Senator Rutun of Yap Comments on Chiefs' Criticisms of Journalist

Senator Ted Rutun of the Yap State Legislature answers questions regarding the Council of Pilung’s request to have PIT contributor, Joyce McClure, declared persona non grata.

(The following questions were gathered from anonymous individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of TFB)

TFB: The Fourth Branch Micronesia
SR: Senator Rutun

TFB: Can the Council give specific examples of "fake news" that was written by Ms. McClure? Can the Council give specific examples of Ms. McClure's writings being, "disruptive to the State environment, and/or to the safety and security of the State"?

SR: I don't think they can because chances are if they could, they would have done it in the first place. Moreover, going into detail could be self-incriminating not only against the provision of freedom of speech in the relevant constitutions but could also be damaging to their image as chiefs and guardians of tradition and custom, which logically extends and hence also implies that they are the symbols, icons and stewards of peace, unity, cohesiveness and the general integrity in society. Hence, truth should be told as one way of safeguarding our vulnerability to corruption. Therefore, any statements attesting to the violation of "truth", or the dissemination thereof, as proclaimed by the Council in their letter, must be substantiated adequately but it appears that they have failed to do that.

I fully agree that McClure's articles (whether based on truth or not) could possibly pose such treats to the state, nation and the whole world because, behind the scene, are two formidable countries who are constantly at "war" as to which one of whom should take control over an area that obviously encompasses Yap. And should that "war" escalate, we might find ourselves in that dreadful predicament.  However, I don't think that was what the Council meant in the letter.

My guess was the Council was referring to McClure's letters to collectively constitute an instrument that provokes hatred and thus cultivates and inflares the feelings of animosity (and some level of unrest, perhaps), between those members of society who feel strongly for or against each of the given rival countries who are contesting the control over this area.

I, for one, believe that it's more threatening to the environment, safety and security of the people if only a few (who have probably been more than lobbied for their support) decide for the majority who are and have basically been in the dark of what's going on in their municipalities and state because they are not being included in the decision-making process.  And the justification for being excluded is because "the nature of the business development in question was/is private (between private landowners and private foreign developers)" and therefore should not involve non-relevant land owners and government people.  Yet, most of the ardent supporters of this view were/are high ranking officials in both the State and National governments.

As an example out of many: While everyone wants to develop the private sector to generate more revenue for the State and Nation (with three foreign investors having actually been granted their permits), no one in Yap---including their advocates---know the breakdown of the revenue as to what percentage of the dollar goes to whom and where; thereby, begging the question of whose economy is being developed and why shouldn't we all be concerned.

TFB: How has Pacific Island Times stoked "biased strong opinions against Asian ethnicity"? 

SR: I can only guess that it's because PIT published the articles without "verifying" the information, or so the allegation goes. Again, I would think the real issue here is "what is proper and allowable to be printed", which, once again, invokes the constitutional clause of the freedom of speech/press.

However, I detect something funny about how loosely the Council uses the phrase  "Asian ethnicity" in the referenced letter.  By one definition, "Asia" comprises 50-plus countries with people in those 50 plus countries sharing some of their "Asian Ethnic" genes with people in about all the other 140 remaining countries of the word.

Did the Chiefs really believe the impact (biased or otherwise) of the articles could reach out and adversely touch the lives of so many people? Do those billions of people feel or experience, in one way or another, that they are being biased against because of Ms. McClure's articles and the negligence of PIT for publishing them without first checking?

TFB: Has the State Senate met to discuss the Council's letter?

SR: No, the State has not met. The request to remove Ms. McClure persona non grata is being treated as conclusive and final, even in the absence of exercising due process which is a requirement under the law. But there could be some self-justified reasons. In fact, just last night, I came across a comment, essentially saying that Pilung(s) (traditional chiefs) are traditionally empowered to determine what's "good" or "bad" solely on the basis of their preference. While there's so much to learn, I keep wondering if that's the kind of element that fosters corruption in our society.

Forgoing any cooperative and mutual consultation and deliberations on this particular subject matter is just one of many incidents where discussions and/or even just sharing of the information with others others was shunned from the scrutiny of the public. It's pathetic and that's why an independent media is needed to address such and similar issues.

TFB: What is your opinion about the role of free press?

SR: For the most part, please synthesize and infer from the information already provide above and below, with emphasis on what you can surmise while reading between the lines.
However, if my understanding of the purpose of the press is to disseminate information in the form of news as opposed to other means and manners of dispensing information, then my opinion should be formulated along those lines. These are different ways of conveying information, which are all meant to inform, educate and empower the people for the attainment of happiness, well-being and the general ability to get the most out of one's life.  Indeed, the role of the press, in my opinion, could be as diversified and far-reaching as one could articulate.

Conveying inaccurate, misleading, distorted, biased information should, in my opinion, not qualify to be labeled "press material", even with a liberal interpretation of the phrase. And the reason is simple: it fails to inform accurately or according to the truth; it also fails to facilitate happiness and well-being. What's the use and why all the expenses to warrant the existence of the press?

And with all that having been said, the role of the press, in my opinion, gets more critical, sorely and pathetically needed with an inverse relationship to the degree of development and sophistication in society. The demand for the press increases when there are no other means available in society to help disseminate information and/or when the people are less informed because of a "controlled" or biased press.

