Sunday, October 30, 2011

My little man's tough weekend

Elmo came as a zombie to his school's Halloween party. I don't know if he quite pulled it off. He would lose his favorite toy in a matter of hours.

This was taken in Trinoma in mid-September. For several weeks Elmo asked to stop by at some toy kiosk where he just ogled the robots. He waited a month before I surprised him with his wish. In turn, he promised to smile for every picture I took of him.

Bumblebee in all his glory.

Last week at Robinsons after watching Real Steel. Elmo loved his dinner companion, who could only look on.

Today our first stop after his tooth extraction was to get a vanilla ice cream cone from 7-11.

The weekend started off well enough for my little guy, Elmo. He went to school Friday for his Halloween party in his PE uniform (I refused to spend a centavo on a silly Halloween costume)but I drew some blood stains on both sides of his mouth with an old lipstick. He brought a taisan loaf and a big bag of popcorn -- his "food to share".

When I picked him up at noon, however, he did not look too happy. He started to tell me how many of the third graders lost their money/ wallets. There was a thief at school that day, he said.

"Pati si Bumblebee..." he said, his face crumbling and his eyes filling with tears. This was as we were crossing the street back to our apartment.

Bumblebee, of course, was the Transformer toy, alternating between robot and car, that I had bought for him -- at the princely sum of P700 -- less than two weeks before. I don't usually buy toys for the children, but on this one I relented because I had noticed how Elmo stared longingly at the same model every time we passed by a store. And, kulit (harmless mischief) aside, he had been a good boy.

He had been scared I would be angry. Of course I was angry, but I figured his grief was far greater than my anger. He told me he had left the toy on his desk when his class went to another room to see a movie. When they returned, it was not there.

(This morning, our exchange:
E: Sana mamatay na yung kumuha ng toy ko. Madami pa sya ibang kinuha. [I hope whoever took my toy dies. He did many other bad things].
A: Anak, maghunos-dili ka! [Son, don't take it to that extreme!])

I felt sad leaving him when I went to work. After a few hours, he chatted with me on Facebook to tell him that he was being fetched to spend the night at his father's house. I felt my heart tear a little. I missed him already.

And I was glad he asked to be brought to me early Saturday morning. His violin class for the day had been cancelled, but he had an appointment with the dentist for a tooth extraction. We were supposed to go after lunch, but we went at five pm instead because it was just so darn hot outside in the early afternoon (actually it's after midnight, and it's still hot. And it's late October???)

What a traumatic experience he and I both had at the dentist's office! I could not bear to see him in pain and hear him crying out. The dentist said the problematic tooth was attached rather deeply to his gum.

I was holding his foot the whole time (the dental assistant had his head locked in place). My eyes were closed, too, and I wished our point of contact would transmit the pain so I could feel it and he could not.

We were supposed to go to the mall after, but Elmo needed to rest. So we just ate ice cream at a 7-11 and went home. I simply gave him unlimited play time on my computer.

We then talked about "serious" things -- what ifs, what nots. I asked whether he still wanted me to return to the big house. He wondered how a child would feel if his parents had other partners already. I told him I did not even conceive of the computer when I was his age. He wondered what things would already be possible when he's as old as I am. Teleporting, maybe? Type "SM" into your computer, press your head against the monitor, and step out into your desired destination?

He fell asleep, finally, beside me, with a pack of ice still pressed to his left jaw. Oh dear, I love this dude. I remember the grand time we two had just last Saturday, watching a movie, eating Mongolian food with kwek kwek, killing time at Cinnabon, him holding his then-one week old Bumblebee everywhere he was, talking, leaning on each other's head during our two-hour bus ride home.

Tomorrow, he's going with me to my office. I look forward to another day with my bunso.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Liza's ladies

Coffee and cake with Nik and Rai -- we've never done this before!

Posing with a pumpkin along the SM Skygarden

I have three half-sisters by my late mother Liza. Shelby, 28. Unica, 27. Raissa, almost 25. We did not grow up together because I remained with my grandmother when Mom started a family of her own, when I was 7. They had their own house which was not far from where I lived with Lola. Still, because our homes were different, I grew up feeling as though Mom were an aunt and my sisters were mere cousins. When Mom died in 1992, the girls' father, Tatay Rudy, whisked them off to his hometown in Pampanga to parcel them out to his relatives while he worked.

