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Reporting Environment: An important focus for Mindanao’s media

Citizen Journalism has been a field so close to my heart. This is what we wished to help enrich in Mindanao’s communities with MindaNews’ Grassroots Documentation and Reporting Training (GDRT). So when I first proposed a master’s project (the equivalent of a thesis at the Asian Center for Journalism in Ateneo de Manila University) I immediately thought of looking into Bukidnon’s treasure chest of citizen reporting experiences.

I poured energy and time to pore into documents and interviews around Mindanao on the topic of DXBB’s (forerunner of today’s DXDB in Bukidnon) own brand of citizen reporting using the Bandilyo newsletter way back during the dark age Martial Law.

However, several consultations thereafter my proposal did not prosper. I botched my intended research and resumed study only now. My materials had become obsolete or at least needed updating. So when asked for a topic again I was forced to propose a new one, another important topic.

Meantime,my research on citizen reporting in Bukidnon during martial law will be sidelined only as  a master’s project. It still remains my dream project outside this academic requirement to graduate.

I choose an equally compelling subject: the state of environment reporting in Mindanao. Of course, I choose only to look into two weekly newspapers in Bukidnon considering the constraints of a master’s thesis. When I submitted my proposal, I did not forget the request by both media and government officials back in 2011 during the 7th Mindanao Media Summit.

I wish to add to the knowledge on environment reporting in the community setting – to check on the extent and depth of environment issues covered by community media, how these issues are presented, what limitation and challenges abound the community media. This should compare with the expectations from the community, that is to check if the reports live up to the issues raised by the Bukidnon Environment Summit in 2008.

I would also like to check on how the two newspapers coverage of environment issues stack up to the coverage of Manila-based broadsheet newspapers with national circulation. Yes, I also plan to compare this to the state of environment reporting portrayed in a research of the subject in an Asia-Pacific context.

In an earlier training on Reporting Environment in Bukidnon, I have called on colleagues to level up to the tenets of environment reporting. I hope this research looks more clearly into the practicality of that encouragement.

 

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NIA’s organic fertilizers for Northern Mindanao: People’s money in shadowy subsidy

Hundreds of farmers become recipients of at most 20 bags each of organic fertilizers. But not all of them are happy. Some claimed they received ‘very dry’ stocks, useless fertilizers.

By Walter I. Balane

MALAYBALAY CITY, Philippines – About P30 million worth of organic fertilizer subsidy implemented by the National Irrigation Administration in Region 10 for thousands of farmers in Northern Mindanao becomes subject of public inquiry after farmers complained it is of sub-standard quality.

NIA-10 proposed the project to help irrigators’ associations they are working with to improve their yield in rice along thousands of hectares of rice farms.

But the farmers found the fertilizer useless, and a government official finds out it was produced by a company owned by no less than the NIA national administrator’s family.

Some farmers also found out that the report of the number of bags released to them was bloated: two farmers received only a total of 60 bags, and a receivable of 20 bags more; but the distribution report showed a total of 200 bags were released to them.

Here are some links to the running story of the controversial Northern Mindanao organic fertilizer subsidy project as posted on news website MindaNews:

A dog sleeps above a pile of unused organic fertilizer in bags in a farmers’ association garage in Sinayawan, Valencia City, Bukidnon

Samples of NIA-distributed organic fertilizers taken as Bukidnon board member alleges scam. The FPA-10 regional office already sent board member Glenn Peduche a copy but the results are yet to be revealed.

Valencia agriculturist says NIA didn’t coordinate with LGUs. Engr. Gerson Galvan said NIA did not have the expertise to test the quality of the organic fertilizers.

Bukidnon Gov wants P-Noy to look into fertilizer scam. The Department of Agriculture already announced it has initiated an investigation by ordering their legal division to probe on the issue.

Mayor-wife of NIA chief supplier for NorMin’s P30-M fertilizer subsidy program. NIA-10 regional director Julius Maquiling was qouted in official records of the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan that Lila, Bohol mayor Regina Salazar owned Bayugan, Agusan del Sur-based supplier 3K and C  Enterprises. He identified the mayor to be the wife of NIA administrator, now replaced, Carlos Salazar.

NIA chief Salazar owns outlet supplying NorMin’s fertilizer subsidy program, says FPA.  The Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority Manila Office revealed that Carlos Salazar, the NIA administrator actually owned the company, based on documents he submitted to the FPA to apply for product registration.

DA team starts 45-day probe on NorthMin organic fertilizer project. The Department of Agriculture, upon request of the Bukidnon provincial board, has initiated an investigation into the possible organic fertilizer scam. NIA officials have been investigated. The report is due oin mid-September.

Organic fertilizers and pesticides are left to the elements at a motor pool of the National Irrigation Administration compound in Valencia City pending an investigation.

P2.3M worth of fertilizers in Bukidnon put on hold. The Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority has put on hold P2.3-million worth of organic fertilizers and pesticides here following complaints by farmers over alleged substandard quality, overpricing, and rigged bidding.

