Protests Too Much


Here is something you don’t see every day: a major news website’s public apology for getting a story wrong.

Surprisingly, the apology was not for offending society with a jokey caption but for attributing a statement to a militant women’s group which immediately denied the statement and raised heck (sub-hell levels) on the Internet.

It was a basic violation of an unwritten rule of journalism–never assuming something unless stated directly–and we hope that the people who worked on the story were taken out back and promptly shot, or at least told to review their Philo 11. In any case, we hope they took their lumps.

Here is something that you actually do see every day, and anytime two or more are gathered in the name of calling other people names: a cute little media critique in the Manila Times by Katrina Stuart Santiago, scoring news websites Rappler and GMA News Online for destroying the fine tradition of Philippine journalism, a tradition that she is part of by virtue of writing opinion columns, which is not quite the same thing and is, if you look at the quality of opinion columnists we have now, hardly a virtue. read more »

Commentaries on the Network War


That the giant networks ABS-CBN and GMA have been trying to milk the Vhong Navarro incident for as much ratings and page views as they can is no real surprise.

Media critic blog Spinbusters pointed out as much in its recent post, and, coincidentally, nothing else. That they commented on the issue so late in the game and without contributing anything that everyone from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility to basically anybody with an Internet connection and a social media account has already pointed out is telling, but that is a story for another day.

What should be of issue here is not the fact that media companies pushed the issue into national prominence in a bid to boost traffic.

That is the nature of the media beast and is news to nobody. The media companies will offer what the market wants, and protest as we may, a variety show host being beaten up and accused of rape is interesting, if mind-numbing and spirit-crushing, stuff.

What we should be looking at is the national prominence of the other players in this game. read more »

Anti-Social Media: The Usual Christmas Story


December 2013

‘Tis the season for satisfaction, that time of the year when everyone whom the press has put on the spot, except for people like Janet Lim-Napoles who will have to act through proxy, gets to see serious journalists bend over backwards for whatever scraps are still left in the public relations budgets. read more »

Anti-Social Media: Primae donnae at a press conference

Here’s a story from the sidelines that our friends at Spinbusters may have missed: Reportorial feathers were ruffled at a press conference by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad last Thursday because reporters on the Finance beat wanted first crack at the secretary. read more »

The Do-Nothing Panel

An ethics complaint has been filed against Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges is busy preparing for hearings on it.


Unfortunately, those preparations are the same ones the committee was doing more than a year ago: deciding on the rules that it will use in ethics cases.


In January 2011, while Senator Panfilo Lacson was in hiding from the law, the committee’s chairman, Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, set a meeting with the members of his panel. “We will have [an] organizational meeting of the committee on ethics and first agenda will be the rules,” he told reporters then.


“The intention is to assure that I will not be bias or prejudice. We will not make rules in accordance with the pending complaints. I will be a mediator rather than advocate,” Cayetano said.


And Cayetano was true to his promise. The committee did, indeed, not make rules. At all.


The senator said in an interview on DZMM this morning that the committee has to meet again to finalize the rules.


Ang naging status po noong magdedesisyon na kami sa finality  ng rules ng komite noong Hunyo ng nakaraang taon, doon na po pumasok ang mabibigat na hearing sa Senado tungkol sa PCSO scam, sa 2004 at 2007 elections, at iba pang mga hearing. Matapos po nito ay pumasok rin po ang impeachment ni CJ Corona. Kaya ang nangyari po noon, hindi na po masyadong maganda ang attendance ng hearing ng Ethics Committee at hindi na bumalik yung consensus sa gagawing rules.


The senator says there were “several meetings, technical working groups and hearings that were working on the rules of the committee” before the members basically just lost interest. Who, after all, wants to have a mechanism in place to hold senators accountable, a mechanism that might one day be used against him?


Why was there a need to craft new rules for the ethics committee? Cayetano explains in Filipino that, during the 14th Congress, “the Ethics committee became controversial because there were always accusations within the Senate that cases were political in nature, or members of the Senate were using the committee against other members.” He neglects to mention that those accusations came from him and other allies of Senator Manuel Villar Jr., then aspiring for the presidency and facing an ethics probe.


Funnily enough, the head of the Ethics committee at the time was Senator Lacson, who was also Villar’s accuser.