My, how they have grown.

I met up with Unik and Raissa tonight after work. Raissa, a management trainee for Chowking (a branch somewhere in Pampanga), was in town for a seminar. Unik, who works at the broadcast equipment department of TV5, took off early from work to see Raissa. Unik was in a celebratory mood, because she, her partner and their two children would finally be moving out of her in-laws' house into a place of their the end of the month!

We missed Mom (she died on Unik's 8th birthday, when Rai was not quite 6 years old) as well as Shelby, who does not even have a Facebook account with which to keep up. Shelby is a great singer but she dropped out of engineering school when she became pregnant. She married the father and had two more babies, under not-so-ideal circumstances.

There was not much time. Unik's partner Neal, who acted as photographer, still had to go to work at midnight. Rai still had to go back to Pampanga. (She had planned on taking a leave tomorrow and spending the night at my house, but her boss called, saying she was needed at the branch early Thursday). We did have time for coffee, some catching up, and a lot of pictures.

Mom would have gotten a kick out of the spur-of-the-moment, short, but sweet reunion.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

At their expense

published 26 Oct 2011, Manila Standard Today, page A5

Many Filipinos honored teachers earlier this month. On October 5, Teachers’ Day, we paid tribute to our teachers and reminded them that their chosen profession is not thankless. Indeed, teachers play a big role in the molding of a child—and in the grand scheme, a nation.
But while we express appreciation where it is due, so must we call attention to some practices that give teaching a bad name.

Take for instance an incident at a so-called progressive school in Antipolo City. The issue is magnified by the immediate, interactive effects of social networking.

What happened was this: Two national athletes were invited to speak before elementary students in this school. After the talk, the students were assigned to write some sort of reaction/reflection paper on the event for their English class.

The students, however, had the misfortune of being under a certain teacher—let us call her Teacher D—who made no secret of her amusement at the children’s compositions. In fact, she was so amused that she posted several status updates on Facebook (where she is friends with some of her students) using phrases from the children’s work.

Worse, at least two of her co-teachers joined the online banter.

Teacher D was “careful” not to put the children’s names as she referred to their work. Even so, she headlined her post with the phrase “Quotable Quotes”. She goes on: “Here are some award-winning statements from the Grade 4-6 students’ write up…” For every quote, Teacher D had a counter-statement: A sarcastic remark, a put-down question. Maybe she was trying to be cute or funny. Either way, she forgot—or just did not care—that Facebook was a public realm.

She also wrote, in a subsequent post, that checking those papers was exhausting because she had to take a break every so often to laugh. She said she should get a separate pay for checking those papers alone. Why, she even ranked the Top 10 papers—not that they were the best, but that they were the funniest.

For example, Teacher D says, in one thread: “Hehehe yang batang si ** (initials of a student), marami nang nasabing dapat inipon at ginawang libro. (That kid has said so many things that should have been compiled and turned into a book).”


A parent was able to forward some of the actual exchanges to me. She copied them from the Facebook wall of her child, who was friends with Teacher D.

This parent has sent a letter to the school administrators, complaining about Teacher D’s thoughtless acts on Facebook aside from her behavior in class. This week she was able to talk to the school head who told her that Teacher D was on leave for a full week and that the two other teachers—who apparently shared their colleague’s amusement—had apologized to the students for the behavior. The school official would not say whether this was a suspension, careful as they are as well about violating the teacher’s labor rights. Moreover, students have been asked to unfriend their teachers and just maintain communications through the school’s official account.

Indeed there is no law that prohibits teachers from talking to one another about the details of their job. It’s a fact of life that we talk about our work with our colleagues. Sometimes we poke jokes at one another or people we come into contact with. We air our grievances. But we do so in private conversation —not on Facebook where just about anybody can follow your posts. These days, you have to assume everything you say online makes a digital mark that can never be erased.

Teachers have often been extolled for their sacrificing nature. They forego many opportunities for personal betterment for mere love of what they do. We have heard countless stories about how this teacher helped this child cope with personal problems, believe in himself/ herself, reach for a dream.

