Journalists strengthen responsible reporting for Bangsamoro children

In partnership with the Government of the United Kingdom

UNICEF Philippines
Journalists strengthen responsible reporting for Bangsamoro children
Odessa Cruz
25 March 2021

When COVID-19 reached the Philippines, the need to protect the rights of children in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has become more urgent as they start to experience the impact of the pandemic on their health, education and overall well-being.  

In partnership with the Government of the United Kingdom, through its Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UNICEF provided the much-needed support to the Bangsamoro Government in response to the pandemic. Alongside supplies for water, sanitation and hygiene; health and nutrition training and supplements; and the dissemination of critical COVID-19 information, the partnership also supported a series of media forums.

From November 2020 to March 2021, in partnership with the Bangsamoro Information Office, five forums were conducted on ‘Child-based Reporting in the New Normal’ that served as a platform for journalists and information officers in the region to exchange views on the ethical reporting of child rights issues in BARMM.

UNICEF interviewed Odessa Cruz, 39, a news correspondent for Net25 in Central Mindanao who participated in the forums. A journalist for more than 10 years, Odessa considers covering peace and development in the Bangsamoro region as a fulfilling work. Below, she shares her views in her own words (edited for brevity and clarity).

When COVID-19 reached the Philippines, the need to protect the rights of children in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has become more urgent as they start to experience the impact of the pandemic on their health, education and overall well-being.  

Journalists strengthen responsible reporting for Bangsamoro children
Odessa Cruz
Odessa Cruz with evacuees. In March 2015, journalists were invited to participate in the massive relief operations by the then ARMM government for the residents of Maguindanao who fled to safer grounds as the military launched law enforcement operations against rebels lurking in the outskirts of far-flung towns (now named SPMS Box).

Reporting about children in the Bangsamoro region

In the past, it was a challenge to find data on the status of children’s health, education and social services for vulnerable families in Muslim Mindanao. Prior to the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the stories we could write about children are limited to them being with families who fled the conflicts. If there were data, these were limited to how poor the families are, or how they are greatly affected by the conflicts. All these depicted negative images for the Bangsamoro children.

Today, however, we are gradually seeing that programs and policies in the current BARMM government are being aligned to the welfare of children. Now that the Bangsamoro has been given their long wish for autonomy, peace is somewhat achieved, and development follows through.

The most pressing child rights issues in the region

Health and nutrition and access to quality education are pressing concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated issues of poor education, health and nutrition. Because of the government restrictions against COVID 19, the Bangsamoro people were greatly affected by limited access to these services. The lack of technical capability for online learning of most Bangsamoro children worsened cases of poor education following quarantine and lockdowns. While many have been reached and given assistance, many in far-flung areas need help.

As a journalist/reporter covering Central Mindanao since the early 2000, I say there is improvement within the Bangsamoro communities because of intervention from the BARMM government (with help from various international agencies such as UNICEF). Maybe in the coming years, with relentless assistance and development programs from the government, more people in the Bangsamoro will benefit.

"As a journalist/reporter covering Central Mindanao since the early 2000, I say there is improvement within the Bangsamoro communities because of intervention from the BARMM government (with help from various international agencies such as UNICEF)."

Odessa Cruz

How the media forums have affected her work

The forums made me remember the values and ethics that a journalist should follow when reporting about children’s issues. The constant talks on how the media can help in fostering children’s rights have made an impression to the extent that I already made it my principle to write or report stories concerning children in a manner that would only promote their rights and well-being.

Applying the most significant learning from the media forums

I learned that reporting about children is as serious as reporting about war or a criminal event. Reporters/journalists must be careful about the details because children have the right to privacy and confidentiality. One may face criminal charges for irresponsible journalism/reporting.

I vow to practice accountable reporting at all times, in all aspect of work and in all types of journalism/reporting jobs. It is important for me now that when I write news stories about children or any other vulnerable sector of society, I should pause and think whether the information I will be delivering in the news will affect their sensitivity, privacy, rights and welfare.

Her advice to fellow journalists

The Bangsamoro is unique. We, members of the media covering the Bangsamoro region, more than anyone else, are the ones who truly understand its people and all its diversities. My call to all of us media practitioners is that we remain truthful in our responsibilities as bearers of information to the public. Report with honesty and accuracy and, of course, never forget to be sensitive to the rights and welfare of the Bangsamoro children. Let us also remember to consider writing our stories with values of peace so we can contribute to peace and development benefiting not only the Bangsamoro but the entire island of Mindanao.

"My call to all of us media practitioners is that we remain truthful in our responsibilities as bearers of information to the public. Report with honesty and accuracy and, of course, never forget to be sensitive to the rights and welfare of the Bangsamoro children."

Odessa Cruz

As of 24 March 2021, the partnership between the UK Government and UNICEF Philippines to support the COVID-19 response of the BARMM Government has provided:

  • Critical COVID-19 information to 4.3 million adolescents and youth, mothers and caregivers in BARMM through social media, broadcast media, two-way radios and printed materials in cooperation with the Bangsamoro Information Office;
  • Support to reestablish integrated health and nutrition outreach and fixed centre services in rural health units in 20 at-risk municipalities in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur provinces such as delivery of vaccines and nutrition screening and counselling for under 5-year-old children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers;
  • Support in the routine vaccination of over 10,000 young children, and the nutrition screening of almost 90,000 children under 5 years old in partnership with the Health Organization in Mindanao and the local government;
  • Training to 700 local health staff and frontline health workers on COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement in 20 municipalities;
  • 120,000 sachets of ready-to-use therapeutic food to 20 municipalities to overcome gaps in nutrition supplies;
  • Critical emergency relief supplies to Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu to assist an estimated 5,000 individuals, including children, returning from Sabah, Malaysia with family hygiene and dignity kits, water containers and water purification tablets, tents and recreation and early childhood kits for setting up safe spaces for children and adolescents.