On the blacklisting of 9 Hong Kong protesters

Hong-Kong-APEC-Journalists Inquirer

Journalists without ethics; Bali; APEC [Photo by Inquirer]

The Aquino Administration has dropped its ban on visits to the Philippines by nine Hong Kong protesters due to complaints from journalism groups and Hong Kong. Well, I’m writing this blog anyway because, from where I sit, those critics seem to be missing great chunks from the entire picture.

The topic is most interesting because it has about a dozen different dimensions: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the right to protest, security of a head of state, the Hong Kong bus massacre, and friction between China and the Philippines over rocks in the West Philippine sea. We also have socio/political forces at play: the hard hand of officious Philippine authorities, the questionable ethics of Chinese journalism professionals and the tabloid ways of the Philippine press.

Lets try to unravel these intertwining forces and see what we get left with at the end.

The Incident

The incident provoking the blacklisting occurred in October of 2013 as President Aquino was attending the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit in Bali.

Here’s a recent report of events from the Philippine Star:

During the APEC meeting in October last year, President Aquino and Peru President Ollanta Humala were at the nearby Westin Hotel when the Hong Kong journalists created a commotion.

As Aquino entered a meeting of APEC business leaders, the reporters demanded to know whether he would meet with Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-Ying in Bali and apologize to the families of the victims of the Luneta park hostage crisis in August 2010.

A footage showed the journalists shouting at Aquino: “So you’re ignoring the Hong Kong people, right?”

The footage also showed the reporters asking Aquino if he met with Leung as they pushed their microphones over the people surrounding Aquino.

Aquino did not answer their questions and proceeded to his meeting.

The journalists were escorted from the hotel and had their press passes revoked. [South China Morning Post]. The protesters were members of the Hong Kong Journalists Association which had been active in protesting the Philippines’ handling of the bus massacre since the incident occurred in August of 2010.

The Philippines earlier this year determined the identity of the journalists and banned 9 from the Philippines as undesirable under Bureau of Immigration Order No. ADD-01-005 from March 29, 2001, which cites a reason for denial of entry if someone shows disrespect to symbols of Philippine authority.

The ban was dropped earlier this week due to complaints from journalist groups both within and outside the Philippines, and from Hong Kong.

China and the Philippines

I consider Hong Kong a proxy of China in its aggressive behavior regarding the aftermath of the bus massacre. Just as China has used the victims of the missing Malaysian jet liner to confront Malaysian officials, China has used the bus massacre to advance its political cause, which is to portray the Philippines as a troublemaker within Asia. The article I wrote about that (“Why Mayor Estrada is wrong about Hong Kong“) is this blog’s most highly read JoeAm article to date with over 200,000 visits.

To get right to the point of that article, I was making the case that China views the Philippines as an “uppity” nation, a nation that, in racially derogatory terms, ought to move to the back of the bus when told to do so by its betters. Hong Kong, a proxy for China, was at the time demanding that the Philippines apologize, state to state, for the massacre. That was akin to instructing another sovereign nation to move to the back of the bus. It is important to note that Hong Kong is not a nation but a city. In other words, a child of “proper” pedigree was ordering an adult of “improper pedigree” to move to the back of the bus.

The conflict was eventually settled when the Philippines, thanks to private donors who have an interest in peaceful relations with Hong Kong, raised its payment to victims’ families and repeated its expression of regret for the incident. Hong Kong also wanted to lay the matter to rest as its leadership was getting criticized by locals for using a tragedy to provoke a continuing controversy. So the Philippine expression of regret, a step short of apology, was accepted by Hong Kong.

This prior confrontation very likely weighed heavily on the decision to end the blacklisting of the nine Hong Kong protesters.

Journalistic ethics in China

China and its proxy Hong Kong do not follow journalistic norms that underpin Western ethical rules regarding freedom of the press. Many in the press are political agents of state as reflected in: (a) the use of the press as a state mouthpiece in China, and (b) as in the case of the bus massacre, the use of the Hong Kong Journalists Association as a political advocacy group (see photograph above).

Had the journalists attended the event and reported as journalists in a responsible way, there would have been no problem. Had they been protesters, kept outside the hotel in a public arena to conduct their heckling, there would have been no problem.