What this story tells us is that teachers are human as well. They are given to ill temper, favoritism, and sarcasm. They can get childish and not think of the consequences of their actions.

What matters then is how they own up to their actions, accept the consequences, do something to repair the damage they had caused and ensure it does not happen again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Elmo and the sacraments

Elmo gets ready to receive his first communion. I'm not sure he gets it all, though. Then again, he doesn't have to.

First confession. Elmo looks adorable -- and all innocent -- even from the back.

Elmo does not have any pictures from his baptismal party. That's because he had none.

In December 2002, when he was six months old, our family was just getting back on track after his father had been retrenched from his job in Singapore. I had just resumed working, myself, and did not have any savings. So one Sunday we decided a baptism was more important than a baptismal party. We took Elmo to church and had his brother and sisters occupy the entire pew meant for godparents. I did scribble some names on the information sheet at the parish office. And then we drove off to Max's for a simple lunch for six.

Elmo is nine now, and he will be having his first holy communion in a few hours. Our conditions today are very much different. So are my religious thoughts and practices.

The kids and I don't go to Sunday mass or pray the rosary. We have only one religious relic -- a small statue of the Holy Family given us by my erstwhile dad-in-law -- in our apartment. We don't talk about our Catholic faith. We generally agree that the Bible is not a faithful chronicle of historical events. What we talk about is the superiority of openness to any faith or idea. We know that our being Catholic is an accident of birth that does not make us any better or worse than the next fellow.

Why is Elmo still taking his communion? I asked him this and he told me: "Why, Mom, because you said so."

Why do I say so?

It is always good to begin somewhere. After all, I myself was born and raised a Catholic. When I was a kid, my Lola used to read aloud a chapter from the Old Testament -- in Tagalog - every night. We listened to a radio show that always culminated in prayer, where the listeners had to put their left hand on the radio and raise their right as if reaching for the hand of God. I spent sixteen years in Catholic educational institutions.

I did not turn out so bad.

I admit I am what one would call a cafeteria Catholic, choosing only the aspect of the faith which do not come into conflict with my own beliefs and practices. I am averse to rituals. I was not married in Catholic rites (a relief!) I admit, too, that this state is a result of my exposure to double-speaking cerrado Catolicos: pious outside, rotten inside. On the other hand, I am secure in my spirituality. I believe in a god -- although I hesitate to tag him, her or it as Allah, God the father, Jesus Christ, etc. I believe I am a good person, and I am one just because -- not because I dream "of the gates of heaven and dread the gates of hell."

Later, I would wish for Elmo to have this same kind of serene acceptance and inner strength. If he finds it elsewhere, outside of this faith he was born to, then that is good. But that would be for later, when he is able to think, evaluate and decide for himself.

For now, he's just a boy, and here is a good foundation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Memory gap

Sometimes I worry I will have Alzheimer's disease later on in my life.

Today I brought Elmo to the barber shop -- two houses away from my place -- and forgot all about him. When I dropped him off, I told the barber that I would be back in 15 minutes. He was still cutting somebody else's hair, but Elmo was next. I told Elmo I needed to do some other things in the house.

When I arrived at home, only Sophie was in the living room. I asked her how her quarter exams went. I forget now what she was watching, but I watched TV with her for a while. And then I went online to see my friends' reactions to the photos I had posted on Facebook earlier that morning. I also checked my mail and noted, happily, that two columnists out of five had submitted well before the deadline. Maybe I could finish work early tonight. I looked at my blog statistics and wondered who my regular readers were.

And then a clean-cut, slightly more rounded-looking Elmo appeared at the door. He walked back home on his own. Jesus. What kind of mother am I? I remembered reading a Pulitzer prize-winning piece about parents who forgot that their children were in their cars. Is this not the same offense, only on a different scale and a decidedly different consequence?

That I was supposed to return for Elmo completely escaped me. I somehow thought he was upstairs with Bea, playing with his robots or watching Transformers trailers on YouTube.

Yesterday, I was one of the first customers in the newly-opened Nuat Thai massage place on the street near my office. I opted for the pressure-point, "dry" approach, but I brought along my favorite balm for maximum relief. I've been having problems with my left hip and hamstring for a year now, aside from (or as a result of?) my mild-to-moderate scoliosis. When the massage was over, I sipped my complimentary hot tea and saw that the attendant had put the balm beside the mattress. When I was about to pay, she asked me whether I saw the balm. I said no, I did not take it, and she went back into the room to fetch it. But she could not find the balm -- and guess what? It was in my jeans pocket. What I remembered was SEEING it, not TAKING it.

