Ressa’s reckless ‘rappling’

“Rappler”, a portmanteau word coined from “rap” and “ripple”, is the name of a fledgling web site that describes itself as a “a social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change”, and whose team promises “uncompromised journalism that—hopefully—inspires smart conversations and ignites a thirst for change”. Such statements betoken the hand of its CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa, a veteran journalist and the former chief of the News and Current Affairs Division of ABS-CBN, where her significant contributions included the citizen journalism campaign “Boto Mo iPatrol Mo”. If Ressa’s recent behavior is any indication, however, Rappler may not so much stimulate dialogue as stifle it. Although silence, in all fairness, is certainly an example of change in our generally disorderly democracy, is this the kind of change that is warranted?

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Blogger Katrina Stuart Santiago had earlier published “Going to the dogs“, in which she stated her opinion on the discussion generated by a heated dispute between Rappler and the University of Santo Tomas (UST)—a dispute that was caused by a controversial story written by Rappler editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug. Over the course of the post, Santiago raised what I believe to be important questions regarding the brave new world of online media and the directions that public discourse on such media needs—and has yet—to take. When said post was brought to Ressa’s attention via a Twitter update, however, Ressa did not only take exception to Santiago’s view that Rappler revealed a pro-administration bias by featuring the recently launched, meme-friendly tourism campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” without investigating its costs, among others. In addition, Ressa pulled rank as a professional journalist and proceeded to imply that Santiago was guilty of libel: reckless moves that are utterly injurious to the digital citizenship that Ressa purports to be a passionate advocate of.

Surely someone of Ressa’s stature needs no reminding that, in these islands, libel has all too often been used as a weapon with which to harass media workers—a notorious wielder is former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, who, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), filed more than 50 cases against 46 journalists starting in 2003, before electing to drop all charges in 2007 as a putative gesture of peace toward the press—including her own Rappler colleague Vitug.  More to the point, surely someone of Ressa’s stature needs no reminding that it behooves one to fully comprehend a text before rapping out statements rippling with ire: Ressa was offended—misguidedly so—by Santiago’s supposed suggestion that Rappler had been paid to do a story on “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, when in fact Santiago’s statement was, “Rappler has quietly revealed itself to be about helping out government instead of being a critical voice that at the very least asks: how much was paid [to BBDO Guerrero, the advertising agency behind] the campaign and is it worth it? I guess no questions like that for ‘uncompromised journalism’ now tagging itself as ‘citizen journalism’.”

Whether one agrees with Santiago’s attribution of bias—my own (perhaps potentially libelous) guess would be that Rappler was motivated primarily, if not exclusively, by a desire to drive up site traffic—this unfortunate episode bodes ill not only for the state of literacy in the country, but also for the future of the local mediascape. Can intelligent conversations and positive social changes possibly take place in an environment populated by denizens who, cleaving to Ressa’s inglorious example, refuse to read well, bristle at the slightest expression of disapproval, reject calls to become self-reflexive and accountable, and betray no qualms about ascribing malice to parties with whom they disagree?

The situation at hand becomes particularly interesting when one considers it vis-à-vis a recent piece by Ressa, in which she serves up the high “power-distance index” (PDI) of the Philippines as the reason that members of the intelligence community did not object to President Aquino’s initiation of countermeasures against a terrorist threat of questionable credibility. The PDI is a measure of the extent to which the less powerful in a given society accept and expect the unequal distribution of power. (It may be worth remarking that Ressa fails to contextualize the PDI within the larger theory of the dimensions of national culture formulated by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, or to acknowledge that said theory, in spite of its usefulness and influence, is hardly the last word in the study of culture.) Ressa asserts that the PDI of the country “helps explain why Filipinos have such respect for authority; why people ‘know their place;’ why true debate in an organization rarely happens if it includes the boss”.

While Ressa’s conclusion to her article seems to show that she frowns on the character of the relationships that a high PDI tends to produce—she warns those in authority that they need to “gather information and guard even more against [their] knee-jerk reactions and biases” because their subordinates “will rarely contradict [them]—even if [they’re] wrong”—Ressa herself appears to be the best illustration of the Philippine PDI, or, more accurately, what happens when heretofore unchallenged PDI assumptions are suddenly breached.


Note: Angela Stuart Santiago believes that a “public apology via social media is in order” but doesn’t know if Ressa is up to it. Read her take in “Calling out Ressa“.

[This post was earlier published in my blog, Random Salt.]

Subsidies (not studies) for the skills mismatch

A national apprenticeship program that provides subsidies to both employers and employees in areas where a skills mismatch has occurred would fix the problem.

The president in answering the questions submitted and rated by viewers on Youtube reiterated many of his “talking points” during his second State of the Nation Address. This comment was raised by many viewers of the 43 minute “Ask PNoy” event co-hosted by World View and the ABS-CBN News Channel.

The very first question asked concerned the plight of millions of Filipinos who seek employment overseas because of a lack of opportunities at home. The president’s reply was to cite the same statistic he noted during his SONA with regard to the skills mismatch of about fifty to sixty thousand job openings on the government’s PhilJobs.net website that have remained unfilled (see video below–at around the 1.30 minute mark to about the 3.30 minute).