About 2,700 bags of Grow Organic Fertilizers and 3,741 liters of Green Organic liquid fertilizer-pesticides have been placed inside a motor pool building in the National Irrigation Administration compound after these were delivered in the first quarter of 2010.

Jimmy Apostol, NIA Bukidnon irrigation officer, told MindaNews Wednesday the fertilizers and pesticides are part of the last of three tranches of the NIA’s Bio-Organic Fertilizer Subsidy Project in Northern Mindanao initiated in June 2009.

The stocks have been put on hold since last June 4 by virtue of an FPA “stop use/stop move/stop sale” (SUMS) order pending their own tests of samples.

Two months after samples were taken, the fertilizers and pesticides are still kept in the open motor pool building.

No results yet on probe of P30-M NIA fertilizer project. After almost four months after the Department of Agriculture investigated into the controversial P30-million National Irrigation Administration’s Bio-Organic Fertilizer project for Northern Mindanao, no results have been released so far.

DA investigators find irregularities in P30M NIA organic fertilizer project. A fact finding team created by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in July 2010 found irregularities in the National Irrigation Administration’s P30-million bio-organic fertilizer subsidy program implemented in Region 10 in 2009, among them that there was only one bidder and that the organic fertilizer delivered did not comply with the specifications of the procuring entity, “hence should have not been accepted and paid for.”

No raps, only ‘reorientation’ for NIA officials behind P30-M fertilizer program. Irregularities were found in the implementation of the National Irrigation Agriculture’s fertilizer subsidy program in Northern Mindanao, but Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala was satisfied with the recommendations to withdraw and replace the substandard organic fertilizers released to farmers and reorient the officials behind the questionable P30-million project on bidding procedures.

In her letter to Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata on October 18, Lealyn A. Ramos, Department of Agriculture-X regional executive director said the recommendations came from the investigation team formed by her office.

Rice farmers in this city were among the recipients of the organic fertilizers distributed by NIA-10 in 2009. At least 1,000 farmers in Northern Mindanao, mostly in Bukidnon received the fertilizer procured with funds from the DA’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) – Rice Program.

Ramos said the reorientation means keeping all members of NIA-10’s bids and awards committee abreast with the latest updates of the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184).

She said Alcala’s decision was prompted by Sangguniang Panlungsod Resolution no. 425-2011 passed on August 1 urging the secretary to “take the appropriate actions based on the said recommendations.”

Alcala’s decision drew the ire of City Councilor Glenn Peduche, who was among the first to expose the alleged irregularities of the project, including lapses in bidding and the reportedly substandard quality of the fertilizer.

“The DA should conduct a more in-depth investigation how this happened. If proven to have violated the law, perpetrators must face the consequences,” Peduche said.

[The report is an Investigative Journalism project of the author for the Asian Center for Journalism Ateneo de Manila University MA Journalism course.]

Commemorating World Press Freedom Day in Bukidnon

On May 3 and on the run up to it, members of the news media are commemorating the World Press Freedom Day in Bukidnon.

This is probably the first time it will be held here in recent times with a concerted effort to spread understanding on the role of the news media in society and the citizens duties to its working press.

What are the Origins and the reasons behind an international commemoration of World Press Freedom Day?

The United Nations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

UNESCO marks World Press Freedom Day by conferring the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on a deserving individual, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger. Created in 1997, the prize is awarded on the recommendation of an independent jury of 14 news professionals. Names are submitted by regional and international non-governmental organizations working for press freedom, and by UNESCO member states.

The Prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá, on 17 December 1986. Cano’s writings had offended Colombia’s powerful drug barons. (Source: UNESCO website)

Is press freedom a human right?

Yes, and it is embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is included in the 1986 Philippine Constitution.

Why is there a need to mark World Press Freedom Day in the Philippines, particularly in our province?

As a human right, the freedom of the press is not only a declaration but a very practical freedom that must be lived even in the remotest of communities. If it works, it helps peoples exercise their other rights and freedoms. Without it, there can be no environment of free expression for people to manifest their freedom of speech, or expression, and the right to know, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, among others.

Is press freedom just a concern of journalists and media workers?

No, journalists and media workers are just the ones directly affected if the press freedom is trampled upon. But the effect will not end in restraints in their work. It will affect the public to whom the press community is bound to serve. Journalists are “eyes and ears” of the public. Attacks to freedom of the press are an attack to the people themselves and their other freedoms.

When journalists are harassed, attacked or even killed (just as the case in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province where 57 people, 32 of them journalists and media workers, were massacred) is that an attack to the people?

Yes. A muffled press leaves the public unable to see what those in power want to be hidden. Ideally journalists have to work as beacon on the hill or as light for the truth, as watchdogs, as fiscalizers, as voice of the voiceless, as communicator and partner in development. When they are not allowed to exercise this right and are not allowed to work to their fullest capacity, then the ideals and aspirations of democracy is also endangered.

What are some examples of these attacks?