There are many other instances that I wonder whether I am just growing old, just too busy -- am I not making enough lists? -- or headed for dementia. My problem is that cannot remember any more of those instances right now.

Odd man out

I am home this morning doing more spring cleaning and I have decided to turn off the tv. CNN and BBC are all over the Gaddhafi story. CNN even caught a new video, taken a bit earlier than what was shown last night, of a visibly alive though bloodied Gaddhafi surrounded by rebels. How exactly he moved from point A (alive) to point B (dead) is still being established. There are different versions and speculations.

When they are not playing this video or showing that of Hillary Clinton exclaiming "Wow!" as she read the news from her Blackberry, they talk about the former dictator's eccentricity. He surrounds himself with beautiful young Caucasian nurses, hates to stay on air more than a few hours, hates to stay above the ground floor of any building, likes to erect a tent when he's in a foreign country, rambles, dresses flamboyantly and is, really, just crazy.

Of course, people can forgive crazy. What they can't forgive is cruelty, suppression and cold-blooded murder both within Libya's borders and outside of it. The international community remembers West Berlin or Lockerbie. The Libyan people, more. Much more.

I wrote about this because what struck me most in that latest video (which I will NOT use here) is the confused look on Gaddhafi's face. Earlier he had been found hiding in a sewage pipe, like a rat. He had a golden pistol with him but he reportedly uttered to the rebels: "Don't shoot." Why did he look confused? Did he really and truly disbelieve that people could hate him that much?

It's over now, for him. But not for the Libyans, or for any other country that successfully throws out an unwanted leader. The next challenge -- of rebuilding, and making sure one does not fall into the same traps -- is much more daunting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Outrage, occupancy and flight

In despair, Filipinos do not occupy streets and parks. They leave altogether.

It started as a random show of indignation on September 17 in New York City. Occupy Wall Street is a form of people power that fights “...the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.” (

The movement aims to expose how the richest 1 percent of population “who are writing the rules of the global economy are imposing an agenda of neoliberalism and economic inequality that is foreclosing our future.”

The other 99 percent is fighting back. From “We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything.”

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof quotes former United States Vice President Al Gore who says that the protests are “the primal scream of democracy.” Kristof says people are protesting, not political and legal inequity, but economic inequity.

In the meantime, who is taking to the streets? Young people, yes, but old ones, too. There are students, fresh graduates, farmers, retirees, the unemployed. And now the movement has spread to Europe and Asia, with angry, indignant people taking to the streets, denouncing how excess-prone corporations have been allowed by their respective governments to rake in profits while most people are deep in debt, out of jobs, and out of hope. There are peaceful protests and there are violent protests but they have a common denominator: outrage.

Of course, not everybody agrees with the occupiers. There are counter-movements that aim to discredit the protests. For example, a group claiming to represent taxpaying Americans says there will always be people who will have things better than you do, so it does not pay to act on your discontent by taking to the streets. A CNN financial journalist took the protesters to task for using gadgets and other products of the capitalist economic system they so derided. A Web site,, lists the top ten “most unhinged reactions to Occupy Wall Street.” They “come from, not surprisingly, conservative commentators and politicians.”

On Twitter, the reaction is mixed as well. One user says maybe the protesters would have more money if they went to work (rather than camped out on the streets). Some blame US President Barack Obama for fueling class warfare, for pitting the haves against the have-nots. Worse, some project that the Occupy Wall Street movement will fizzle out eventually, fashionable as it appears today.


Back here at home, a sweeping denouncement of corporate greed (not just the greed of one company), even as this country is indeed run by the corporate elite, and even as the gap between rich and poor are even more obscene, does not appear imminent. If people are angry at anything, it would be at the government for not being able to lift them up from poverty as so many local and national politicians have promised during campaign season.

This shows the extent to which the population has pinned its hopes on government. On one hand, it makes sense. Governments are supposed to provide basic social services to its citizens – education, transportation, access to health services, and protection from crime and conflict. On the other, it betrays a near-fatalistic reliance on the state to do everything for citizens.

