by Jamal Ashley Abbas
A UP Journalism student doing her thesis on the Marawi “Siege” interviewed me on my thoughts about it. (I use quotation marks because I am not sure who the media refers to as those doing the siege and those being besieged.)
Weeks after the personal interview, she emailed me additional questions. These are her emailed questions and my answers:
UP Journ Student: What are your thoughts on how media portrayed the events that transpired in Marawi? In your opinion, where do you think media lacked in covering these events? Why?
ME: The essence of journalism is VERIFICATION. On the very first day of the Crisis, the mass media interviewed the military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla and other military officers. They all said that there were no ISIS members in Mindanao or in the Philippines. AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año himself assured everyone that Marawi was “under control” and that the Maute group numbered around 50 only. (Note: The CNN link -http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/05/24/marawi-crisis-timeline.html – has been updated and the quote from Gen. Año was deleted. Why?? See Changing Marawi Narratives for the quote.)
AFP Spox Padilla- Sitwasyon sa Marawi City, kontrolado ng militar at pulisya (Click to view youtube clip)
Another May 23 news clip from GMA TV News where the milirary again assured everyone that the military was in control of the situation in Marawi.:
And just a few hours after the announcements of the generals, Duterte, who was in Russia, suddenly declared that ISIS was in the Philippines and he declared Martial Law all over Mindanao.
A responsible media would have grilled the generals who told all and sundry that there was no ISIS presence in the Philippines. Did the President know better than the generals? And later, when then Cong. Harry Roque was interviewed on TV, he said that just an hour or so before Duterte’s declaration, he was with all the military and intelligence advisers of Duterte and they all said that there was no ISIS in the Philippines and that everything was under control. Roque was also in Russia as part of Duterte’s entourage.
Accdg. to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the Elements of Journalism, among others, are:
- Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
- Its first loyalty is to citizens.
- Its essence is a discipline of verification.
- Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
- It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
- It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
- It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
- Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
Re: Marawi coverage, all these elements of Journalism were/are missing. Although, I am not sure about the last one.
I saw an interview of George Cariño. He was interviewed on his experience in covering Marawi. He even cried. He said something which intrigued me. He said that they were not allowed to use some words or phrases in their coverage. What was that? Self-censorship? Is that related to last element above?
If what happened to Marawi were to happen in a Christian-populated city? Would the Philippine media do the same thing as they did in Marawi?
UP Journ Student: How does the news coverage of the Marawi siege affect the public’s perception on it? What do you think are the other issues that will be affected because of the media’s news coverage of the Marawi conflict? What do you think are the factors that affect the packaging of news?
ME: The public’s – esp. The Christian majority’s – knowledge of Marawi came / comes from the media. Their perception of the Rape of Marawi was seen through the spectacles of media. The narratives the public got were all crafted by the government and disseminated through the media.
FRAMING is one BIG factor that affects the packaging of news.
The framing is terribly skewed in favor of the government’s narrative.
CONTEXTUALIZING. The context is terribly WRONG. From the media’s narrative, the context is as follows:
Marawi and the residents of Marawi are just like any Filipino, with the same shared history. All of a sudden, a group who represents a foreign-based jihadist terrorist group called ISIS, appeared and took hostage a whole city. The residents fled, Duterte declared Martial Law and massive military forces came in to the rescue, like the cavalry of the old US of A. And the people of Marawi applauded and were/are ever thankful for the Philippine government and soldiers. (This is so nauseating to most Mranaos…)
The public does not know the REAL CONTEXT. Marawi and Mranaos are not of the ordinary Filipino variety. The Mranaos are part of the Bangsa Moro who have been fighting the Philippine Republic since 1970 – for 48 years!!! And they fought the Americans for more than 20 years and the Spaniards for 350 years.
Given a choice between the Philippine government and a Muslim group, the average Moro would choose the Muslim group.
The reason for the Jabidah Massacre in 1968 was that the young Moros recruited by the Philippine military refused to go to Sabah to fight their fellow Muslims. They chose to side with their fellow Muslims than with the Philippine government.
The Moros are not Filipinos, in many sense of the term.
And what is the CONTEXT of ISIS? And the Caliphate?
(Note: All of a sudden, a group of Al-Qaeda supporters proclaimed themselves to be a worldwide Caliphate in 2014 and called itself, the Islamic State or ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah. The Caliphate is the government of the whole Muslim World or Ummah. The last Caliph was Abdulmecid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who was deposed by Kemal Attaturk in 1924. – editor).
ISIS means Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It doesn’t include Mindanao or Marawi. If it does, it would be ISMIS!!!
ISIS, esp. during the time of the Rape of Marawi, was being bombed out in Iraq and Syria. They couldn’t possibly have any care about Marawi, thousands of miles away. The Mranaos are not even Arabs.
And what is the Caliphate? There has been a Caliphate (Khilafa) movement in the Islamic world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and with it, the last Caliph.
But not just any idiot can claim to be a Caliph, like not any idiot can claim to be the Pope or the King/Queen of the British Commonwealth (formerly, British Empire).
The Hashemite Kings of Jordan and Morocco would be the first in line to be the new Caliph, not idiots put up by the US CIA. And not any idiot can be declared an Emir or Prince of a province of the Caliphate. (Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf was supposed to be the Emir of Philippines or Southeast Asia, accdg. to the government. Hahahahahaha!!!!!!)
