(Keynote address of Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, at the media forum “Beyond Mamasapano: Reporting the Bangsamoro Peace Process” on July 24 in Cotabato City)
A Moral and Religious Perspective
I speak to you as a religious pastor. It is my vocation to help the faithful understand and share with others the Truth of God, the truth of Christ, and the truth of the world.
The truth of God includes the unity of humankind. We are all one family of God. We are brothers and sisters of one another. We are a colorful mosaic of rich and variegated religious and cultural traditions and values. We have significantly different ways of thinking, praying and acting. We are Lumads, Muslims and Christians, and peoples of other faiths, such as Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of Confucius.
The truth of Christ is that he became Incarnate, the God who became Man so as to die for the sake of all humankind. He proclaimed the Gospel of Love, love even of our enemies. From our respective Sacred Scriptures, Muslims and Christians do have a “Common Word” – the great commandment of loving God and loving our neighbor.
The truth of this world is that this earthly home of ours is where we need to work out together as brothers and sisters our common journey to God’s Reign. It is a Reign of Justice and Peace, Truth and Love.
It is from this pastoral perspective that I view the Bangsamoro peace process and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law. The BBL was crafted by Lumads, Christians, and Muslims. It expresses concretely the result of 17 long years of negotiation.
The peace process and the BBL were sailing smoothly in unruffled waters until they hit rocks and reefs and floundered.
The Present Social Context: A Climate of Bias and Prejudice
The following is an extract, edited for this occasion, of my privilege speech on 12 July 2015 at the Plenary Assem bly of the Catholic Bishops Conference.
In just one fateful day, the relatively remote Moro village of Tukanalipao, municipality of Mamasapano, province of Maguindanao in the Archdiocese of Cotabato, became the symbol of insincerity and mistrust. Here 44 members of the Special Action Force of the National Police died valiantly in an encounter that lasted several hours. The SAF themselves killed 17 Moro rebels and 4 civilians.
The highest ranking active police officer involved in the military operation reported at the legislative hearings that their men gunned down about 250 rebels. Media reported that Moro rebels massacred the 44 SAF many of whom were shot dead mercilessly even when they were already wounded and helpless. In subsequent days national media played up the massacre report and created a climate of anger against Moro rebels. Daily we saw gruesome pictures of the dead and the grief of SAF widows and families.
At the legislative hearings to investigate the Mamasapano tragedy, several of our legislators expressed the biases, prejudices, and mistrust of the Christian majority against Moros in general and against the BBL in particular.
These biases were sown during the period of colonization when relationships between Moros and Christians were characterized by continuing conflict, negative experiences with Moros, the diversity of religious beliefs and culture. Dormant through many decades and occasionally rearing its head as in the Ilaga-Barracuda armed conflicts during Martial Law, bias and prejudice suddenly erupted into the open in the wake of the Mamasapano tragedy.
On March 20-23, 2015 Social Weather Stations conducted a post-Mamasapano survey on opinions regarding the BBL. The results are telling:
- The March survey sample consisted of 78% Catholics, 5% Muslims, 3% INC, and 13% other Christians. Less than 1% did not give any answer.
- Of those surveyed 47% said they knew only a little of the BBL; 34% said that they knew almost none.
- Approval of the proposed BBL was favorable among those with extensive knowledge about it (4%) and among those with partial but sufficient knowledge about it (13%).
- Disapproval came from among those with little knowledge (47%) and from among those with no or almost no knowledge about the BBL (34%). These two groups, a total of 81%, constituted the great majority of those surveyed.
One would naturally wonder why anyone with little or almost no knowledge of the BBL would disapprove of it. One reason came may be gleaned from the following conversation that I had with a Catholic religious leader:
I asked him: “Do you support the BBL?”
“No I don’t support the BBL,” he answered.
“Have you read the BBL?”
“So why don’t you agree with what you have not read?”
“Ah, basta, I don’t agree.”
One would logically conclude that such negative attitude about the BBL is due to bias, prejudice and mistrust, a mistrust that several of our legislators have expressed in the hearings on the Mamasapano tragedy.
I have an educated guess that our people in the parishes who know little about the BBL get their information from the media. Unfortunately in the wake of Mamasapano media dished out one-sided and misleading as well as incorrect information about the BBL.
Here is a sequel to the conversation I reported above:
“You know, Cardinal, that none of us is a member of your peace group, the Friends of Peace.”
“Yes, of course, I know. In fact I did not give you any invitation. By the way I, too, have certain biases and prejudices about people and individuals. But I have learned not to let such sentiments influence my judgments. So, are you against the BBL because you are biased and prejudiced?”
To his credit, he said, “To be honest, Cardinal, yes.”
“Well to those in the same situation, I can only ask, and I also ask this of myself, what would Jesus say about your biases and prejudices? Would Jesus approve?”
The Mamasapano tragedy sadly exposed the deeply entrenched biases and prejudices of the Filipino Christian majority. Sadder still is to learn that most of those who disapprove the BBL but know little or almost none about it are Catholics.
The Media Practitioner: Vocation to Truth
I believe that you, dear media practitioners, have more than a profession. You have a vocation. You are agents for the communication of truth, justice, peace and love. These are the truly human values that serve as the pillars of society. You communicate to others the fundamental values of God’s Reign.
You have the task of helping inform, educate, and form individuals and our society in accord with those values.
Truth requires fairness, accuracy, and objectivity. Truth is not served:
- by distorting information, by omitting essential information or by disregarding context;
- by using misleading and even erroneous headlines or illustrations;
- by half-truths;
- by not differentiating between advocacy and news reporting;
- by oversimplifying;
- by misrepresenting fact or context (all the above are from the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, Indianapolis, 1996);
- by improper emphasis (see “Journalist’s Code of Ethics,” Philippine Press Institute and National Press Club;
Nor is truth served:
- by not verifying alleged facts given by a so-called “reliable source”
- by mixing speculation with verified facts;
Through the years I have often wondered how two reporters at CBCP press conferences could report the same event so differently. One veteran journalist explained to me that the two reporters wrote for 2 different papers with distinct political perspectives: “Meron angulo na politika.”
Most of you here are media people from Mindanao. More than many others who are Manila-based, you know our Mindanao situation. You are more familiar with the Maguindanao situation, the Moro Question, and the various solutions offered to resolve it. May I strongly suggest that your reports, based on your own personal knowledge, make a difference on the way Mindanao events are reported at the national level.
An Occasion for Self-Examination
In the light of the above observations, some self-examination would be necessary:
- In my media work regarding Mamasapano, did I share in the biases and prejudices of the public majority?
- Did I help build a climate mistrust and perhaps of revenge?
- Or fan the flame of anti-Moro prejudice, by improperly emphasizing SAF casualties while ignoring MILF and civilian casualties and the grief of their own widows and children?
- Have I read and understood the BBL in such way that my reportage could correct misinformation about the BBL and misinterpretation of it?
- How can I do my media work with fairness and objectivity so as to follow my vocation to be an authentic prophet of justice, peace, truth and love?
My own expectations of media practitioners are very simple. They stem from my own episcopal motto that is the guide of my life: “Charity rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).
Be true to your vocation as truth tellers, sharers of truth. Tell the truth. Do it justly and charitably.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her views on peace in Mindanao. Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI is the Archbishop of Cotabato. He was President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines from 1999 to 2003).