On Facebook, for instance, there is a page for Occupy Philippines that says: “Take back our country from politicians pretending to be pro-people and from other groups oppressing the people through coercion, intimidation and perpetuating the status quo.”

Malacañang is quick to say it does not think anything similar to Occupy Wall Street will happen here. “We have always fought for inclusive growth,” says spokesman Edwin Lacierda. But if he is speaking as a member of the Aquino administration – as distinct from all previous administrations -- Lacierda misses the point. The discontent and the outrage over the status quo has been there regardless of who the occupant of Malacañang is.

For many years, people have riled against the pervading culture of corruption at all levels of the government. Doublespeak among officials. The monkeying around of lawmakers. The inability – or refusal, if you will – to fix bad roads and build better schools. The lack of discipline among the populace, the culture of envy, the undue premium on one’s last name or position in society, the sheer unavailability of opportunity or the proliferation of crimes.

In some strange, unintended way, the Palace is right: It won't happen here. Unlike the protesters in New York and elsewhere in the world, Filipinos use another way to show their disgust. The best and the brightest give up and seek a place where they would be justly rewarded for their talent and their hard work. Mothers and fathers make the painful decision to be away from their children just so they could have opportunities that are just not available here. Young people who decide to forego opportunity and stay behind grow into middle age, their idealism morphing into despair. Others have just gotten exhausted struggling and not being able to rise above the issue of meeting one’s basic needs.

More and more Filipinos are giving up. No, they don't occupy streets and parks. They leave. They look elsewhere, embracing the devil they don't know.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A bubble and a fine line

Welcome banner from the organizers and sponsors

PCIJ's Ed Lingao delivered this presentation on the statistics on murdered journalists.

Lunch on the second day with former Governor Grace Padaca (local radio commentator for 14 years), Danton Remoto (my former English professor and thesis adviser, formerly with UNDP and now with TV5), Melvin Gascon (PDI-Pangasinan), Jules Benitez (MindaNews), Adrian Amatong (from Dipolog) and Rorie Fajardo (Center for Community Journalism and Development)

Class picture. The collective journalistic experience is formidable.

(photos from the Facebook page of Gov. Padaca)

Where does journalism end and advocacy begin?

This year’s Media Nation centered around the Philippines as “the most dangerous place for journalists.” Around 80 professionals from television, radio, print and online networks from all over the country converged at the Marco Polo Hotel in Cebu the other weekend for two half-day sessions of a “talk shop” on the perils and pitfalls of the profession.

Organized by the civil society group pagbabago@pilipinas, Media Nation 8 explored why media murders are taking place and how journalists do what they do in the context of broader and deeper issues in the country and in the world.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism says there have been 180 journalists killed since 1986, 121 of them in the line of duty. Other organizations have other figures. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, for instance, says on its Web site that there have been 146 journalists killed since 1986, 104 during the time of former President Gloria Arroyo and five so far under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

The figures differ because of the definition: Who is a journalist, really? Does he or she have to be employed by a legitimate media company? What if he or she is a blocktimer, i.e., occupying slots purchased by politicians/businessmen? What if he or she is employed by a media company but does not perform journalistic functions? What if he or she has another, main job and just happens to have a column or a show? What if the killing is not related to the job – a land dispute, for instance, or a love affair gone wrong?

Questions breed more questions: Are media, then, supposed to be in a bubble, enjoying protection in their attempt to deliver the news to the public? Or is the danger part of the inherent risk that the profession entails, a profession nobody imposed on us and which we embraced willingly? The implication is that the life of a journalist is more precious than another's. Is this not elitism, hubris of the highest order?

And then, there is the apparent lack of outrage from the general public. Why are Filipinos not outraged at these killings? Some offered the theory that journalists have lost their credibility, that their professional conduct deserves no outrage from the rest of the populace.

It could also be that there is no outrage because people, especially those in the provinces, do not know any better. They may be indifferent, because there are more immediate things to worry about like putting food on the table, sending their kids to school or getting out of harm’s way in the event of conflict or a disaster.

