. No one bothered to ask the most basic things about the ceasefire mechanisms the International Monitoring Team, Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities, Ad Hoc Joint Action Group,” he added.

His thoughts were echoes by Nuhman Aljani, who has been active in promoting the interfaith dialogue.

“There are some media organizations/personalities who are trying to add fuel to the situation. An All-out war will not solve the problem rather will only worsen it. We have experienced it in the past -2001.

In all-out war, it is not only the perpetrators who are suffering but the civilians - mothers and children particularly,” he told EO.

Veteran and award-winning journalist Ed Lingao, who covered the war in Iraq advised some media personalities in Manila to show sensitivity in covering conflicts.

“And if you still have room in your pack, try to bring lots of good sense, though, and bring an open mind. No matter how gory and bloody and terrifying it looks in the movies, Hollywood will never ever get it. You can never smell real fear in a movie house,” he said in his blog posted on Facebook.

On Tuesday, the number of people persons in the conflict reached 20, 000, with the fighting spreading from Basilan into the neighboring provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay and Sulu.

Darwin Wally T. Wee is a freelance reporter from the Philipines. He lives in the south of the archipelago, near the conflict zone and is currently on an exchange program with the EO.


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