Given the probe on Villar was partly political in nature (and achieved nothing in terms of accountability), Cayetano was right that better rules were needed when trying senators for disorderly conduct. He was wrong in not pushing for those rules to be finalized and adopted. As committee chairman, he certainly had the power to call for meetings and it should not have been impossible to get two to three members of the seven-member panel to attend.


Not shown: The Rules of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges. Because they don’t exist.


In his radio interview this morning, Cayetano mentions failed attempts in past Congresses to come up with a Code of Ethics for senators. He does not mention, however, whether he will try to come up with one.


And this is what is the most irksome about Cayetano. For all his statements and speeches about transparency and justice and good governance, he has done little in the way of legislation. It is not uncommon for his office to issue statements that sound great but are not backed up by bills or resolutions that will actually make things happen.


According to a GMA Network News report in 2011, Cayetano beat only Senator Joker Arroyo in the number of bills and resolutions filed. Considering Arroyo only filed 17 resolutions by then, that is really not saying much.


The ethics complaint against Sotto: A good fight that will end in defeat

Senate watchers hoping Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III will get censured by the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges for copying from American bloggers and a dead U.S. senator are in for a disappointment.


According to reports, professors from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University are getting ready to file an ethics complaint against Sotto. Three U.S.-based writers who say Sotto plagiarized from them for his speeches against the Reproductive Health bill have also said they want Sotto brought before the Senate ethics committee.


They will, no doubt, do so as promised, trooping to the Senate in front of photographers and reporters who will record the moment for posterity. And that is where the campaign to have Sotto censured by the Senate will end.


Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sotto’s party-mate and ally in opposing the Reproductive Health bill, has already defended the senator even before a formal complaint has been filed. The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Matikas Santos writes,


[Senators] can’t be question [sic] by anybody outside this chamber,” Enrile told reporters Monday.

He said that senators are given immunity under the Constitution to speak on any issues before the Senate.

Under Article Six “The Legislative Department” Section 11 of the Philippine Constitution, “No member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof.”


That is true, but Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has given fiery (and most likely original) privilege speeches at the Senate had this to say about parliamentary immunity after Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Singson sued her for implicating him in jueteng:


You know parliamentary immunity is not meant to be abused by the senators and congressmen. It is meant to encourage them to speak the unspeakable without suffering the consequences. Otherwise we’d all be lying dead on the streets or our family would be assassinated.


That’s neither here nor there, but that show what parliamentary immunity was meant for.  Notice that there was no mention of passing somebody else’s words as your own as privileged speech.


Rule X § 13 (2) in the Rules of the Senate gives the Senate ethics committee jurisdiction over “all matters relating to the conduct, rights, privileges, safety, dignity, integrity and reputation of the Senate and its members.” That, presumably, includes Sotto’s alleged plagiarism and general unsavoriness of character. Under Senate rules, the committee can recommend punishment and “with the concurrence of two-thirds of the entire membership, suspend or expel a Member.”


The ethics committee can, but it will not. In the first place, the Senate ethics committee will not be able to reach a quorum of members willing to attend hearings and dignify a complaint against one of their own. This was a problem even when Senator Manuel Villar Jr. was facing an ethics complaint over a more serious charge of corruption and of being Senate president in the run up to an election year.


Ethics investigations against Senator Panfilo Lacson, who was accused of not doing his job by virtue of being absent from the Senate because he was a fugitive from justice, also went nowhere.


For an offense like plagiarism, which Sotto says is not even a crime even if he did do it which he isn’t saying he did, committee chairman and Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano might not even bother booking a room to hold a hearing in. Besides, he’ll be busy preparing for his election campaign and nurturing his deep hatred for Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.


Should Sotto be held accountable for plagiarism? Certainly, and the bloggers and professors who want him to answer for his intellectual dishonesty should be commended for fighting the good fight. As with many good fights, though, this one is against windmills who haughtily condemn corruption and contemptuous behavior in others but would rather be the laughing stock of the World Legislators’ Club than admit that they can make mistakes.


Sorry, rest of the world. I win. #sorrynotsorry

In Defense of Mon Tulfo

It must be a cold day in hell because, for the first time ever, this website sympathizes with Inquirer columnist Mon Tulfo.

Not because of anything he said but because of what happened to him: Held down and beaten by two celebrities and their man-tourage at an airport.