The problem was in the mixing. The use of journalists’ credentials to enter private property to confront a head of state and create a security incident.

It is surprising to me that journalist groups, while quick to criticize the Philippine blacklist, give the protesters a free pass. They seem to endorse behavior that got the conference hosts so upset that the press passes for the protesters were revoked for the remainder of the conference. Is this the official ethical stand by journalistic organizations far and wide? That anything goes in the name of getting a good story . . . or provoking one?

Well, if we ask why enough times, we eventually get to the heart of matters.

The deeper issue, the heart of the matter, is China’s resistance to international values. China is a totalitarian state. Make no mistake about it. The double-talk emanating from China on various events, from Tibet to the West Philippine Sea – blaming those who criticize and pasting good intent on all deeds – is neither forthright nor honorable. But it is purposeful.

Criticize the journalism ethics of the nine protesters and you will likely be greeted with the standard line:

“Offensive fellow. Stop inserting yourself in Chinese affairs.”

That totalitarian bent is a core problem that we should bear in mind, and we’ll return to it at the conclusion of this article.

Freedom of the press, freedom of speech, right to protest

The gist of most headlines is that the Philippines has blacklisted journalists, implying that the nation does not support international norms regarding freedom of the press.

No, no, no. The Philippines blacklisted political protesters deemed offensive to the nation. Working under the protection of press freedom, these protesters abused both the privilege of access to a head of state and journalistic ethics that mandate the separation of journalistic reporting from advocacy. The term “journalist” is simply the occupation these protesters undertake when they are not engaged in political advocacy. The case has nothing to do with freedom of the press.

Were the protesters covered under human rights guidelines for freedom of speech and a right to protest? Yes, up to the line where they entered private property with their protest and posed a threat to the President of the Philippines.

How is one to read anger, or read the shoving and thrusting forward of microphones from a large group? How is one to read a protest placard with a red line drawn across the face of the President of the Philippines?

With freedoms come responsibilities. We don’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater or make bomb jokes at the airport. We don’t threaten heads of state, to get a story.

The members of the group were  not engaged in responsible reporting. Nor in responsible protest.

Thugs collide

The Bureau of Immigration is a typical Philippine government agency, heavy on officious and light on customer service. It is bound in paper and rules and charges a lot of fees to help pay for its inefficiency. It lays down the law. Old school government. The agency is a bit of thug.

Well, Immigration does have a tough job I suppose, trying to keep smugglers and child traffickers and all kinds of crooks out of the Philippines. It has tossed a couple of high profile foreigners from the land when they misbehaved. Rightfully so. I’m also inclined to think that if someone spit on President Aquino, they ought never set foot in the Philippines for any reason at any time. Forever.

This band of protesters behaved just short of spitting, so I have no trouble whatsoever with banning them as disrespectful of the Philippines and therefore undesirable. The red line across the face of the President of our land – drawn by a journalists association – is highly offensive to me (see above photo).

Of course, it often seems like most of the Chinese bureaucracy is busy spitting at the Philippines. I’m thinking if Duterte were president, the Chinese Ambassador would be sent home and invited back once the Chinese moved their boats off Philippine rocks at Scarborough.

In this APEC incident, we have a face-off between two officious groups: Philippine immigration officials and Chinese advocates in disguise as press people. Two gangs of thugs. It is mildly humorous.

 Philippine Tabloid Press

The Philippine press headlines the blacklisting of “journalists” and does not have the analytic might to discern that they were protesters who happen to be journalists. Shallow, shallow, shallow. I wish they’d move some of the opinion columnists into reporting so we could get some intelligent dissection of issues in the news reporting. One has to read those columnists or go to the social media to get a more complex parsing of the situation.

I yearn for the Column One articles of the Wall Street Journal, those deeply researched and enriching stories that take time and effort to piece together. The press here are completely free – kudos to the Philippines – but they don’t raise the bar very high for themselves.

Every time they use “journalists” in their headlines on the APEC incident, they are biasing the real story. And the Philippines takes another whack, delivered to itself by its loose-lipped, value-deficient, shallow, sensationalist press.

