NPC is still defined as 'press freedom'



NPC @  59: WE DEFINE

NPC IS STILL DEFINED 
AS 'PRESS FREEDOM'

By HERNZ Q. CUARE


Rumors 59 years ago had it that a social club would tower over other professional groups that mastered their fields.

Seal of press freedom
Those rumors turned to dream. The dream became real. On October 29, 1952 the National Press Club of the Philippines, Inc. was born. 
 
Those were the days when reporters enjoyed the tak-tak-tak and voices in feasting tones.
Theme of the 59th year of National Press Club


The NPC was founded to uphold the freedom of the press and maintain professionalism among journalists. It adopted the Walter Williams Journalists’ Creed, a journalistic code of ethics, as a standard of conduct for its members, which include both print and broadcast journalists.
Yes, it was 59 years ago when the NPC spread its wings. It has become for others to see, lean on, and go to as the last bulwark when official repression and suppression would come lashing out.  It was here that former NPC vice president Satur Ocampo escaped from the raiders sent by Marcos.  It was here the left Zumel once spent some of his best moments.
In recognition of the role played by the NPC to the society, the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act No. 905 donating a 5,184.7-square-meter land in the heart of Manila that is Intramuros. The parcel of lot is located on Magallanes Drive, beside Jones Bridge on the bank of Pasig River. The donation was implemented by then President Elpidio Quirino.

Thanks to the pioneers. They must have been commanding a very high respect that the Congress relented into legislating just so they get their wish for a half-hectare land for their headquarters.  We can see this respect when the newly-organized lawmaking body under the blessings of America’s independence grant on July 4, 1946 passed Republic Act No. 53, the law that protects journalists from compulsion to reveal their sources of news.

Today, no matter how loud the present NPC members cry, no matter how hard they try to lobby, they could only wish for bills: like the libel decriminalization bill and the freedom of information bill.
Adding prestige, the NPC succeeded in constructing a towering four-storey building on the donated lot. One of the modern and first earthquake-proof structures in the Philippines that time, the edifice was designed by the late Angel E. Nakpil and inaugurated in 1955 by then President Ramon Magsaysay.

NPC Bldg., where press freedom had its finest moments
Its rock was first rocked when strongman Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 by virtue of Proclamation No. 1081.
That time, the NPC lived in deafening silence. The government seized newspapers, television and radio stations, and gagged the journalists. It spared those who did not show dissent.
Until February 1986, the NPC played coy with Marcos. Journalists still managed to do their trade without offending the pleasure of the dictator.
When Marcos was gone, the NPC thought he was the last breed to debase freedom of speech, and of the press. It was wrong: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to power in the most dubious way twice over, in 2001 and in 2004.  The last saw the emergence of “Hello Garci” tape that detailed her voices talking to then election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in a secret tone meant to engineer vote-counting fraud in a catastrophic proportion never heard before.
Leadership not founded on genuine faith will always be vulnerable to envy and distrust.  Many rose to confront Gloria. Right after then National Bureau of Investigation deputy director Samuel Ong came public with the CD of the recordings of the conversations between Gloria and Garci, Susan Roces spewed out the venom: “You stole the Presidency, not once but twice!”
In almost all attempts of the shaky leadership to keep on, the press is always a victim.
Thus, 30 local and foreign journalists were arrested by the police during the Oakwood mutiny that shook the leadership of Arroyo on July 27, 2003. It was so named because it was staged by 321 armed soldiers who called themselves “Magdalo” at the Oakwood Premier Ayala Center (now Ascott Makati) in Makati City.
On November 29, 2007, the group of Senator Antonio Trillanes marched from the Makati court trying his Oakwood rebellion case and seized Manila Peninsula Hotel. Many media persons rushed in to cover the unfolding of a historic moment, to end up 50 or so of them hogtied, arrested and released later after the NPC through the voices of its then president Roy Mabasa expressed disgust to what had Gloria’s men done in trampling the press in an exceedingly disgusting and insulting manner.
The NPC during the leadership of Roy Mabasa branded the arrests as “unconstitutional” and deplored their “chilling effect.”Eventually, the NPC won the case filed before the Commission on Human Rights. It was a victory in pronouncements only. CHR’s recommendations to charge the police generals and others for the crimes committed against the press have not been implemented, until now.
Arroyo imposed a state of emergency on February 24, 2006. She did it as a solution to a coup attempt said to be led by then Scout Ranger Battalion Commander, then Gen. Danilo Lim, who featured in the 1989 coup d’etat against Cory Aquino and who now sits as the Deputy Director of Customs Intelligence after having been appointed by her son, P-Noy.  Many calls for her resignation were reported by the journalists.  Again, the press became one of the victims.
The NPC new breed of members wagged no tails. It slammed the proclamation and challenged its legality.  The state of emergency eventually lost its urgency.
Then there was another from Gloria. 
 