Yap has a government website, radio and TV stations but they are not independent and free from the influence of the government. And because of the presence of the conflict of interest, some information has been omitted or withheld from the public. Part of the reason was/is driven by an ulterior motive, but the other and the more obvious one is sometimes confronting the truth in its glory could hurt, embarrass, humiliate or otherwise implicate people for wrongdoing.  Thus, Yap, and most of the FSM, for that matter, truly need a free and independent press.

TFB: How will declaring a US citizen, persona non grata, affect the FSM's relationship with the US?

SR: The ramifications of expulsion persona non grata (or an attempt of accomplishing such) of a US citizen without proof of wrongdoing is really incomprehensible. Even the mere fact of the news about it reaching the international arena has compounded an everlasting effect which would adversely affect our dealings and relationship with the outside world. So much could be said about a tainted reputation!

The effort of suppressing free press implicates the presence of shortsightedness, corruption and a sense of self-centeredness that is permeating our society. The ultimate result of that predicament would be chaos, violence and lawlessness in general. It will render a place that has been described "pristine" unlivable.

But with the US, it's a reciprocal deal.  We could be deported persona non grata from the US or any of its territories for the slightest mishap and we couldn't do much about it even if we detect some elements of prejudice within the midst.  We were the first ones to have committed the wrongdoing in the first place.

But perhaps what may seem like an omen could be a blessing in disguise. Ousting Ms. McClure persona non grata could trigger a positive reaction if the US starts shipping home all the homeless FSM citizens and their descendants living in their country and territories. Trump has done it to the Mexicans.

TFB: The two times this level of drama targeting/discrediting journalists (to the point where government action was needed) have both involved journalists who were white women. is this a pattern or a coincidence?

SR: Very good question but I should not know the answer any more than you do. We all know or we would have heard otherwise that there were no acts of conspiracy involved here. Moreover, one case happened at the National level while the other at the State level, involving different actors. So, for those given reasons, chances are it was a coincidence.

However, this is not to rule out the possibility of some consistent but subconscious element of hatred towards white women that may be present at the molecular level of all Micronesian men. In that regard, the pattern is definitely there to correspond with its undeniable presence at the genetic level.  To the extent of any truth in that possibility, you and I should consider ourselves lucky for not being at the wrong place and at the wrong time but with the right women.

 TFB: Is the COP acting in the interest of foreign investors?

SR: I stand to be corrected but I believe the subject letter was prompted by several factors. One of such factors was to perhaps make sure that any benefits the COP may be getting from the foreign investors would not be compromised. This little group may not have any feelings of loyalty towards their benefactors.
Some of the members, on the other hand, do have a closer connection with some of the investors; thus, such chiefs may likely have a sense of obligation to reciprocate the favors. I also believe one of the factors is the presence of a compelling desire to retaliate against the person who not only gets in the way and prevents certain accomplishments but also in the process of doing so, she invariably "ridicules" and questions the integrity of the body.

TFB: Is there a need to revisit the authority granted to the Council of Pilung (as well as the Council of Tamol) under the Yap State Constitution, in light of the long standing public complaints about overreach by that branch of the Yap government?

SR: A constitutional convention for the State of Yap is long overdue by about five years now.  At least every ten years during a general election, the question of whether or not to have a constitutional convention should be placed on the referendum for the voters. The last one was in 2004, I believe. I sometimes wonder if it has been the intention of some people to not have such a convention. It appears to me to be the case at times.

There has actually been some talks to reconsider the role of the chiefs as to whether or not to keep recognizing them as a constitutional branch of the government or to abolish that concept altogether and recognize them as traditional chiefs, just like the way it used to be. However, this is easier said than done as some people argue that some of the present members of the council are not the real traditional chiefs of their respective municipality.

Another argument favoring the reorganization, or even abolition, of the Council stems from the notion that such a Council was created for the sole purpose of safeguarding custom and tradition of the land; however, in recent past, they seemed to be the ones who would promote activities and welcome opportunities that many people considered to be in direct conflict with that constitutional mandate.
Endorsing unconscionable land lease contracts which heavily favor foreign investors and ignore the interest of tradition and custom to the extent of conflict are some of the classic instances whereby the Council seems to depart from exercising their role as guardians of tradition and custom as expressed in the language of the State Constitution.
Another compelling reason that may justify the calling for a constitutional convention would be to review the type and extent of authority and control the Council would have when exercising their powers and privileges as "traditional chiefs" versus "constitutional chiefs".  The mandates should be different but there have been occasions when it became really difficult to draw the line between the two sets of authority.  And when they clash, it is natural to choose to evoke the one set of authority that serves you right under the given set of circumstances. We all have our inherent fallibility.

TFB: Any final thoughts for our readers.

SR: Freedom of the press/media is a constitutional mandate that's enumerated in both the states and FSM constitutions. Recognizing the importance of the press in society, the framers of our constitutions saw it fitting to include this mandate in our constitutions to provide a legal basis for the dissemination of information and to also render some degree of legal protection to the media and journalists alike.
Having that provision incorporated in the language of our constitutions essentially gives each and every citizen of the FSM and residents of each state within it the right to benefit from the press. The press assists us in providing the waypoints to follow. It also helps to instill in us a sense of judgment so we may be able to make the right choice when presented with many alternatives in any given situation.
Not having a free press or to suppress the free dissemination of information goes against the intent of the framers of our constitutions. This is because it removes an essential mechanism that helps maintain checks and balances in society. The ultimate result of not having a free press is chaos, corruption and lawlessness which all undermine the value and dignity of the human life.