Perceptions of Mindanao are influenced by how educational institutions teach history and also by the media.
“All these years, I was blind to the beauty of Mindanao because (being) Manila-based, (I learned little about it from) reading the newspapers, listening to radio, or watching television. We do not know that Mindanao is rich in history and natural resources. All we know is it is a very dangerous place,” said Mary Rose Adeva, a junior journalism student at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.
“Teachers can pass on their ignorance to hundreds of students but media have millions to influence every second of the day,” pointed out Carolyn Arguillas, a veteran and multi-awarded Mindanao journalist.
Mindanao is usually described as “conflict-ridden.” One isolated incident is reported as “violence in Mindanao.”
The death of 19 soldiers in Al-Barkah, Basilan, during an encounter with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in October was described by some media groups as “massacre” and “slaughter.” The loaded words were used out of context according to Ed Lingao, multimedia director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
Media’s sensationalism was criticized by different sectors in the country. Following the incident, young professionals and volunteers of the nongovernment organization Peace through Technology (PeaceTech) organized “Media Now for Peaceful Mindanao: A Forum on Peace Reporting” at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, in cooperation with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
The event coincided with the celebration of Mindanao Week of Peace and Islamic New Year 1433.
Fifty-five communication students from Metro Manila universities were introduced to the concept of peace journalism.
Lingao said many reporters did not feel the need to understand what the fighting was about in Mindanao. He said even more strange and tragic was they did not know there was a difference between war and conflict reporting.
War reporting, he said, was about what was happening while conflict reporting focused on what was happening as a result of what happened before and what was happening still.
War reporting was what many reporters did as, Lingao pointed out, it was easy to just get the number of casualties and identify parties involved. As a result, the conflict became a mere police blotter report or a crime story.
Some reporters thought understanding the historical nuances of the insurgency in Mindanao was difficult and complicated.
Television reporter Chino Gaston said Manila broadcast journalists went to Mindanao with a distorted perspective.
He admitted that action-packed and compelling videos were given priority in TV news broadcast. But, he added, “It’s my responsibility to read, research, and appreciate different solutions for me to have a (proper) perspective when I tell stories. It’s (to help) the people have an informed public opinion.”
Lingao reminded the future media practitioners that the biggest battles would not be in the frontline. “They will be in the newsrooms, where you will fight for the stories that deserve to be told,” he said.
Media now for Mindanao
Malou Mangahas, executive director of PCIJ, urged participants to be active media consumers. Being young was not an excuse to be passive about issues affecting their communities, she said. Social media had empowered citizen journalism.
OPAPP Assistant Secretary Jehanne Mutin said it was high time people understood and cared about the problem in Mindanao. “Every Filipino is a stakeholder in the peace process. The Philippines is being pulled back by the war in Mindanao.”
Speakers told the audience that, contrary to popular belief, the problem in Mindanao was not a religious conflict. The root of the problem was historical injustices, including land-grabbing that went back to the time of colonialism.
Lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic, a Moro author and human rights advocate, said both Christians and Muslims loved peace. “There is no problem about our faith in God. We are of the same race but hostilities have widened the gap.”
Tasneem Abdul Rauf, a PeaceTech Manila ambassador who was also with OPAPP, encouraged other educated youth to use their skills, interests and passion in peace-building and nation-building.
“Use freedom of speech and freedom of the press responsibly. Use what powers you have to empower others. Help in addressing miscommunication, misunderstanding, and correcting wrong perceptions.”
Benjamin Nathaniel Bondoc, a senior mass communication student at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, recited this pledge for peace: “As a future journalist, I pledge to tell only the truth behind every story. It is because it is in truth that I express respect. It is because, when you are accurate, you tell it right and everyone learns from it. May peace and truth always prevail through responsible and peace journalism.”