Concerting with his wife to silence the press, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo filed libel charges against 45 journalists, a number unprecedented in the Philippine history, who met his ire because they wrote corruption stories involving the then First Family.
Without fear, the NPC joined reporters, columnists, editors and publishers, and other press organizations in filing a class suit against Mike Arroyo on December 28, 2006.  It was led by the group of National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. The class suit asked for P15 million in damages for the anxiety, loss of income and other inconveniences Mr. Arroyo’s libel suits caused. They also argued the libel cases sent chilling effects on press freedom.

But then the Ampatuan Massacre came to become as the gravest assault to press freedom. But the NPC tried its best to fight off.  It never shirked from its pledge.
NPC president Jerry Yap leads protest vs Ampatuan Massacre

On November 23, 2009, the NPC led by its then president Benny Antiporda spoke in tears, in outrage with eerie calls reverberating to demand justice that meant arrest of men closest to the heart of the person who had the primary obligation to order the arrest. When the smoke of confusion vanished, the Maguindanao Massacre blackened the day, confirming 33 journalists were killed in a single assault to press freedom.

For the speedy delivery of justice to families of the slain massacre victims, the NPC asked the Supreme Court to create the Quezon City Regional Trial Court branch that was trying it as a special court handling only the Ampatuan Massacre trial and nothing else.  The NPC also filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to install a video monitor outside the court for all to see because that courtroom was small, which petition was an alternative if live coverage cannot be had. The Highest Court granted the petitions of the NPC.
Then another event nearly debased the rectitude of the press.
On August 23, 2010, the ethical standard in live reporting by the journalists came under siege. Nine Hong Kong nationals were killed in a hostage drama at the Luneta Park when former police Senior Inspector Rolando del Rosario Mendoza commandeered the bus and took 25 people hostage, including 22 Chinese nationals.
The government and the public blamed the media as the root cause why the bloody incident occurred. They reasoned out that the live reports were monitored by the hostage taker on the TV inside the detained tourist bus.
This gave a somewhat popular justification for the government to regulate media coverage in crisis situations. But the NPC opposed. Thanks God, the issue died down in a stalemate.

Today, while the NPC is fighting for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill and the decriminalization of libel, it is fighting against another bill, the Right of Reply Bill that seeks to compel the editors to publish the replies of any person, even a public officer, to any article and that the replies shall be published in the same space with the same length or aired in the same program with the same length of time.

Aside from the control of the substance of press freedom that the Right of Reply will cause, it also seeks to confiscate the media spaces for free. It is an unjust enrichment on the part of those who feel their egos or honor were assaulted although the fact of life shows that in most cases they have no honor at all.

The story of the NPC from its beginning is storied. It has been a checker of darkness that has come too often to provide a complete contrast to gloriousness.  The NPC proved it has survived even under extreme repression and suppression.  The means employed may look unethical but it could be understood to be the best diligence it could do under the circumstances, still fitting the totalitarian idea espoused by populist philosopher John Stuart Mill.  Indeed, the end justified the means.

In the faces of these ups and downs, all uncertainties, all threats, and all chills, one assault after another came and died. But the NPC has remained standing, no matter how battered.

Yet there is still comfort to make a political and social statement, that even in all aridity and disenchantment, one thing is arguable.
The National Press Club is still defined as "press freedom."
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