Some examples include threatening a news person for reporting on a particular interest that affected some people, not giving due attention on the request of members of the working press access to information they need to report fairly and accurately on a story, filing harassment cases like libel to scare journalists from pursuing a story, physically harming the journalists who are just trying to do their jobs, among others.

How should we view ideals of press freedom in the light of the limitations of the press in general and the reputation of some members of the press in terms of questions of integrity, competence, and ethical problems?

The public must also not generalize and rush at a judgment. In Bukidnon, we recognize there are some members of the press who have gone out of the bounds of free and responsible journalism. But that does not merit a “class act”. Not all news people are irresponsible and incompetent. Most news media practitioners received training and have the competence to do their work. To the erring members of the press, the news media community, through the principle of self regulation, has the responsibility to police its ranks and to promote that the working press will do excellent work for a nurturing public.  The public must be aware that attacking journalists should never be an option just because one feels that they erred or have been problematic in the lens of media freedom and responsibility.

How should the public in general and those subjects of erroneous and unfair reports in particular seek redress from the media?

Report or file complaints for their errors of omission and commission to their editors/publishers/ station managers or to self regulatory /media support organizations like the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the Philippine Press Institute, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, and Atong Press/Bukidnon Committee of the Press. Some of the subjects of public complaint have been suspended/ terminated or subjected to a specific disciplinary action. The important thing is they are reported, so that news community authorities can take proper action,

Journalists and news media organizations are obliged to correct erroneous reports.

Is truth searching and truth telling the sole responsibility of the press?

The citizens, too, have responsibilities and roles to play in the search for truth.  One, they must promote the truth. Two, they must profess the truth.  Three, they must help the press/news media in their search for the truth. The latter could be in the form of support, such as patronizing local media products and services. This support shall enable the news media to sustain its activities in truth telling. The citizens, too, can contribute to the work of the media by submitting Letters to the Editor, participating in on air discussions, or engage as a citizen journalist.  The citizens cannot just carp at the problems and challenges faced by members of the working press, they must also take responsible actions to be a part of the solution.

What are on going efforts to arrive at a dialogue among journalists and between journalists and the citizens?

Journalist organizations are organizing initiatives that protect and promote press freedom and push for responsible journalism as well. The Bukidnon commemoration of World Press Freedom Day is just a reminder for both journalists and the public for the need to protect press freedom in the community. Starting this year, some journalists formed groups like Atong Press to initiate efforts at building up the Bukidnon news media community.

Atong Press has organized media activities that promote responsible journalism and vigilance on press freedom. For the WPFD commemoration, Atong Press is organizing a media forum on Media Law: The Press and the Judiciary. A parade and Holy mass is also being organized.

In the near future, Atong Press plans to initiate the formation of the Bukidnon Committee of the Press, a local version of a press council as a multi sector body to help draw out development for the Bukidnon working press.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, too, has revived its Bukidnon chapter this year and has lined up activities for World Press Freedom Day. The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas Bukidnon chapter also has organized support activities and projects. There are also planned efforts to activate the Bukidnon Press Club.

We have rich dreams for the future of the Bukidnon news media. But to realize them, both the press and the public they ought to serve in general, have to work, and work real hard.[Source: http://www.atongpress.ning.com]

Teodoro’s take on peace: be practical

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro wants to approach peace with a “strong dose of practicality, pragmatism and political realism” as he questioned the approach of solving the root causes of conflict” because “has any society been able to solve the root causes of conflict?”

He told the 8th Mindanao Island Conference of the Provincial Board Members League of the Philippines on Wednesday night that the first lesson he learned in approaching the problem of peace and order is to do it with “the backing of some values and some idealism and with strong dose of practicality, pragmatism, and political realism”. Read More…

A paper fighting for survival

Cut-throat and new competition, lack of reliable marketing personnel, and the “global crisis” hit Bukidnon’s local newspaper over the past months.

To survive, a series of austerity waves splashed our small newsroom and over the past months it has affected operations.

Until one day, the publisher announced retrenchment or downsizing or whatever.

We will be forced to squeeze limited resources, go the extra mile, bid goodbye to some close colleagues just to stay alive.

This is the best time to do “magic” from little resources to big dreams. Read More…

Rethinking campus journalism

The better way to teach journalism in campus is to train them to write for life.

Perhaps, that’s a motherhood phrase.

What I really wanted to say is to go beyond competition mode.

The holding of competitions to test the skills of school children on campus journalism might have worked to a certain point.

But making the students practice campus journalism more might do miracles and fish more youth to the craft of factual reporting. Read More…

In Bukidnon, medicine supply woes traced to price

The lack of medicines in Bukidnon provincial hospitals and health stations has been blamed on failures in the bidding process, more specifically to the Capitol’s low approved budget for contract (ABC) or price index.

It was reportedly pegged at 2004 rates, a provincial legislative inquiry has discovered.

This seems a simple problem of public policy. But what could be the reaction of every Jose, Caring, and Juana when they are told about this in the front lines, say, in the out patient department of public hospitals?

The public, especially the indigents, are repeatedly being told of the “no available medicines” situation despite the province’s supposed “award-winning” flagship program on health. Read More…