GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 11 April) – In a 43-minute press conference at the Crowne Hotel in Pasig City last April 3, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, following its en banc “ceremonial opening of their first official meeting”, met the Manila media to brief them about the TransCom but got waylaid instead with questions on the Sabah issue (MindaNews, April 4, 2013; Luwaran, April 6).
Writes MindaNews editor Carolyn O. Arguillas: “The moderator of the press conference had to butt in to remind reporters that the press conference was not about Sabah but about the Transition Commission (TransCom). … But reporters …pressed on, with more than half of the 43-minute press briefing spent on questions about the Sabah crisis and Malaysia …”.
Sabah was the Manila media’s primary interest: “In fact, the press conference, aired liver over ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) started and ended with questions on Sabah, even as MILF peace panel chair and concurrent TransCom chair Mohagher Iqbal had repeatedly said it is ‘not part of the agenda’ of the GPH-MILF peace process but a ‘bilateral issue between the Philippine government and Malaysia’.” (bold ours)
Recalling my active years in news reporting from mid-1950s with The Mindanao Cross until I closed my short-lived Mindanao Kris in February 1996, I would remember many frustrating off-course press conferences or interviews. Out of the blue, reporters would shoot questions as diverse and unrelated as the ETs swooping down in their UFOs. Usually only the curiosities of reporters, not the issues that mattered, were satisfied. Exclusive interviews had always been my preference.
Back then, local reporters could be excused for their rambling questions. Most had no formal training; in fact many could hardly write reckoned from journalistic and English standards. However, even then reporters from national media covering some important events, disregarding common interest on the events, would interrupt and divert the coherent flow of the interview with self-satisfying questions
The April 3 press conference vividly showed the incorrigible state of the Manila media. That was not an ambush interview where they could shoot any question but one on a specific subject: What the Transition Commission is all about that the nation must know. In being present at the dual event, media was performing their primary duty to inform. Did the reporters properly prepare themselves for the occasion?
From what transpired during the press conference, it was evident that the reporters of Manila media – and by implication the Manila media – were not interested in the Transition Commission, much less in the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro signed last October 15 except for whatever sensational news that might arise from either the success or failure to end the Moro Problem. They perceived that by infusing Sabah into the peace process they can scoop sensational news.
But they only manifested their arrogance and impertinence, if not boorishness. That they ignored the moderator’s reminder that the press conference was about the Transition Commission, not Sabah and the repeated clarification by TransCom and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and other TransCom members that Sabah is not part of the agenda of the Commission and of the peace process was arrogance. Insisting in effect that they were right was impertinence.
At one point, despite patient explanations that “… Sabah … is not an issue in the peace negotiation…” so the question whether “Sabah and how to settle it” will be mentioned in the Basic Law “is very difficult … to answer”, a reporter insisted in his question: “But will it be in the Basic Law?”
TransCom and MILF panel member Maulana Alonto and another TransCom member Johaira Wahab invoked the popular saying, “We will cross the bridge when we reach there.” The reporter shot back, “The bridge is already there.”
That was a boorish way of arguing with the TransCom chair and members and a “No, no” in the cardinal rules of interview. For reporters to ask questions not to clarify facts but to confirm their stand on an issue is part of the “No, no”.
Media reports confirmed the attitude and principal interest of reporters in attending the TransCom opening rites and press conference. The headlines and leads were on media concern of how the TransCom would address the Sabah issue. Some narrations about TransCom and its task were tucked in merely replicating Iqbal’s opening remarks.
Iqbal in outlining the MILF’s view of the Transition Commission stated its imperatives and the five-point vision of the Bangsamoro government. These were supposed to be the focus of the questions at the press conference for the TransCom chair and members to elucidate. Of that the moderator reminded the Sabah-anxious reporters at the outset.
The April 4 Philippine Daily Inquirer report (Bangsamoro transition body tiptoed around Sabah issue) showed the Manila media’s frame of mind:
“[T]he barrage of questions thrown by the media at the 15 members of the commission led by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, [were] mainly about what the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, in crafting the Basic Law, could do to help resolve the long-standing Sabah issue.
“It appeared that none of the commission’s answers, including Iqbal, could satisfy the reporters’ questions about the Sabah being claimed by the Sulu Sultanate, a major stakeholder in the Bangsamoro community.”
Most interesting to note: Per PDI report, the Manila media want the TransCom to provide in the Bangsamoro Basic Law a solution to the Sabah question since the Sulu Sultanate is a major stakeholder in the Bangsamoro community. How sane is that thinking?
The TransCom must have looked up to the Manila media for information assistance during this critical phase in the implementation of the FAB. That must have been one of the reasons – perhaps the primary reason – for holding in Metro Manila its opening ceremony and the press conference immediately after.
However, to be waylaid with questions on Sabah and in media reports to be cited or quoted way out of context to compromise or derail the mandate of TransCom must have been most frustrating on the part of the TransCom chair and members, Government, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and all others deeply involved in the peace process. (Patricio P. Diaz / MindaNews)