Several years ago, American and European intelligence agencies started rumors about Muslims wanting to establish the Caliphate. But they were demonizing the Caliphate.
I thought then that the Westerners must be soooo dumb. Didn’t they know anything about the Caliphate (khilafa) movement, which has been around since 1918 or thereabouts? Little did I know that they were laying the predicate for ISIS.
EQUALIZING. The Media equalizes the strength of 50 or so Maute supporters, mostly kids, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines – with heavy weaponry, dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, airplane bombers and thousands of troops plus drones from the Americans.
SANITIZING. There were many reports of civilian deaths, but none were focused on by the media. And there was MASSIVE LOOTING but hardly any reports by the media.
UP Journ Student: In your opinion, what issues do you think the media should prioritize and should cover more during their coverage? Why?
ME: HUMAN RIGHTS is a foremost issue. Right now, there should be focus on REPARATIONS — the Mranaos should be paid for the damage brought to their homes and properties.
MILITARIZATION – It looks like the government is intent on building more military camps in Marawi and thus become an Occupying power.
LAND GRABBING. The government seems intent on stealing Moro lands, again.
The Americans, and later, the Philippine government, delcared ALL MORO LANDS as PUBLIC DOMAIN. And since titling of Lands is not customary among Mranaos, most lands in Lanao are not titled. The government wants to steal them all over again.
And what is the QUID PRO QUO with the MILF and MNLF? The fact that MILF and MNLF supported the government means that they already made a deal with them. Why is the MEDIA mum on that? Whatever the deal is with both groups must have a great impact on the whole country.
UP Journ Student: What should be the media’s role in the conflict? What are the ways the media can do to live up to its role?
ME: The Philippine Media personnel, esp. the journalists, should adhere to the Elements of Journalism as espoused by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. (see ther first answer)
Later, I emailed her one more point. I wrote:
“When ISIS hq abroad claimed that the lone gunman in the Resorts World casino shooting was their member, the media ignored the claim.
————– end of Question and Answers —————–
I would like to add more points.
In Marawi, a report that about 50 supporters – untrained civilians, mostly kids – of the Maute family, allegedly linked to ISIS, were roaming around Marawi City, was enough for the President to order the immediate evacuation of Marawi City and to declare Martial Law all over Mindanao and then to bring the might of the Armed Forces of the Philippines plus American drones and advisers to bomb the Islamic City of Marawi (or parts thereof) to kingdom come!
During the Cory Aquino administration, a group of highly-trained military troops headed by Col. Honasan, took over the Ayala Avenue area of Makati. The Cory Aquino government did not declare Martial Law or mercilessly bombed the highly urbanized Makati business district.
MARTIAL LAW DECLARATION
The Philippine Constitution states: “In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”
In May last year, when Martial Law was declared, there was NEITHER INVASION NOR REBELLION in Mindanao. According to military officers — the AFP Chief of Staff no less and the AFP spokesman — there were only about 50 MAUTE clan members in Marawi and NO ISIS presence in Marawi, Mindanao or the Philippines.
Only idiots and morons and occupying powers (who think Moros are their enemies and need to be subjected to their powers) can justify the declaration of Martial Law in the whole of Mindanao!
The fact that Congress and the Supreme Court believe that there should be Martial Law in Mindanao (forever, if needed) only means that the Christian majority are playing along with the government. While there is Martial Law officially all over Mindanao, everything is business-as-usual in Christian-dominated provinces. Martial Law is just in full effect in Muslim-dominated provinces, esp. Lanao del Sur, incl. Marawi City.
MARAWI EVACUATION DUE TO EXPECTED BOMBING
The primary cause for the evacuation of Marawi was not the people’s fear of the Maute clan. Most Mranao families are well-armed. They are not afraid of just one armed family or clan. But they are afraid of being bombed by government forces.
Just a few months previous to the Rape of Marawi, the government bombed Butig, the stronghold of the Mautes. The residents of Marawi were afraid of government bombs, not Maute guns. In fact, about a few hours before the declaration of Martial Law, one Mranao woman was interviewed via phone by Karen Davila. The woman pleaded to the military, through the news program, not to bomb Marawi. She said that they did not want to suffer the same fate as the people of Butig.
And what forced the residents to flee was the declaration of Martial Law. With Martial Law, the local elected officials would be powerless. The military would reign supreme. And the Mranaos, like most Moros, do not love the Philippine military.
And if a Marawi resident was still not convinced to evacuate, the order by the Office of the Governor/Vice Governor to leave made the reluctant Marawi resident no choice.
The Marawi evacuation was the most important ingredient in the Rape of Marawi. The bombing of Marawi would not cause a lot of deaths. There would be no genocide to complain of. Apparently, the world could not care less about destruction of buildings, houses and mosques and roads and bridges. The massive looting by the soldiers and the unnecessary killings of some civilians on the side could easily be overlooked by the world’s media, who would focus on the government’s meta-narrative.
Jamal Ashley Abbas is a Media Studies specialist, writer and Professorial Lecturer at FEU and FEATI University, teaching Communication and Media Studies.