MANILA ― Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said coverage of a high-profile graft scandal that has prompted massive protests in the Philippines was evidence of the growing importance of media.
Aquino referred to the “interplay” between the government and the media in the arrest of Janet Lim-Napoles, a businesswoman suspected of helping divert several billion pesos from poverty-reduction government programs in coordination with several lawmakers. The Philippine Daily Inquirer exposed the scandal last month.
“(The interplay takes place) as the media ask us questions about what took place, and we answer, with both sectors accountable to one audience constantly judging our every move: the people,” Aquino said at a dinner on Thursday with journalists of the Asia News Network.
|Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (at the podium) listens as Primastuti Handayani from the Jakarta Post asks a question during a dinner meeting with journalists of the Asia News Network at the office of Philippine Inquirer in Manila. (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung)|
“I can only hope and expect the people we serve know that we are both trying, in our own ways, to arrive at the same place: the truth.”
ANN, an alliance of 22 English media outlets in 19 Asian countries, was established in 1999 and supported by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung political foundation in Germany. The Korea Herald is the only ANN member from South Korea.
Last Monday, tens of thousands flocked to Rizal Park in Manila demanding the government scrap the development fund in question and crack down harder on corruption. The expansive manhunt for Lim-Napoles that followed pressured her to surrender herself late Thursday.
The scandal became a serious issue for Aquino, who rose to power in 2010 after a landslide victory on promises to fight corruption and poverty. He is the son of respected pro-democracy fighters, former President Corazon Aquino and her husband Ninoy Aquino.
The scandal underscored the relevance of the media, or as Aquino put it, its power to “bring all sectors together in order to make sense of what is going on and where it is set in.”
He said the relevance of the media is even more pronounced today, when the advent of new media technology such as social media services has helped establish a 24-hour news cycle.
“Media can now engage anywhere, making your responsibilities even greater,” he said.
“As one of the most influential sectors in your respective countries, I hope that every single day you ask yourselves: How do I contribute to improving these flawed human institutions, in order to contribute to betterment of society?”
As the head of state, Aquino said he embraces the requirements demanded for journalists: a true desire to serve, a firm commitment to integrity, and a determination to do the right thing.
Their influence, however, is not without strings attached as the media are given tasks from the public, which expects media and civil servants to prove their “worthiness of public trust on a daily basis.”
Aquino said he begins his morning by checking the broadsheet newspapers for trends and occurrences that he may not be aware of.
“No one is perfect, neither myself nor our system of government, and we must always be receptive to criticism delivered out of a desire to help,” he said.
After his speech, the president fielded questions from the visiting journalists on various topics ranging from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in October to the country’s relationship with the United States.
He said the APEC meeting in Bali would give the countries a chance to not only open up or improve trade relations, but also to address common concerns, such as climate change. Aquino also expressed his hope to diffuse regional tensions.
While he did not elaborate on the matter, his comments may have been in relation to the maritime territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing concerning the body of water between the two countries, which they call the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, respectively.
The dispute led to a diplomatic tussle, as Manila announced Thursday the cancellation of Aquino’s trip to China.
Aquino also said the country is maintaining “very strong ties” with the U.S., an ally that he said has shared intelligence, knowledge as well as materials.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Aquino on Friday. The two discussed ways to widen the role of the U.S. military in the Philippines. Hagel said that the two made “encouraging” progress toward an agreement which will result in the U.S. having larger military presence in the country.
Hagel said, however, that the U.S. is not seeking permanent bases in the Philippines, adding it would “represent a return to an outdated Cold War mentality.” Instead, the two allies will look to increase a rotational presence, as in Singapore and Australia.
By Yoon Min-sik, Korea Herald correspondent