Thursday, November 12, 2009

Papua New Guinea Filipinos maligned by 'rubbish-grade' newspaper



LAST Tuesday, November 10, Filipinos in this city and across Papua New Guinea woke up to find themselves in the midst of 16,000 illegal Pinoys.

Well, that is, if you are to believe what the Post-Courier, a second-rate Australian-owned daily newspaper, headlined on that day on Page 1: “16,000 aliens”, with subhead, “More than 80 per cent of Filipinos are living illegally in PNG”.

And the alleged source of the figures, according to Post-Courier?

Well, no less than the Philippine Ambassador to PNG, Madam Shirley Ho-Vicario, who has been quoted in the report.

Madam Ho-Vicario, the daily reported, testified last Friday, November 6, at the Parliamentary Bi-partisan committee probing the anti-Asian riots that occurred last May, where she purportedly revealed the existence of 19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal.

The committee wanted to know the reasons that triggered the marginalized Papua New Guinean to go into rioting and to loot variety shops and groceries owned and operated by Chinese in the Highlands and in Port Moresby.

The locals hate illegal aliens, particularly Asians whose numbers in PNG are growing, because they feel that these undocumented expatriates are robbing them of jobs and livelihood reserved for them under the law.

Immediately, a flurry of emails crisscrossed the PNG cyberspace, originating from Pinoy expatriates with access to the internet who expressed disbelief that there are 19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal.

A number have even rebuked the Ambassador, calling her “traitor” and “stupid”, for making public such highly-sensitive and derogatory information.

One hyper-sensitive Pinoy expat had called the Philippine Embassy with a threat to burn it down “for making the Filipinos look really, really bad in the eyes of the international community”.

It couldn’t be helped. Most of Pinoys in PNG are employed with valid documents as professionals – accountants, pharmacists, engineers, teachers, IT experts, foresters, miners, managers, administrative officers and others.

And now this damaging news report.

Already, Joey Sena, the president of the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG), has expressed concern over the safety of his compatriots around the country.

He was quite aware that the recent racist attacks on Asians, particularly the illegal Chinese, and the alleged illegal businesses they operate, could now be directed to PNG Pinoys.

But then, he tried to tell the community to remain calm and urged the members to be vigilant of their own personal safety.

That morning when the story broke, Madam Ho-Vicario was already nursing a blood-pressure gone berserk, as she read the Post-Courier, horrified that it has put words into her mouth.

“How did they (Post-Courier) come up with these figures …?” she exclaimed, as she read and re-read the report, while noting that finally, the newspaper got her name right!

“This is pure fabrication … !” she said of the story.

That noon, immediately after arriving at work, I went straight to our library to have a look at the day’s editions of PNG’s two daily newspapers – The National, the country’s leading daily where I work, and Post-Courier.

Our rival paper’s front-page headline “16,000 aliens” quickly grabbed my eyes; and reading through the story, I couldn’t believe what I was reading: That our Ambassador has spilled the beans before a Parliamentary Bi-partisan committee hearing!

Immediately, however, I doubted the reliability and credibility of the story. You know why?

The night before, at about 7.25pm, I received an email from a long-time colleague working at Post-Courier as a sub-editor (deskman), asking for the name of the Philippine Ambassador to PNG, and closing his message with: “it’s just urgent …” In the newspaper work, it’s deadline time at these hours.

I saw no harm in giving him our Ambassador’s name, although I was aware that it’s quite unethical for a newspaper to ask for some info from a rival newspaper like The National.

Looking at the news story again, it dawned on me one thing: That the reporter who filed the story on the “16,000 aliens” never saw the Ambassador at the alleged committee hearing because such hearing where she had purportedly testified on illegal Pinoys never took place.

First of all, how come he failed to know the Ambassador’s name?

I assumed that when he filed the story on Monday night, he left the name of the Philippine Ambassador to PNG blank. So, when the sub-editor, who is my colleague, edited the story, he found the Ambassador’s name missing in the copy, prompting him to get it from his own source: Me.

When I saw her at the embassy that afternoon, ‘Amba”, as we refer to her during informal chats, was fuming mad, looking like smoke was coming out of her ears and mouth, as she berated the Post- reporter who filed the story and the daily paper – Post-Courier -- that allowed a rubbish report to go to print.

“Ka Freddie, I need to counter this report as soon as possible…” Amba said immediately after we shook hands. “The (Filipino) community has been put at risk because of these anti-Asian sentiments and I, personally, have been maligned by the report.”

So what’s the real story?

“I’m denying the report … it’s all fabricated … it has no factual basis, it’s unfounded and far from the truth.

“I demand that Post-Courier retract the story and print the truth.”

“There could never be 19,000 Filipinos living and working in this country,” Amba said.

“I never appeared on the said committee hearing on that day to give evidence on this matter.

“I was never interviewed on that matter or present at the Bipartisan Parliamentary Inquiry (last Friday).

“I never know who MP (Philip) Kilala is, how he looks … I just don’t know him,” Amba said, referring to the source which provided Post-Courier the fabricated figures of “19,000 Filipinos in PNG, of which 16,000 are illegal”.

So, what’s the real score on PNG Filipinos? I asked her.

According of official figures submitted by the Philippine Embassy in Port Moresby to the Philippine Congress as required of embassies worldwide, there are only 10,120 expatriates in the country as of June 2009.

About 670 of them are permanent residents, 6,600 are temporary migrants (work permit holders), and 2,850 which are considered “undocumented or irregular” (these are the holders of business visa and tourist visa).

Since I was the one to file the report on Amba’s denial of the Post-Courier report, my boss editor reminded me to get the side of Post-Courier. So, I called the editor in chief on his cell phone.

