A writer’s problem is to find a topic and effectively convey the message he wants to impart to his audience. Substance comes first then style. The subtlety or the loudness of the prose, depends on the subject in relation to the audience. It is for this reason that it is hard for any writer to marry journalism with creative writing. I’ve come to admire only two writers who have been able to do so; Nick Joaquin and national artist F. Sionil Jose (FSJ).
Former Inquirer editor John Nery (now a Rapplerette at “social news network” Rappler) devoted his maiden piece for Twitter newsletter service Revue to a defense of his new boss CEO Maria Ressa. In “A reply to F. Sionil Jose”, Nery takes aim at the umbrage FSJ took over Ressa’s award of this year’s Nobel “Peace Prize”. Nery first issues full disclosure of his close relationship with FSJ who, at one time, honoured him by writing a foreword for his book Revolutionary spirit : Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia. He then goes on to elaborate on what he describes as Jose’s “ungrounded, uncharitable, unbecoming criticism of Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize.”
Nery takes the low road attempting a point-by-point debunk over much of his newsletter of FSJ’s arguments against Ressa’s “Peace Prize” and the place she imagines herself to hold in the Philippines journalism community. In the end, however, he gravitates, like the loyal underling, to his boss’s hollow template thesis…
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F. Sionil Jose does not share the experience of a great many journalists in the Philippines who struggle with the effects of democratic decay almost every day: newsrooms intimidated by Duterte’s violence, reporters who work with public officials who internalize Duterte’s bias against the press, audiences that have turned aggressively hostile under Duterte’s influence, subjects and sources (especially those from outside the administration) who have been demonized by Duterte and his many agents.
Nery has a difficult time debunking claims made by the national artist because they have basis in facts. Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize is based on the opinion of the five-member Nobel committee and her journalist-activist colleagues in the country and abroad, who agree on one point; populist leaders have no place in their democratic space as they define it, regardless of what the public sentiment is. Never mind that Duterte is a duly-elected President of the Republic and never mind that Maria Ressa’s opinion isn’t shared by the greater majority of Filipinos. Never mind that Maria Ressa herself, is not a bonafide Filipino citizen.
One then wonders what Nick Joaquin’s opinion of Maria Ressa’s Nobel Prize would be. What of Louie Beltran? Max Soliven? The still living Eggie Apostol? Larry Henares? These are journalists who called it as they saw it. Beltran and Henares went at then President Cory Aquino from the beginning. It was His Immensity, as Henares baptized Beltran, who first came out with his parody columns on the Republic of Banana, its insulares, peninsulares, parian, the Council of Trent, and the Opus Dei. These were the days when journalists had principles and stood up for them. They also left it to the public to be the judge of the news, except for the time of Ferdinand Marcos when all of them were against him for having the audacity to shut them down during martial law.
Nery is actually indulging himself in a bit of creative writing with his depiction of journalists belonging to leftist-militant groups who have been detained and charged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Up to today, the liberals still can’t get it in their heads that an insurgency is a war against the government and the government has the right to defend itself within the bounds of law. The Nobel Prize for Maria Ressa couldn’t have come at a better time. The Opposition has made it an election issue and so it’s up to the people to judge the politicians who have come out in support of Ressa. But it does say a lot when Rappler is one of the least trusted news outlets in the country today.
Rappler will not close down anytime soon. Not for lack of funds because it is amply funded by foreign interests. What does it say about its journalists when they can’t recognize this fact? The paycheck and the status in exchange for their patriotism is the deal, it seems. There is that oft-repeated maxim that rich Filipinos want to become Spaniards while poor Filipinos want to become Americans. The slap in the face of Duterte, as they claim, is also a collective slap on the Filipinos who voted him into office. Nery and Ressa should be wary because these Filipinos might just slap them back on election day.
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