They may not know any better because they may think, for lack of education or exposure, that what is happening is the norm. Their local politicians might as well be their gods, determining their fate, ambition, mobility -- even life and death. Who dared question them? Look at the ones who did.

Some argue that impunity is tempered by exposure to a bigger world. For instance, for so long as the national media is there, local politicians hesitate to commit brazen acts because this would be reported to a broader audience, that which they cannot control. But does this not destroy the spirit of community journalism and encourage “parachute” observers who fly into the zone knowing next to nothing, absorb everything in one day, and report on the issue as though they were an expert?

The organizers put forth the theory that we have not generated enough outrage and support from the public because we have been framing the issue in terms of body count, a mere list of names. Each of the dead are also sons and daughters, parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, friends, colleagues and many others.

Finally, the conference also touched on current issues such as WikiLeaks and citizen journalism. On one hand, WikiLeaks fosters a culture of openness in a world that is increasingly becoming secretive. On the other hand, it is nothing but a dump of information. In order to make sense of the overload and separate the relevant from the irrelevant, journalists must do their jobs, and do it well. Information obtained from WikiLeaks as well as from citizen journalists in this free-for-all world must not be taken as they are. They must be perceived as leads – which journalists with their skills, discipline and ethics, must pursue to determine whether there is a story worth telling.


My takeaway came a bit belatedly – and, not surprisingly, in the form of another question. Can a journalist be an advocate? Can he or she champion causes such as transparency, good governance, women empowerment, the environment? Is embracing an advocacy – especially if one did so passionately -- a way to make oneself a traget?

We have been taught that the journalist must be fair and objective and must not advocate anything. He or she should just lay down the issues on the table, and let the people arrive at their own conclusions. A news reporter, for instance, is not allowed to “editorialize” his stories – otherwise, it gets re written by the desk or junked altogether. He is also required to get both sides of the story (even though one is more readily available than the other).

Is this still the norm today? Indeed there seems to be a fine line separating journalism and advocacy. Some media personalities read the news in one program and then comment on them in another. I work with opinion columns and editorials, and at first blush it seems this is the easier deal. Op-ed people can say anything they want. Then again, before one can come to an enlightened stand, one has to look at the facts, from both sides, that would lead to the forming of a fair opinion. In this case, fact and opinion are not opposites. The latter is built upon the former – which is to say that opinion, even advocacy, is not bad so long as it has sound basis.

Nobody can claim to be truly objective. Every person has a built-in bias shaped by his culture, education, preferences and experiences. It shows in deciding what story to run, how it will be written, which set of people to interview. The best option is not to deny the bias but to temper it – with airtight research, objective methods and fair conclusions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Corporate governance and "The Wall"

I had posted the essay of this which was part in August. I used the last part for my MST column and it appeared last week, Oct 5, on page A5.

Media organizations in most free societies, while not controlled by government, are run by businesses. Indeed it is said that business is the new government. Journalism is a noble profession, a constant pursuit for truth giving priority to the public above all. But the reality is that journalists are employees, as well, and media companies are run as any corporation is: the bottom line (ultimate point) is the bottom line (profit). To deny this fact is to be naïve, and the harder it will be to exercise judgment on real-life dilemmas between the newsroom (editors and reporters) and the boardroom (directors and executives).

Corporate governance is an area deemed equally important as public governance. According to Knowledge Solutions, a publication of the Asian Development Bank, it meant little to most people until the mid-1990s. But today it is “broadly understood as the process by which the policies, strategies and operations of organizations are regulated, operated, and controlled by the board of directors to give them overall direction and control, and satisfy reasonable expectations of accountability and performance including to those outside them.”

Big words, but it all boils down to how a company is run, and done so responsibly. After all, while profit is a potent driving force in business activity, it is not, and should not be, the only force.

Here in the Philippines, there is the Institute of Corporate Directors, “a professional organization of, for, and by corporate directors and other reputational agents for corporate governance. It is a non-stock, not-for-profit organization working in close partnership with other business, government, and civil society organizations to promote and uphold the practice of good corporate governance. The ICD’s aim is to attend to the professional needs of corporate directors directly related to their serving in the board,” according to its Web site. The ICD accredits directors after making them undergo a five-day seminar on the principles and practices of corporate governance.