Political games

China plays political games. They do this in pursuit of their long term strategic push eastward across the seas. The beast of the East is rising. A part of this high-stakes game is to portray the Philippines as a malcontent, the bad boy of Asia. The nation that will not cooperate with China’s high road of bilateral negotiations.

China portrays the ITLOS arbitration hearing as a Philippine advocacy, an affront to China, rather than as an earnest effort to find a peaceful resolution to a tough disagreement. As a right under INTERNATIONAL NORMS. China respects international norms only when it is to her advantage to do so.

Well, that’s the game, isn’t it? China is not really interested in agreements. If she were, Chinese officials would be in the Philippines INITIATING the bilateral dialogues they say they want, instead of seeding friction every way imaginable.

China was brutal in using the Hong Kong bus massacre to punish the Philippines. The journalists’ protest was just one new wrinkle to that game, a very good one, almost like wrapping an issue in the cloth of Jesus. Freedom of the press has that kind of sanctified value, and China succeeded in using it as the good hammer, just as China uses the grief of victims to achieve political ends. Mayor Romualdez of Tacloban may have tutored under the Chinese.

China’s demand for apology over Hong Kong was relentless. The blacklisting might have assumed similar proportions had Hong Kong not been so absorbed with her own internal disorder. The important point to remember is that China’s effort to portray the Philippines as a ruthless, non-caring nation, has been relentless.

The Philippine defense in this game has been superb. Turn the other cheek. Talk about respect for laws. Talk about the benefits to both nations of a deeper relationship built on commerce and tourism. Hold to the ITLOS filing. Build defensive capabilities. Keep the United States in the arena.

In another effort to portray the Philippines badly, China recently slapped at the Philippines by instructing tour agents to take the Philippines off their menu of tour offerings because of several incidents of kidnapping and murder of Chinese in the Philippines.

The Philippines turned the other cheek. Played it down. Absorbed the hit to its tourism numbers and went looking elsewhere for replacement visitors.

Putting it all together

The blacklisting has little to do with freedom of the press. It has a lot to do with journalism ethics and politics.

The incident is one more chip to be tossed on the table by China to portray the Philippines as the instigator of trouble. The Philippine press and a lot of bloggers bite for the Chinese line. They ignore the violation of journalism ethics by the nine protesters and join in criticism of the Aquino Administration. Here’s an example from Ellen Tordesillas.

It did not surprise me to see the Philippines again turn the other cheek and drop the ban. This is an expression of desire for harmony and a positive relationship that fits with the Philippine’s low-key, peaceful, law-based approach to friction with China.

The problem with that approach is that China very likely does not see such acts for what they are, but interprets them within the context of their expansion strategy. The Philippines has bowed, showing its subservience. Moved another row toward the back of the bus. It is likely not to have the desired effect of pleasing China. It may further embolden China.

I think the trick for the Philippines is how to remain strong, to “show strong” in its dealings with China. How does a nation that is militarily and economically weak do that? How does a democratic nation, rich with opposing views that portray the nation as divided, do that against a totalitarian state where everyone speaks with the same voice?

How does it do that when the press and bloggers are so willing to join with the enemy and fail to defend the Philippines?

That is the question I am left with after the passing of this incident, do those debating the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) understand this?

Does the Supreme Court “get it”, I wonder?

Does Senator Santiago get it, I wonder?


18 Responses to “On the blacklisting of 9 Hong Kong protesters”
  1. 2BFair says:

    Without going into the EDCA angle, I agree with you fully — blacklisting those “journalists” was simply blacklisting protesters posing as journalists, and NOT blacklisting freedom of the press. True journalism requires ethics and decorum. They could’ve asked questions just like any other journalist at that APEC summit, by waiting their turn behind the public mic, after PNoy had delivered his speech. They obviously were not expecting dialogue, they just wanted to get their vid byte on the news, as rabid protesters would, and not as civilized journalists would.

    • Joe America says:

      Very clear explanation of what went on. I’m surprised there was no criticism in the Philippine press about that. Rather, the press here took it as an insult to their freedoms, I guess. So they joined in the Chinese political action. Do journalists associations around the world believe freedom of the press means without any ethical obligation whatsoever? Seems so . . .