Also, too much pink

The fight apparently began when Tulfo, being both curious and at one time in his life vaguely a journalist, took out his mobile phone to take pictures of actress Claudine Barretto complaining about misplaced luggage.

According to the Inquirer, where Tulfo works:

Tulfo pulled out his mobile phone and took photos of the scene, which he said would form part of a column he intended to write, when a man from the actress’ group approached him.

The man, whom he later recognized as Barretto’s husband, “demanded to get my phone which I used in taking shots.” Tulfo said he refused to surrender his phone.

Santiago continued to force Tulfo to give up his phone when several men joined the actor, according to the columnist. Tulfo said he could not recall who threw the first punch because he was being ganged up [on].

Tulfo says he was blind-sided but Barrett and her husband Raymart Santiago say Tulfo started the fight:

In an interview with Inquirer Entertainment and posted on after the incident, Santiago said that when he approached Tulfo to ask him about his cellphone video, the columnist suddenly punched and kicked him and his wife.

“Why would I hit an older man in front of my children? I wasn’t brought up by my parents that way,” he explained.

As we have no way of knowing how the Santiagos brought Raymart up, we will have to take that at face value. We will also have to note, however, that “not being brought up that way” has as much weight as a legal defense as saying “It wasn’t me.”

Tulfo’s reputation as a hot-headed potty mouth works against him in this case, as was seen on the first reactions on Twitter: They were pretty much about how Tulfo is “less of a man” for getting into a fight with a girl (and her man-tourage). But this was before a video of the incident began circulating on the Internet:

Barretto insists, on,  that Tulfo kicked her and kicked her first:

Barretto said Tulfo also kicked her twice when she confronted him about why he punched her husband.

“Lumapit ako sabi ko ‘Anong problema mo? Bakit ka nanununtok?’ Tapos bigla na lang humarap siya sa akin, tinadyakan niya ako ng dalawang beses sa hita tapos tinulak ako sa may counter ng sobrang lakas,” she said.

Tulfo admits he may have kicked Barretto:

While trying to fight his way out, Tulfo said Barretto, who was nearby, repeatedly cursed at him. He said he might have hit the actress with a kick as he tried to fight back.

In that video, someone, presumably Santiago keeps saying “Hindi pa ako tapos! (I’m not yet done!).” And that, more than anything, makes whatever defense that Tulfo allegedly started the fight invalid.

Let’s say Tulfo did start the fight. Santiago and his man-tourage would have been justified in hitting back, but only to a certain extent. Knock him out, maybe. Or push him away and then form a protective circle around Barretto until security arrived. Engaging in a brawl does not count as self defense.

According to the Revised Penal Code, Santiago and his man-tourage can claim self defense in the face of unlawful aggression, but that hinges on the reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it and the lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.*

A choke hold while loudly proclaiming you are not yet done does not count as reasonable necessity in any case except in the Octagon. Tulfo was on the ground and, although he was fighting back, was no longer a threat to anything except his tough-guy image.** Security was also on the way by the time the video was taken, so Santiago, his pal in pink, and Barretto could have–should have–backed off already.

Also, Barretto is seen taking part in the brawl herself, which means she’s as much a part of it as their bad-ass friend in pink whom Tulfo actually hits with a kick. Despite being held in a choke hold. And being an old man. Good job, Turtle.

More important than a celebrity couple beating up someone who is vaguely a journalist is a celebrity subjecting ordinary citizens to verbal abuse:

Barretto allegedly started cursing at Cebu Pacific ground staff Cid Charisse Bocboc and Kristina Anne Ilagan after she found out that their luggage had been left behind.

Aside from not having their luggage, Barretto also got mad because their flight was delayed, Bocboc told airport authorities.

Bocboc said she asked Barretto for the baggage claim stub and description of their luggages for proper tracing, but Barretto reportedly continued her tongue-lashing of the ground crew in front of other arriving passengers.

Ilagan, on the other hand, told authorities she explained to Barretto that due to weight limitations and for safety reason, their luggages had to be flown to Kalibo Airport, Aklan and that these would soon be brought to Manila.

Despite their explanations, Ilagan and Bocboc, in their handwritten statements to airport authorities, said Barretto continued to verbally abuse them.

