Cabaero: Inclusivity?

Nini B. Cabaero

ONE of the promises of President Rodrigo Duterte early in his term was to make his administration more inclusive, with non-traditional and marginalized sectors to have access to Malacañang.

On the part of the media, he promised that he would grant provincial journalists access to Malacañang, saying it would be the same freedom their Metro Manila counterparts from national media organizations have in getting information from the presidential office.

He told Visayas and Mindanao journalists in May 2016, “I do not go for restrictions of the Malacañang press conference. Every press is allowed to ask questions whether the answer is good or bad or the question is good or bad. You all have full access to Malacañang. Any media in the Philippines. Lahat walang restrictions diyan.”

He did, as promised. SunStar and other provincial newspapers in the country have representatives able to cover Malacañang or have journalists who are members of the Malacañang Press Corps. Community journalists have more chances now than in the past to join the President in official trips abroad.

Although there is access to the President, there is no assurance that the media – national or provincial – are getting the information needed.

Duterte’s relationship with mainstream media has been rough and hostile at times, with him raising allegations against Rappler, Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN television, and mainstream journalists highlighting inconsistencies in his statements and his lack of transparency. He has denied access to media for some of his important activities like visits to war-ravaged Marawi in Mindanao.

In reaction to having a critical media, Duterte hired bloggers to manage social media discussions. Mocha Uson was one of them, now assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO). Uson was known to have propagated fake news to her five million followers to support Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, and she had called mainstream media as “presstitutes” (a play of the words press and prostitutes). Other known pro-Duterte bloggers later also became PCOO officials.

In addition to hiring bloggers, the PCOO announced last week there is an “interim policy” to accredit bloggers to cover presidential events. Perhaps not content with bringing into the government Uson and others like her, the PCOO probably thought it needed to drown out anti-government voices on social media.

The PCOO policy entails the giving of accreditation to social media practitioners to allow them to join the Malacañang Press Corps in their coverage of President Duterte.

Those to be accredited should be a Filipino citizen, 18 years or above and has at least 5,000 followers on any social media platform. Such general requisites make it open for the PCOO to accredit only pro-government bloggers.

This is not the same inclusivity that provincial journalists had asked for at the start of Duterte’s term.