Coloma tells Palace reporters: Always fight for a free press
MANILA — “Never again should there be prior restraint on the exercise of freedom of expression or of the press.”
This was Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma’s parting shots as he bade goodbye, on Tuesday, to members of the Malacañang Press Corps.
With the Duterte administration already having an adversarial relationship with reporters, President Aquino’s chief spokesperson exhorted the media to stand firm on the untrammeled exercise of press freedom.
“Let us continue to uphold and protect press freedom,” Coloma said in his farewell message at his last press briefing in the Palace, wrapping up a high-profile job as head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
“Finally, we need to reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy,” stressed Coloma.
“We must not drop our guard nor waiver in our vigilance,” he added.
Coloma himself experienced being deprived of his freedom during martial law.
“In my younger days, I experienced first-hand the loss of my personal freedom as a political detainee under martial law. As a campus journalist, I witnessed a dark period in our history when citizens were deprived of freedom of expression and of the press,” he said.
But at the same time, Coloma said he saw no need for the government and the media to be enemies.
“They can work together for the sake of the country. What is important is to understand context and perspective in reporting the news and delivering information,” he said.
“While it is true that it is the duty of media to be a watchdog of the public against possible government abuse, it is equally true that media can be a critical partner of government in public communication,” he said.
He noted that the media had often been critical and vocal in their opposition to actions and decisions of government.
“In the crucible of day to day dynamics of the body politic, we engage each other in spirited and intense discussion. All that we asked was for you to understand context and perspective,” he said.
He also spoke of the importance of the commitment to the truth for the media, which has always meant to be accuracy and getting the facts right.
“For if we report what is not true, or if we report without diligently checking our facts, don’t we run the risk of losing credibility?” he added.
Duterte has vowed not grant media interviews until the end of his term to avoid mistakes, after bristling at the call of an international media group to boycott the President-elect.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called for the media boycott over Duterte’s remarks that seemingly justified the killings of “corrupt” media practitioners.
Coloma noted that for President Aquino, the most important change he had accomplished was bringing back “hope, trust and honor to Filipinos.”
The media played a role in this effort by helping the administration communicate better with the public, he said.
Coloma said that under his watch, operations of the People’s Television Network, National Printing Office and the Asian Productivity Organization Production Unit improved.
For instance, the NPO is now a self-sustaining agency and was able to print the ballots for the 2016 elections in a record 42 days, he pointed out.
“The hoped for reforms could be achieved if there are clear goals and strong determination,” he said.
PTV was bankrupt, had dilapidated equipment and hardly any funds for the salaries of its staff members when he arrived, he noted.
But with passage of a new law allocating fresh capital in the station and allowing it to air commercial ads, it made a turnaround, he said.
The NPO was also in poor condition at the start, and did not even have an efficient printing press, said Coloma.
Now, the NPO is a self-sustaining agency and was able to print the ballots for the 2016 elections in a record 42 days, he pointed out.
APO, on the other hand, had been used as a private printing press for campaign materials of some officials and their relatives, he said.
Now, under professional management, it has put up a high-security printing plant in Batangas which produces BIR revenue stamps and the electronic passports for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Coloma also said he had no regrets holding the position of communications chief, and described Mr. Aquino as a “very human and humane boss.”
Mr. Aquino, he said, never overstepped his bounds and had always treated members of his Cabinet in a gentlemanly manner.
An outstanding trait of the chief executive, he said, was his focus, which helped him maintain his objectivity and equanimity, he added. SFM
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