Tuesday, 14 August 2012

COMMENNTARY: No news is good news


No news is good news.

I was a young reporter with the Martial Law daily Times
Journal in the early 80s when I first heard of the “no news is good news” stuff from no less than Sonny Escudero III, who was at the Bureau of Animal Industry as director.

Rep Sonny H Escudero III
And I would hear of this whenever I called him in the morning for story or development at his office at BAI in Sta Mesa, which was nestled in an ugly building sitting just close to the Nagtahan Bridge.

“No news is good news Freddie … the news is I want you to join me for breakfast … I got kapeng barako at nilagang hinog na saba at kinudkod na niyog …”

Those days, my partner and I were living just a block away from his building, so it was convenient for me to drop by on the way to my beat coverage in Quezon City, that included the City Hall, the departments of Agrarian Reform, Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources, Oil Industry Commission, Bureau of Forestry, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the UP campus.

When he assumed the helm at the Department of Agriculture owing to the demise of Bong Tanco, Jr (another good friend of mine), the department secretary, Sonny did not changed his style in telling me that there’s nothing to write about.

“No news is good news …Freddie…pero dumaan ka… I got something to discuss with you …”

So somehow, that would make my day, as he would give some exclusives that would trigger uproar the following day among other reporters covering the beat.

My main advantage was that Sonny and I are both Bicolanos, and he trusted me more than the rest of the media persons chasing him for news.

My good friend Sonny, who was on his second term as representative of the first district of Sorsogon, died in his sleep before dawn on Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

I remembered Sonny in this commentary as my tribute to him, being a dedicated public servant, beginning from his days at the Department of Agriculture as bureau director, to a bigger role as lawmaker from Sorsogon.

Fast-forward to today: It’s déjà vu again as far as the local government unit of Jose Panganiban is concerned.

Although Dong Padilla, the mayor, and Ariel Non, the vice-mayor, have yet to utter the words “no news is good news” to me, I assume that they would like to do just that to fend off my persistence in trying to extract news bits that MWBuzz followers would like to read in the next edition.

“No news is good news” would be a good shield for JP-LGU especially when it doesn’t want the public to know about some critical and vital issues confronting the municipal government, which is of great interest to Mambulaoans.

Simply explained, the JP-LGU would prefer to be not in the news at all with a negative story, or even with a positive story that online Mambulaoans would read in MWBuzz.

For the name of the game is “playing it safe”.

And playing it safe simply means “news blackout”.

It’s one way to play safe, especially during these days and in the next many weeks when the campaign for next year’s local elections would begin.

Any nasty story that would come out could be exploited by the opposition in Mambulao – something it could use against the Padilla and company in taking over the mayor’s office.

One important story that MWBuzz has been trying to get from Mayor Dong concerns the current year’s budget of the LGU, which, according to the vice-mayor, runs close to P90 million.

At first, Both Dong and Aye promised me an electronic copy of the 2012 LGU budget, which would be my basis for a comprehensive report on on-going development program in the municipality, the most prominent of which is the road-cementing project in all the 27 municipal baranggays.

The 2012 JP-LGU budget is important because it is the soul of the Padilla governance; it spells out how the local government will spend the money in its coffers.

It shows what program gets more money and what projects get the priority attention.

It also tells the people how their welfare would be been taken care of this year and in the days after that, because the effect of this year’s spending could only be felt later on.

Then suddenly, the vice-mayor had a change of heart and told a contact of his to tell me that it won’t come as promised.

As to Mayor Dong, he did not bother to come back to me for a word on the 2012 budget, although he has promised in not a few words that it was coming through the email. It never did.

I’m sure the good mayor would say to those who would care to listen that the LGU budget for this year is a public document.

No need for the MBWbuzz, your news tunnel, to report on it.

And as he told me last April, documents such as financial statements covering the LGU’s financial performance during the past year, and of course, the current municipal budget, are always available for public scrutiny.

I can assume that a copy of the 2012 municipal budget as approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ng CamNorte is right now posted on the bulletin board on the ground floor.

“It is part of public disclosure, an effort to be transparent,” Mayor Dong said of public documents concerning the operations of his LGU.

Anybody can see those documents on the bulletin board, he would say, for their own satisfaction.

But who would bother to stop before the bulletin board for these documents, much less split the money figures printed and interpret them for their significance?

An ordinary Mambulaoan doing an official business with any of the various offices of the LGU would not even bother to throw a glance at the bulletin board. They got better things to do than getting confused with what the LGU was trying to tell them.

To ordinary individuals, documents like this are a “turn-off” because they would never understand what they meant.

Looking at such documents, the person would be confronted with technical jargons that could only interest experts and curious professionals, as well as political detractors.

But based on my observation of the JP-LGU’s bulletin board last summer, nobody – whether he was dressed up like a businessman, or clothed in a worker’s rag -- really stopped to read the documents that were pinned on it.

When this happens, there’s no real dissemination of information to the general public, more so to those interested individuals who are away from Mambulao and whose only conduit for information, or news, is the MWBuzz.

I am not surprise if both Dong and Aye have not valued positive publicity since even before, Mambulao has remained a no-news entity and the local officials – from the mayor down to the councilmen -- are non-news.

Mambulao gets broadcast only or printed when a disaster strikes such as the recent massive flooding of gold mining wastes in Baranggay Bagong Bayan north of the poblacion that affected a number of residents and destroyed the environment in the nearby seashore and water tributaries.

But in normal news affair, only the southern section of CamNorte, particularly Daet and Labo, down to the southern-most part of Bicolandia, which is Sorsogon province, get the attention of regional news outlets.

Mambulao per se is on the edge of the news media world.

This means that Mambulaoans elsewhere in the Philippines and overseas are clueless as to what is going on – news-wise – in their beloved Mambulao.

Eloquent Dong and picture-happy Aye’s game of silence – except on their self-serving Facebook postings – is an annoying disservice to Mambulaoans away from home.

This infraction becomes harmful when Mambulaoans away from home are deprived of news about their government they deserve to know and not what these two officials post on their Facebook accounts.

These are the people who are following up on developments taking place in Mambulao, the ones who needed the right information for them to decide whether or not to help the LGU achieve the development goals it has laid down for its 70,000 or so constituents, if ever it deserves such assistance.

That’s why MWBuzz, your news tunnel, is trying to do just that – bring an accurate picture of Mambulao to its citizens worldwide.

It can only do so only if the JP-LGU and the men who are running it – Dong and Aye – would play transparency as they should in disseminating timely and relevant information.

No news is good news for somebody trying to hide something from the public, including overseas Mambulaoans and others away from home.

Are Dong and Aye trying to shield themselves with this one?

Sila po lamang ang tunay na nakakaalam.

For comment: Email the bloger: ahernandez@thenational.com.pg  and alfredophernandez@y7mail.com


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