The president’s solution as he declared during his speech last July was to instruct the agencies concerned to study ways to address this imbalance through the educational system. This is well and good, but the immediate concern of filling these vacancies, plus the prevailing unemployment of close to three million Filipinos needs to be addressed soon, not down the track.

During his interview, the president spoke of various government sponsored programs: (1) to address the need for “green” energy by replacing thousands of diesel powered engines and vehicles that make up our transport infrastructure, (2) to provide thousands of housing units to soldiers and policemen to address the peace and order situation in the countryside, (3) to beef up our coastline security through a defense modernization fund, and (4) to expand social insurance through conditional cash grants to indigent families to address intergenerational poverty.

But when it comes to addressing the first imperative of any government which is to provide jobs, jobs, jobs, it seems the solutions are not as solid or programmed, as such. A very quick and do-able solution would be for the government to provide employment and training subsidies to the firms unable to fill job vacancies.

The purpose of this subsidy would be to defray part of the costs of training cadets or apprentices on the role they will fill within the firms seeking to employ them. Part of this  subsidy could go to the employer to help pay for the wages of unskilled apprentices and trainees while they undergo a period of formal schooling, on-the-job training, or a combination of both.

This could last for a period of between eighteen-to-thirty-six months. To qualify for such a subsidy, the employer would have to show that an advertised job vacancy remained unfilled by qualified workers after a period of say six-to-nine months.

Another part of the subsidy could go to the apprentice or trainee for such things as transportation, uniforms, tools (if needed for the job) and other similar work-related expenses. Formal contracts of training would stipulate the responsibilities of each party under such a scheme and reviewed periodically.

Fifty-to-sixty thousand internet job ads on the government's website are not filled according to employment officials.

Fifty-to-sixty thousand unfilled vacancies is nothing to sneeze at. It constitutes about two percent of the nearly three million unemployed members of the workforce.  It would cost around one-and-a-half billion pesos annually to provide a two-and-a-half thousand peso subsidy per trainee each month (thirty thousand a year) assuming all of these vacancies are filled via this approach. That is a rounding error in the government’s total budget of over one trillion pesos.

It would provide presumably high paying, sustainable jobs in the end–something that social insurance programs cannot boast of. Surely with the “savings” PNoy was quite happy to highlight during his interview such an “investment” in people’s human potential would be worth making. Surely a new initiative such as this with a very modest budget impact and a significant contribution to raising employment would have earned the president praise from all sides (both employers and employees included). So why shouldn’t he do it?

That question sadly remains unanswered, but if the president were to temporarily overcome his strong aversion to criticism as he expressed by way of a Christmas wish to Santa towards the end of the interview, I am sure it could be made to work real soon.

Was Uranium sold in the Philippines?

A billet of highly enriched uranium that was recovered from scrap processed at the Y-12 National Security Complex Plant. Original and unrotated.

ABS-CBN quoted wikileaks that Uranium was allegedly smuggled into the Philippines.  The circumstances surrounding the reveal sounded like something out of a spy thriller.  This is one of those instances where the use of Wikileaks could easily be taken out of context.

It is a case study of when not to use Wikileaks.

The ABS-CBN story does not delve deeper into the cables, if there were any related documents associated with it; or to point whether the situation was resolved or not from the cables.  It seemed rather reckless to publish something this sensitive, without telling us some deeper context surrounding the incident– if that is at all possible.   The intelligence report could easily have been discarded or deemed false.

What’s even more appalling is how some associate “nuclear,” with evil.  Radioactive material that could, in theory be used for evil routinely enter and are actively used in the Philippines (and elsewhere).  These radioactive material are used in Oncology for example.  Cobalt-60 sources are used in the country for treating such cases as head and neck cancers, as well as treating food to increase shelf life.  Low Dose Brachytherapy (Greek for short distance), which is implanting Radioactive material in the form of “seeds,” to fight prostate cancer is also used by medical professionals.  High dose rate Brachytherapy uses Iridum 192 to deliver therapeutic dose through catheters and needles.  The country also has a few machines that have Caesium 137 which in turn is used to fight Graft versus Host Disease.

It is a highly regulated industry, with rigid safety standards, and people from businesses to staff to government who take all these things seriously.  For example, doctors and medical personnel are routinely licensed and trained in its safe handling.  Engineers who maintain, and install them are likewise certified first, and properly trained.  Hospital and engineers have geiger counters, and radiation badges to ensure safety.

All radioactive material that comes through our airports are screened and safely transported.

This national culture against anything nuclear is outrageous.  Nuclear energy is also one of the safest in the world, and could potentially solve the country’s energy problem.  It really is shameful how a nation such us ours is horrified at even the thought of nuclear energy.  We simply believe it to be evil.

A story by ABS-CBN on the possibility that the sale of illicit uranium in the Philippines, without delving deeper into whether or not there is a story, or the cable was simply disregarded for whatever reason is just irresponsible.  It simply gives people the wrong idea and one of the times when real investigative journalism needs to take center stage to explain and to inform the public, and not to alarm it.

Photo: public domain.

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You and the 1986 EDSA People Power

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Humiliation and Recriminations

Two theories seek to explain the events of August 23rd, but just how valid are they?

Amid the humiliation and recriminations following the botched operation to rescue the Hong Kong tourists held hostage on board a bus hijacked by a disgruntled ex-cop at Rizal Park, there are two theories often cited as to why it ended the way it did. Read more