Well, it is SOP in this job – getting both sides of the story. But it is something not practiced in Post-Courier.

“We stand by our story,” he told me over the phone.

The editor said their report was based on information their reporter obtained from a source that was at the parliamentary committee hearing when Amba purportedly gave evidence last Friday.

Categorically denying this, the Ambassador told me that afternoon that “I was never at the Parliament last Friday”.

The denial story that I filed came out the next day, Wednesday, and was headlined: “Philippine Embassy denies ‘aliens’ report”.

On the same day, the chairman of the Parliamentary Bi-partisan Committee on Asian-Owned & Operated Businesses in PNG, Jamie Maxton-Graham, Member of Parliament, sent a letter to Amba, stating:

“The front page report stated in part that you appeared in person before my inquiry on Friday, November 6, during which you gave evidence that 16,000 out of 19,000 Filipino residents in this country are doing so illegally.

“… I wish to state categorically THAT YOU NEVER APPEARED (caps mine) before my Inquiry, either in person or through a representative on the date as stated by Post-Courier. Neither have we received any written submission from your Embassy.

“The newspaper report is quite erroneous in that respect,” Chairman Maxtone-Graham stressed.

That night when I phoned Post-Courier’s editor-in-chief to get the side of his paper, he told me: “We will not make any further report on this matter … we stand by our report …”

Talk about fairness in reporting, of good journalism.

However, in today’s edition of Post-Courier, it published the Ambassador’s denial of having appeared at the committee hearing, obviously in a desperate effort to wiggle out of the shit that it has buried itself into.

It finally admitted that it made an error in reporting that she appeared before the committee on Friday, November 6. “She did not attend and made a submission,” Post-Courier said.

However, while it earlier reported that Madam Ho-Vicario actually appeared at the bi-partisan committee hearing last Friday where she purportedly disclosed the number of Filipinos in PNG and how many of them are illegal, Post-Courier has made a turn-about and is now saying in today’s report that MP Kikala stated on a bi-partisan committee hearing last Monday that the Ambassador “informed” him of the 16,000 illegal Filipinos in the country.

He, however, was unable to tell Post Courier on what occasion did the Ambassador divulge to him the derogatory information. Was it during a formal parliamentary bi-partisan hearing? Was it during lunch or dinner? Was it during a drinking spree?

Or was he just fishing for some “blockbuster” story to get some attention and pluck himself out of obscurity?

Funny, while Amba has categorically said she “never knew MP Kikala or had met him”, the (dis)honorable MP is claiming to have obtained the information directly from her.

But whatever this occasion was, it never happened. Madam Ho-Vicario was very clear in saying that “I never know who MP (Philip) Kikala is, how he looks … I just don’t know him”.

So, it’s very clear that the paper has conflicted itself while making the report in its own confusion to steer away from the heat.

And the reporter, Pearson Kolo, had “masturbated” himself to produce a highly-fabricated and incendiary story.

Well, it is very clear now that the Philippine Embassy could not expect anything fairer from the offending daily, even a follow-up story rectifying the salient points of the report – the alleged 16,000 illegal Filipinos – and reporting the actual number of Filipino expatriates, or getting the Ambassador’s side of the issue.

To seek redress, the embassy is now consulting with the legal department of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila for advice. It is also contemplating on bringing the issue to the Media Council.

True, Amba is bent on suing the newspaper.

Meantime, the Pinoys here are jittery as anti-Asian sentiments rage across PNG.

Thanks Post-Courier for making this hatred a reality now for us, Filipinos!

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  1. Anonymous6:19 PM


    This is typical ”yellow journalism” – concocted from the wildest imagination of the reporter concerned -- a story that should never have seen the light of day. Why didn’t the sub-editor ring the Pinoy embassy to get Madam Ambassador’s name correctly, ascertain whether she appeared at the inquiry and in the process also verify the story. Whatever happened to the chief of staff or the day editor who should have checked the copy and queried the reporter as to whether or not the story was beyond doubt. We have all made slippages ( I can own up to some major and minor errors and blunders as I bumbled along the way but nothing so dramatic as putting the lives of a whole race of people on the line or writing them off as illegal aliens without proof). when it concerns a sensitive issue such as the groundswell of anti-Asian sentiment being stirred up by people who think they have been badly done by or that their opportunities have been unfairly seized by Asians, editors should pause and weigh the wisdom, public responsibility and social correctness of giving editorial prominence to such a story that could lead to social chaos --- even blood bath, vandalism. A great number of the Filipinos in PNG have been in PNG since the 1970s and a majority of them are permanent residents and naturalised citizens. I am saddened by the attitude of those who “piss” best practice journalism to the wind and can not own up to say a paper erred recklessly in publishing a blatant lie that now has the potential to cause considerable grief, anxiety and terror to a group of innocent foreign guests in PNG. Would you stand by a deliberate and blatant lie?


  2. Anonymous10:37 PM

    Brata, although I personally hold a strong dislike for the owners of The National, one has to admit that these days, It is the better paper.

    The Post Courier has turned into nothing but a gossip fueled tabloid akin to the US National Enquirer. The standards are no longer there, there is no more ethical reporting. Its now just a big Australian Corporatly funded propaganda machine......................

  3. Anonymous10:38 PM

    A disgusting display of bad journalism and even worse editing, regardless of the nationality of the owners of the newspaper ( I don't see how that has any bearing on anything, or why it should even get a mention) . they should indeed be sued as well as being made to publish some form of retraction and apology.

  4. Anonymous3:55 PM

    The Investigation into the Riot must continue to determine the underlying causes.
    Philipinos are just one member of the Asian community here. The investigation MUST NOT be terminated prematurely because some people are offended by the incorrect reporting. This occurs everywhere.