  2. Juana Pilipinas says:

    “Journalists should:

    – Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”


    I believe the HK journalists violated the above Journalists’ Code of Ethics. They were confrontational and emotional. They lost their objectivity. Their purpose does not seem to be the pursuit of truth but the shaming of the President.

    PS: Happy Thanksgiving, Joe and family!

    • Joe America says:

      Ah, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Juana.

      I’m interested in what this journalists association is all about. They clearly don’t teach ethics or abide by them. I don’t know how they can write about them, even. They remind me of a particular lawyers association here in the Philippines. They have nothing to do with the law and a lot to do with advocating on politics.

      • I don’t know how they operate in Asia but in the US, every professional school that I know of has a mandatory Ethics class and students are taught about it. Students are also required to sign a copy stating that they understood what was taught and would abide by it. The enforcers are the professional organizations whose membership provide continuing education and regulation of the profession. They act as vanguards for the disciplines’ integrity. In Computer Engineering, ACM and IEEE assist in keeping engineers ethical.


        • Joe America says:

          Journalism ethics are fairly consistent around the world with emphasis on fairness, facts and accuracy. I don’t think it is the area of the world that distinguishes one form of ethics from another, but the form of government. Democracies promote free speech and a free press because they are elements of an informed electorate. But totalitarian states have very different motives. They want to control speech and the press. So their journalism associations aren’t focused on ethics but on advocacy.

          It is also interesting to me that VP Binay gives clear evidence that he believes in totalitarian methods in his efforts to shape the message that appears in the media. Those who criticize him have bad values. They are bad people. It is all a little scary to me, that Filipinos have gone down this path once before and don’t recognize the animal that is before them. Similarly, the Filipino media – and the nation’s journalists -seem not to recognize the motives and ethical vacuity of the Hong Kong journalists organization. What is this gross blindness that rests like a pall across the nation?

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      Thank you for the link, Juana. Philippine Media appears to fail all ethical standards. I just wonder what dose of standards they got from their school (We all know what school no need to mention it here 🙂 )

      In the U.S. I always hear “You are violating my constitutional rights!”. I never ever have heard a Filipino say that. Do Filipinos they have “constitutional rights”?. If they do know about “constitution” do they know they have rights as plagiarized from American Constitution?

      Why do Americans know about their constitutional rights more than Filipinos? Because American Media always always always mention that in their news coverage and their non-U.P. columnists.

      I believe that American Media is doing it wrong and Philippine Media is doing it right by hiding from poor, minimum-wage, working class, commoners that they have CONSTITTIONAL RIGHTS! Well, if Filipinos know their constitutional rights, WOULD THEY HAVE EXERCISED THEM? Who PROTECTS THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS? Even the Senators and Congressmen are violating simple prosecutorial protocols

      Where do Filipinos run to for the protection of their constitutional rights if Philippine Press obviously do not know there is such a thing as constitutional rights? Of course, they run, forge-and-fake application for Tourist Visa to America to surrender for re-colonization in my country, The U.S.A.

      • Micha says:

        “Even the Senators and Congressmen are violating simple prosecutorial protocols.”

        Senators and Congressmen are legislators, not prosecutors. Please know the basic difference.

      • Micha says:

        Mang Renato,

        Your constant uniform rant on this forum about how f***ed up the Philippine judicial system compared to the US is already getting too tiresome and boring. We get it already.

        We know it’s f***ed up but whose system is not anyway? Even the mighty beloved US has a substantial number of wrongful convictions and mistrials, including those with capital punishments.

        I really don’t mind if you are so addicted to CSI and Investigation Discovery channels but please…

        • Joe America says:

          The American jury system for sure has its vulnerabilities. Jury selection is a science to get a panel that is “biased” toward an attorney’s side of the case, whether prosecution or defense. So the goal for attorneys may NOT be a group of peers, but of malcontents or patsies. It is an exercise in painstaking gameplaying and manipulations. Then behind the scenes, the arguments as to what information is admissible or not is another stage of gameplaying, of artificiality that censors what the jury is allowed to consider. Still, I’d rather take my chances there than in a court where the determination can be purchased outright for cash.

          • Micha says:

            Like I said, we get it already Joe. There is no contesting that the Philippine justice system has a lot of crooked edges to refine reform and improve. The US has been at it for like over 200 years already, and it’s still not flawless for the same obvious reason that we’re dealing with fallible imperfect human judgments where biases, bigotry and, at times, even racism, still play significant obscuring role.

