For a broadcast facility that is legally unable to go on the air because it has no legislative franchise to operate, ABS-CBN is still making its presence felt in the country via its continuing newscasts aired mainly through its questionable use of A2Z Channel 11.
ABS-CBN was recently involved in another controversy, this time involving the Julian Felipe Reef located in the West Philippine Sea. That reef falls within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines recognized in International Law under the decades-old United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.
For about two weeks already, more than a dozen Chinese warships have been spotted around this reef, behaving as if the area is Chinese maritime territory.
The Philippine government has filed repeated diplomatic protests against the Chinese incursion in the zone, and the Philippine Coast Guard has sent ships to patrol the area.
Alarmed by the presence of so many Chinese warships in Philippine territory and the possibility of an armed conflict over the reef, local business groups have urged Beijing to leave the zone.
Even the United States is disturbed by the manifest show of force by the Chinese navy in this important sea lane in Asia.
To state the obvious, the area is a hot spot, a potential powder keg. In the interest of public safety, officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) discourage the news media from visiting the site.
That move is for good reason, too. If anyone from the news media is injured or killed in a sudden skirmish there, the AFP will be surely blamed for such injuries or deaths. The moribund political opposition will certainly enjoy pinning the fault on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his administration.
Restricting the news media from entering a war zone, or an area that may potentially become one, is a conceded prerogative of military authorities. Civilians are not supposed to be part of the fighting, and that is the reason why international rules of warfare forbid military forces from killing innocent civilians.
Getting back to the main point, a news crew of ABS-CBN last week chartered a private motor boat and, without bothering to clear things with the AFP, ventured to the manifestly dangerous Julian Felipe Reef to cover the potential flashpoint.
Fortunately, the news crew finished the coverage without any one of them getting injured in an exchange of fire between Philippine and Chinese forces in the hot spot.
If the ABS-CBN news crew thought that they were being intrepid, they are mistaken. They were reckless. Not only did they court personal harm; they could have been misunderstood by the Chinese navy and in the process provoke the Chinese into shooting at them. That would have triggered a violent confrontation between the two already jittery sides to the maritime conflict.
Instead of owning up to that recklessness, the news crew’s Chiara Zambrano argued that she was just exposing the injustice committed by China.
The generally perceived anti-government National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and some overacting mass communication academics from the University of the Philippines in Diliman expressed their support for Zambrano.
Both groups claimed that the AFP “made it seem like Filipinos are not safe in their own territory.” They also demanded military protection for journalists covering the maritime dispute.
That statement glorifies recklessness, and is patently misleading.
Don’t these anti-government journalists and woefully misinformed academics realize what a potential war zone is? Aren’t they aware of the duty of the AFP to restrict the presence of civilians, the news media included, in a tense situation that can turn into a shooting war with another country? What kind of journalism do they advocate and teach in school anyway?
If the AFP believes that the threat to life and limb near the Julian Felipe Reef is so serious that its naval personnel may not be able to secure any news crew in the area, prudence and good reason dictate that the AFP should not allow the presence of any news crew there. Why should the AFP be faulted for that?