We get that flying on Cebu Pacific can be a headache sometimes, but that is no reason to take it out on the ground crew in Manila for luggage left behind in Aklan. In the first place, they had nothing to do with it, being in Manila. And also, they are just wage slaves like the rest of us who aren’t celebrities and do not deserve that sort of treatment at all. Especially not for a problem that was already being addressed: the luggage was already being brought over to Manila.

One must also note that the luggage was supposedly left behind due to “weight limitations and for safety reason (sic)” so Barretto and Santiago may have had something to do with that. Maybe they packed too much stuff? Even if they didn’t, it bears thinking about that had Cebu Pacific loaded the luggage on the plane, the argument would not have happened. Possibly because the plane crashed into the sea.

*An Act Revising the Penal Code and Other Penal Laws [REVISED PENAL CODE], Act No.3815, art.11 (1932)

** I mean, he’s in pink even.

Quite a Character

Guess what, Philippine Daily Inquirer? Funny faces are only funny when they’re made on purpose, and not when they’re the uncontrollable result of a debilitating cerebrovascular accident.

With all the elegance of a national broadsheet stooping to unethical levels that would make a tabloid blush, today’s PDI published incredibly tasteful photographs of witness Demetrio Vicente grimacing his way through a testimony. On the front page, even.

This isn't the picture we're talking about.

The photos have been called “unflattering,” “tasteless,” and “mean.” We don’t mince words. The decision to publish those particular photographs of the septuagenarian stroke survivor was downright cruel.

Inquirer’s instant statement amidst the backlash was the exact opposite of their usual coverage of the impeachment trial: on the defense. Their claim that the four-frame collage of Mr. Vicente’s facial expressions contained “the only photos available” is shut down by the fact that there are actually only two photos, with the other half of the quadrant being zoomed-in versions of the first two. What did you think that editorial call was, PDI? A stroke of genius?

As if the photographs weren’t funny enough — and by “funny” we mean “insulting to Mr. Vicente and stroke survivors and people with basic human values everywhere” — PDI couldn’t resist digging their elbow a little deeper into the side of ethical journalism. Which, by the way, isn’t ticklish.

Their caption:
“‘CHARACTER’ WITNESS The many faces of Demetrio Vicente on the witness stand. He’s no ordinary witness after all. He’s the cousin of the Chief Justice whose wife sold him seven parcels of land in 1990, where he now grows bonsai.”

Oh, I get it! He’s a “character” because he can’t control his facial muscles! Also, he is a witness! So witty, Inquirer. “Character” is properly ascribed to vintage furniture and James Earl Jones’ voice, not disabilities. People who come up with quips like these are the same people who Photoshop Mickey Mouse ears onto pictures of hydrocephalic babies.

(Thx, Indolent contributor Lady Dada!)

And So It Goes

And so we find the strongest political coalition before the 2010 elections reduced to a fractious faction who apparently will eagerly turn on each other at the drop of a hat.

Former political giant Lakas-Kampi-CMD this week lost one of the few members who actually did stuff: Albay Representative Edcel Lagman.

"Screw you guys. I'm going home."

Lagman stepped down weeks after declaring he still had the support of most of the 29 members of the minority bloc at the House of Representatives. The two Arroyo sons in Congress, who had earlier pledged loyalty to Lagman, have reportedly decided to back Suarez instead.

I cannot continue serving a political aggrupation which deliberately refuses to recognize competent, militant and responsible leadership and would opt to follow blindly the importuning of former President Arroyo,” he added.

Lagman earlier accused Arroyo of planning his ouster after meeting with (Quezon Representative Danilo) Suarez and several of her close allies in her hospital suite at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center two weeks ago.

With Lagman–veteran debater, foil to the administration, and principal author of the Reproductive Health bill at the House–gone, the minority is left with Suarez, who does not have much of a record of objecting to things except in the issue of taxes owed to his province by an energy company. He was a staunch ally of then President Joseph Estrada before switching to the Arroyo team. We hazard that given a choice, he would gladly jump this ship and join the Aquino administration if it will have him.

Other erstwhile allies have either joined the administration Liberal Party directly or, through the new National Unity Party that is part of the House majority.

At any rate, Lakas-Kampi-CMD has little strength left, and even less allies. With just 28 members left, a number that may yet dwindle as the 2013 elections loom, there is little that the minority can do now except make ineffectual noise, if that.