            Then there is, otoh, a highly politicized and partisan US Supreme Court justices – those unelected scalawags in robes like Alito, Thomas, and Scalia who made big time f***ed up decision to rule that corporations are people and money is speech, paving the way for the ultimate bastardization of American democracy or whatever remains of it.

            So please Mang Mariano, give it a break. We feel your pain and we get your message.


            Your constant harangue on the subject though seems to border on coconut racism like those of the Anti-Pinoy crowd.

            • Joe America says:

              Then if “we get it already”, the issue becomes what to do about it. Nothing or something is a decision. “Something” may be to keep hammering at the judiciary until they do what they need to do, stop complaining about infringements upon independence and earn respect by cleaning house and becoming more rigorous on timeframes and methods. If new laws are needed to cut through the delaying crap, advise the lawmakers as to what is needed. The business I am in, blogging, is one that can’t be satisfied with complacency. Readers can choose what their style is.

              • Micha says:

                By all means let’s hammer away at those officials and lawmakers. One thing we should NOT be doing is Mang Mariano’s incessant denigration of the generic typical Filipinos.

                Direct closer proof that he is inaccurate in his portrayal of the Filipino’s sense of moral values is the community of readers visiting your site, including himself.

              • Joe America says:

                Your complaint has been shared here by others and I agree some of the themes get repetitive. Yet, from time to time there are wisdoms or slants or even plays on words he takes that cause me to sit up and think, so I’m not inclined to try to restrain him. It is best, if he bugs you, to simply skip over his remarks so others can pull what they will from his thinking. Put him in your “irrelevant” bucket and go to other comments. Engaging in a confrontational way tends to “inspire” Mariano . . . something you may (or I may) want to avoid at all costs. 🙂

                Can you give me the names of people you believe are misdirecting the Philippine economy? I’d like to examine them . . . what their positions and principles seem to be.


        • Jake says:

          I remember the case of Flores who was born to a US citizen father in mexico. Because of a “glitch” in citizenship law, he was deemed an alien even if he was raised in the US and by his US citizen father…

          It was brought to the Supreme court several times, first at Miller vs Albtrech, then the Nguyen case. In other words, the Supreme court does not care are about unconstitutional laws that violate the rights of children of US fathers born out of wedlock to foreign mothers in foreign lands as well as citizenship sexism.

          … But are likely to welcome mass amnesty of illegals

      • Jake says:

        The Federal constitution of the US is pretty short and straightforward compared to the Philippine constitution which is ass long and rather wordy and probably half of the population do not understand it as it is not in simple English. The problem though with the US constitution is it is so open to interpretation. Gun lobbyist often cite the “well regulated militia” in defense of lose gun ownership laws. But then again, the NRA is not a militia, let alone “well regulated”

        The PH constitution is more comparable to state constitutions in the US… which are ass long and most state residents are not aware of either.

        • Joe America says:

          I think you are right again. The distinction is mainly in the body of case law that stands beneath the American Constitution to clarify it. The US book (hundreds of books) of case law has an integrity and consistency to it that is missing in the Philippines where too many laws are influenced by crass political decisions or purchased decisions. US law is also influenced by the political persuasion of judges, but not in such a way as to make the whole body of work essentially meaningless and open to change by any judge with an agenda.

  3. Jake says:

    It is within Philippine law that foreign nationals do NOT have right to protest in Philippine soil.

    What is ironic here is that, had the reverse been made, I doubt HK will allow Filipino protesters

    Besides, isnt it the primary role of a journalist is to cover event and collect facts, not protest out of….. emotion.

    Theyre making a gigantic mountain out of a molehill…about a “smile” without even taking things in context. The Philippines has to stop bending its own rules to accomodate SPOILED foreigners who are likely NOT to reciprocate the same demanded “special treatment”. This is nothing but stupid UNDUE sense of entitlement by these “journalists” from HK

    Expats have more rights, IMO, to challenge this particular Filipino law than these “journalists” from Hong Kong. Expats, at least, pay their taxes and fees. These “journalists” just get damn free pass.

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