Misleading public opinion by purveying inexistent and unfounded allegations has to be dealt with seriously to be able to sustain the progress of the province and, above all, to respect the publicâ€™s leeway in analysis of issues affecting them.
Wrong information fed to the public, especially those without the opportunity and resources to research on their own and dependent on the media for information, will destroy democracy.
This summed up the explanation of Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) Member Venzencio Arcamo on the SPâ€™s decision to pass a resolution declaring Lawyer Salvador Diputado persona non grata.
Diputado is former president of the Integrated Bar of the Phils (Bohol chapter) and editor of Bohol Times, a newspaper owned by the family of Vice Gov Dionisio Balite who is his father-in-law.
The â€œpersonal non grataâ€ tag had in direct reference to the issue about an alleged $81-million bank account placed in the name of a provincial official which Diputado played up in a public affairs program he handles in a local radio station, and in his columns in a local newspaper where he is an editor and in a regional paper where he is a columnist.
Diputado well-packaged the topic as an expose so controversial that should remain a blind item.
In a series of committee hearings conducted by the SP Committee as a Whole, it turned out to be just a rumor.
Arcamo said they noticed a pattern in Diputadoâ€™s practice of sowing intrigue at whatever good the provincial government rakes from accomplishments and achievements in line with the development agenda of Bohol.
Arcamo also clarified that it is not from the Local Government Code providing for the functions of the SP that declaring a media personality persona non grata was derived from, but it is from the principle behind the duties of public officials to protect the people. In this matter, it is the duty to protect the people from misinformation.
It is based on a legal principle that what is not prohibited is allowed.
â€œWe are also protector of the people against lies peddled by journalistsâ€. The SP has the duty to protect the people from unscrupulous media personalities who, instead of purveying truth, feed the public with â€œuntruthâ€, according to Arcamo.
From the series of committee hearings, the SP decided to make a strong stand and a strong statement against what has seemed to develop as Diputadoâ€™s personal cause to put the provincial government in bad light.
Declaring Diputado persona non grata is just an expression of sentiment of the SP with the intention of reminding and making the lawyer realize that he should stop such habit, because it is already contrary to the mandate of the media to purvey truth.
Allowing unfounded allegations and lies to influence public opinion will only lead to breakdown of democracy where the people would tend to concluded based on lies.
Arcamo said the issue on the alleged $81-million bank account was the first. Diputado had not only done it once, twice or thrice, but many times- -cultivating â€œuntruthâ€ to put the well-found institution such as the provincial government in bad light.
During the committee hearings of the SP, reports were presented about the past issues that Diputado delved into such as another allegation that a barangay official who is now a town official was linked to illegal drugs without even an affidavit or any report to support such allegation.
Another issue Diputado delved into in his radio program was the allegation that a mediaman came ahead of the raiding team in the house of the subject of the police operation and requested that his face be deleted in the CCTV footage. When confirmed with the CIDG, it turned out that there was no such incident.
Another report presented during one of the committee hearings was that Diputado wrote to President Rodrigo Duterte, saying that contracts related to the implementation of the New Bohol Airport were funneled by provincial officials which surprised the SP as to the basis for such allegation because the letter had no attachment regarding specific contracts or names of such provincial officials.
Arcamo said they only saw the letter stamped as already received by the Office of the President, wherein Diputado just stated â€œI heardâ€¦â€ without supporting documents to ascertain the facts.
Such letter would cause the President to doubt on the province hosting such multi-billion-peso project, and might cause the impression that provincial officials are personally benefiting from the project.
Arcamo clarified that the provincial government never engaged in any of the contracts related to the project, and the only participation of the province was the land acquisition which bulk of it was undertaken by the past administrations.
What is clear in the letter is the intention to put the provincial government in bad light.
With the pattern in Diputadoâ€™s practice, the SP was forced to declare him persona non grata.
First, it must be pointed out and he must realize that what he has been doing are not good. Second, the SP has to protect the public from being influenced by misleading information. Third, the institutions- -the provincial government, the bankers, and the US government have been dragged.
Most important is the protection of truth, because if truth is destroyed, democracy will breakdown, Arcamo pointed out.
â€œAs media practitioner and publisher, you have to state the true facts, not the half-truth, not the untruthÂ kay looy angÂ public.Â Unya motuo ra ba pod ang uban. Kung ing-ana, guba atong demokrasya kung mada,â€according to Arcamo.
Arcamo, however, explained that declaring a person persona non grata â€œcurtails no rightâ€, that Diputado may still go to the SP office, since his rights are not prohibited by the â€œpersona non grataâ€ tag.
Arcamo also confirmed that the SP will refer the matter with the KBP and the Â Philippine Press Institute (PPI) as one of the recommendations arrived at in the July committee hearing.
Arcamo also explained that the SP cannot dictate the media outfits who to allow to go on air or to submit articles or get their articles published, since as the Fourth State, the media â€œisâ€ free to exercise its duty as purveyor of truth and shape public opinion.