Remembering Rino Arcones (UPDATED)

Today marks the 28th death anniversary of Bombo Rino Arcones.
The hard-hitting Arcones was shot dead by the Sparrow Unit of the New People’s Army in front of his rented apartment on Democracia St., Jaro district just as he finished washing and cleaning his car.
Arcones waged a courageous crusade against corruption. He was also a staunch anti-communist, which was why he was targeted by the NPA.
Rino and I were close friends. I was then editor-in-chief of The Daily Times. We often did big exposes together. It was a one-two punch combination that shook the community and drove the issues to the core.
As an anchorman, Rino was hardworking. He dug for stories himself. He conducted interviews and compiled documents. When he broadcast his exposes, everything flowed in a well-scripted commentary, logical in sequence.
Rino was very thorough. He was meticulous to detail. And he didn’t spare the effort to do research. During the Agrava Commission investigation into the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Rino ordered a pile of magazines and newspapers that published a detailed coverage and dug deep into the reportage. He didn’t assign others to do the research; he always did it himself.

His courageous reporting caught the attention of the international press. The New York Times ran a story about him in 1985, with a photograph showing him with a cal. 45 pistol and an M-16 rifle by his side as he was doing his broadcast. I was then writing for Asiaweek Magazine, and I did a similar story about Rino in the regional magazine of Time Magazine.

A lot of local broadcast anchors have tried to mold themselves in the shape of Rino Arcones. However, I haven’t seen anyone come close to being one.

Forgiving and redemption

Dr. Evangeline Johnson didn’t show a feeling of bitterness on Friday night when she sat before RMN 774 broadcaster Rhod Tecson to pour out her hurt feelings arising from the long-drawn attacks against her by the radio anchorman three years ago. “I have been taught by my God to forgive,” Dr. Johnson, who owns the Great Saviour International Hospital in Molo, Iloilo City, said. But she took the opportunity to admonish Tecson, softly, that he didn’t have the right to judge her character.

It wasn’t a scolding, but it made Tecson understand better the dynamics of his job. Individuals who are subject of radio commentary have a right to their privacy and protect their reputations. Perhaps their actions, especially when it affects the public, might be open to criticism, but definitely media persons should refrain from hitting them below-the-belt. There are limits to what a journalist can say about a public figure, and this is why we have libel laws.

I think all media persons in the country should learn from this experience if we want to raise the standards of journalism that got its biggest black eye from the bloody Augd. 23 hostage crisis. As a former editor and broadcaster, I feel heavily for the slide in the quality of our media institutions and the people in them. This is most perceptible in radio where there is almost no opportunity for editing before words are uttered over the airlanes. And the problem is compounded by the declining advertising revenue of radio, forcing networks to hire less than qualified individuals as reporters and anchors.

Iloilo has been a battleground for the major networks. That’s probably because Bombo Radyo Philippines is based here, and the competitors are forced to field anchors with razor-sharp minds. I think Iloilo has had among the best anchors in the country. Not so long ago, the late Rino Arcones was even featured in The New York Times and Asiaweek magazine. Herman Basbano is now national president of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters ng Pilipinas. The present crop of anchors — John Paul Tia, Rhod Tecson, Ronel Sorbito, Don Dolido, Henry Lumawag, Novie Guazo, Jonathan Gellangarin and Joel Tormon among others — are intelligent and talented. Unfortunately, the environment in which they are working do not encourage them to elevate their standards. That’s because they don’t get good support from reporters and researchers.

This environment is perhaps to blame for the tendency of most anchors to just blast away on issues without careful study and regard for the reputations of individuals who happen to be on the firing line. The standard is no longer how well the anchors elicit competiting ideas on issues and the basic journalism tenet of getting all sides. Commentaries are often one-sided and unfair. As a result, reputations get trampled upon, just as what Dr. Johnson experienced. And very often, commentaries deteriorate into name-calling and personal insults.

The civil confrontation between Rhod Tecson and Dr. Johnson can be a start for local media to look deep within themselves and find out what can be done to change the parameters for the industry. Broadcasters must come to realize this kind of journalism doesn’t contribute to making society better. It doesn’t help develop a thinking audience, where listeners are able to hear clashing opinions and form their own judgments. This would be an abdication of the media’s role as a crystalizer of public opinion. And in the ranks of broadcasters, network executives must strictly screen those who have access to broadcast airtime. Pardon me for being blunt, but more than half our radio reporters are an embarrassment to the industry. We have to professionalize the radio industry.

Media, radio in particular, wields tremendous power. But as Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibillity.” In forgiving between Rhod Tecson and Dr. Johnson, we hope to see the redemption of the media, especially after the Aug. 23 hostage crisis where its name was also dragged into the messy affair.