Rex Drilon, president of the ICD, says the aim is to achieve the “triple bottom line”—meaning doing good for people, planet and pesos. Companies should both be SBEs and SSEs. He quotes Andrew Savitz, a governance scholar, who says that a sustainable business enterprise (SBE) is one that creates profits for its shareholders while protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom it interacts. A sustainable social enterprise, on the other hand, is one that improves the lives of people while protecting the environment and fulfilling the economic needs of the owners.

The triple bottom line ideal is true for every corporation, whatever the industry. There are 11 corporate governance principles that apply: Independence, rights and duties, original powers to decide, loyalty, long-term viability, fairness, accountability, transparency, ethics, social responsibility and sustainability.

Drilon acknowledges that this is especially true for media, which is unique in that it is both a business AND a social enterprise. “It is a partnership that requires respect for each other’s needs,” he says. The business has to be profitable to be sustainable. On the other hand, the editors have to be independent (within pre-agreed ground rules) for the paper to be credible and therefore saleable. [Indeed] it is a delicate balance which needs the support of the two groups to work.”

It’s all good on paper. A newspaper, for instance, employs idealistic, conscientious, thorough journalists who observe the best ethical practices to deliver quality and intelligent information to its readers. In turn, and because of this, the newspaper is widely read by the public and is the medium of choice of advertisers. It thus turns a neat profit every year, which makes its owners happy, and which enables the enlightened, socially-oriented board of directors to grant respectable salaries to its employees, which in turn boosts their morale, which then makes them even more enthusiastic to do their jobs well.

Sadly, this is not always the case. What we have are media outfits owned by corporations or families that were somehow acquired to advance the political or economic interests of the owners or protect their other existing enterprises. Or, we have owners that are beholden to government officials or other commercial interests that somehow impose on the content of the material published or aired.

“The problem with such structures as interdepartmental marketing committees is that the newspeople are invariably outnumbered by business-side people, and they are also rhetorically outgunned because the business people are dealing in dollars and cents and the newspeople are dealing in a philosophical concept that, too often, business people either do not understand or do not support,” says Davis “Buzz” Merritt in an essay called “Breaching the Wall,” an excerpt from the book Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy At Risk

How, then, to balance profitability/commercial viability against the truth-seeking nature of journalism?

Drilon says: “The operative word is ‘with’ not ‘against’”. He talks about the “sustainability sweet spot” where margin meets mission, where profit meets the common good and where business interests meet stakeholders’ interest. Among the eleven principles, Drilon says the most pertinent to media companies’ boards are fairness, accountability and transparency.

Merritt, who has worked as a reporter, Washington correspondent, and editor for Knight Ridder newspapers for 42 years, talks about the “wall” between newspaper owners and the journalists that they employ. “If a newspaper was thought of, by its owners, as just another way to make money, the wall was an impediment; the enterprise’s financial success could be maximized only if the wall did not exist.”

But the newspaper’s credibility is its most precious asset, Merritt says. Fortunately, more managers are realizing this so that “editors and other newsroom employees now regularly sit on marketing committees with advertising and circulation managers. They share financial goals through their overlapping MBOs (management by objectives) and other compensation mechanisms.”

Thus far, corporations who have graduated fellows from the ICD and who choose to arm themselves with the guidance provided by the institute belong to Big Business. There may have been some interest in media among these groups, but all in the context of media being part of a conglomerate, a unit in the bigger whole, instead of a corporate entity on its own. The ICD has not yet conducted seminar specifically for directors of media companies.

That would be a good aim. The problem is whether most of the current crop of board members of media companies would even be willing to recognize that their positions are a little more different than their peers in other industries given the unique nature of the business of journalism.

On this, they have to be educated. The Wall need not be dismantled, because it cannot be, but those from either side should at least recognize the needs of the other, harmonize objectives and agree to work closely to resolve ethical issues. Then the organization will be a viable, socially responsible and sustainable and media corporation.

(The above essay is taken from a longer piece I wrote in August for a media ethics class under the masters program in journalism at Ateneo de Manila.)


In last week’s column, Connecting the dots, I quoted Filipino environmentalist Rodne Galicha as saying that Ms. Bernarditas Muller was eased out of the negotiations in Cancun. Mr. Galicha was actually referring to the Copenhagen talks in December 2009.