If there is one thread that links the murders (again and again and again) of media workers in the country, this is it: the victims are from the provinces. The murdered media workers, this is the sad story, submitted work on a piece meal basis for the tabloids and broadsheets and got paid per column inch. They moonlighted as radio block-timers to complement what they did for print.
You can imagine the struggle to survive on a column-inch-to-column-inch existence. Or, on the back of some penny ante ad contracts wangled for the one-hour radio program. Surviving, essentially, in this kind of hostile setting.
They had no awards, no national recognition, no membership in the fancy media groups whose induction of officers merited the time of the president of the republic. The victims belonged to a caste and the name that fits is this: “subsistence journalists.” This is the journalism subset that assassins target with recklessness and impunity.
Nameless and faceless. Impunity has been gender-neutral. There is no sparing of women. From Marilyn Esperat to the latest victim, Rubylitya Garcia, the dastardly assassins have thrived in murdering women journalists from the provinces.
And there were cases that exceeded the kind of brutality that the world can only witness at the frontlines of the coverage of the bloodbaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Maguindanao Massacre will be long remembered as one of the isolated cases that involved the mass murder of media workers. You spray a group of media workers with bullets. You dig out a mass grave. You shove the limp bodies into the mass grave but not before a coup de grace – pummeling the lifeless bodies with the steel hoe of the backhoe.
A week or two after the dutiful coverage of their murders – and the routine commiseration from the various press groups and press freedoms watchdogs –the murdered media workers will be soon forgotten, mere statistics in a society that supposedly holds press freedom sacred yet routinely inflicts mayhem and murder on its press workers.
What kind of society is this, you might ask? And you have the full right to ask. What kind of society elevates its press freedom on such high a plane then places little value on the lives of its press workers? Correction – it should be “places little value on the lives of its provincial press workers. “
Have the murderers and their brains defined a caste system that demarcated the untouchable from the vulnerable?
The answer is no. The murderers and their brains/financiers have the urge to murder journalists and media workers across all regions. But they try to avoid murdering big-city journalists and media workers. The reasons are all too clear.
The talking head on prime time TV with the big, booming voice is considered a prime asset and revenue generator of his giant network. He maybe a total dick or a total idiot but he is the idiot of that network. Harm him and you will pay.
In case evildoers misplace a single strand of his permed hair, there will be carpet-bombing type coverage of his discomfort. Woe to the perpetrators of that misplaced strand of hair. All the investigation and law enforcement agencies—intent on getting their 15 minutes of TV fame—will all rally to find the culprits.
Mr. Big Time Pundit is just as untouchable. This type of pundit is read by the President of the Republic and the powers-that-be. He moves in the circles of power, that rarified intersection of wealth and influence. Three times a week, the circles of power and wealth await with bated breath his take on Philippine society, with anti-corruption as his main screed.
It may be deft ranting and raving, but the strident moral tone against the political crooks (it is all about official corruption, which can be penny ante crime compared with the ravages of the plutocracy) is pleasing to the ear of the plutocrats who are too glad for the diversion he provides.
The strident call to punish the penny ante politicians for their crude money making schemes is all where the national rage is right now, thanks to the likes of Mr. Big Time Pundit. The real cancer, a huge economic divide that has weakened the middle class and has been sapping the strength of the fragile democracy, has been, however, sadly obscured.
Harm him and you will pay.
There is a cozy relationship between the big-time journalists (print and broadcast) in the city and the powers-that-be. Those days when journalists from mostly blue collar backgrounds held an adversarial, skeptical view on power and wealth until the end of their careers is now gone. Now, the powers-that-be have the big-time journalists as their echo chambers.
Those outside the power loop, the promdi journalists, toil with all sincerity and dedication. They are the last vestige of free-spirited and independent journalism. Unconnected and faceless workers. And they are extremely vulnerable.