Archive | November, 2012

Encircle all that apply

28 Nov

Beating the deadline (n. or v.)

– the writer’s (  equivalent of  / supplement to / substitute for  ) an orgasm.

Soft focus

14 Nov

“Smile!” he said.

You came to mind.

It made all the difference.

A long-running joke

1 Nov

A tweet from the Inquirer today brought to mind a documentary I watched close to two months ago. Entitled Give Up Tomorrow, the film centered on Paco Larrañaga, son of a landed Spanish father and Filipina mother, who was convicted of double murder charges along with seven others for the disappearance of Cebuano sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in 1997. Below is a review of the documentary as written for my J 103 (Interpretative Writing) class.

*****

It has been a long-running joke that the Philippine justice system is best described in two words: just tiis (“push on” in Filipino). For all the description’s merits as an exercise in wordplay, it belies the disturbing reality of cases that await resolution for decades, if at all.

“Just tiis” also paints a picture of restless complainants twiddling their thumbs in trepidation, as time and resources (i.e. legal fees) needed to sustain the case runs out.

One would be remiss to assume, however, that only plaintiffs suffer the brunt of lapses and delays in judicial proceedings.

Accused parties, after all, are movants as well. What separates them from petitioners is the converse burden of proving innocence, by emphasizing the impossibility – logistical or otherwise – of their involvement in the crime.

What happens, however, when a person accused and subsequently convicted of a crime cries out foul and clamors for justice?

This is the central predicament presented in the 2011 documentary “Give Up Tomorrow”, helmed by Michael Collins and produced by Marty Syjuco. The film chronicles the case of Paco Larrañaga, son of a landed Spanish father and Filipina mother, who was convicted of double murder charges along with seven others for the disappearance of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in 1997.

The Chiong sisters were abducted from a commercial complex in Cebu on July 16, 1997. A corpse believed to be Marijoy’s was found in a ravine, showing conclusive evidence of rape prior to the murder.

At the time, Paco – the 19-year-old great-grandson of former president Sergio Osmeña – and his group of friends from similarly influential families were deemed the neighborhood bad boys of Cebu. He also had a juvenile criminal record due to a scuffle at his high school’s parking lot.

Thelma Chiong, mother to the murdered sisters, also proffered that Paco was Marijoy’s suitor.  Ten months after, a Davidson Rusia confessed to being an accomplice to the crime, and pleaded for blanket immunity in exchange for becoming a state witness. Paco would firmly deny knowing either the Chiong sisters or Rusia.

As the trial of the “Chiong Seven” went underway, inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case began to surface. 35 witnesses testified that Paco was in Quezon City, Manila the night the Chiongs were abducted. This ran counter to Rusia’s claim that he accompanied Paco and his group as they raped and murdered the two girls.

Rusia’s credibility as state witness was questioned not only because of inconsistencies in his sworn statements, but also due to reports by his fellow inmates insinuating that he was tortured as the trial wore on.

Then president Joseph Estrada called to expedite the case. The film credits this political maneuver to the Chiongs’ connections in Malacañang – Thelma Chiong’s sister Cheryl Jimenea was at that time Estrada’s personal secretary.

Judge Martin Ocampo of the Cebu Regional Trial Court meted reclusion perpetua on the Chiong Seven. Lawyers for the prosecution were promoted to regional and national government posts. Members of the police force who were involved in the investigation likewise rose in rank.

The Larrañagas filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, citing violations to Paco’s human rights and his being subject to an unfair trial. The Supreme Court responded by elevating the sentence from life imprisonment to death.

The highest court of the land adjudicates based on the merit of cases presented and not on the conduct of courtroom trials as a lower court would. Thus, the resolution to aggravate the penalty was passed even as no new evidence was presented before the Supreme Court en banc.

Local media did not fall short of passing its own judgment on Paco and his fellow accused. Men and women of the press were all too pre-occupied with sustaining a stereotype of Paco and his friends: rich kids gone wild, now left with no choice but to swallow the bitter pill of the penal system.

The media harped on the prominence angle, always emphasizing how the accused were “delinquent” scions of historically and economically powerful clans.

Journalist Teddy Boy Locsin produced a news segment with a voice-over emphasizing how drug use altered the state of minds of Paco and his friends. This, despite reports that all the accused tested negative for drugs at the time of their arrest.

In a similar segment, Locsin would deliver a stand-upper explaining the crime scene. He cupped his hands together and says to the camera: “Ganito karaming semen ang natagpuan sa bangkay ni Marijoy Chiong (“This much semen was found in the corpse of Marijoy Chiong”).

It would later be known that only a single sperm cell was found in the corpse’s undergarment and admitted as evidence, a grossly far cry from the cupful Locsin reported.

Justice delayed is justice denied. But denying an accused person’s right to a fair trial – both in court and in the public’s eye –  makes a farce out of democracy.

Injustice is never doled in isolation. Injustice is societal in that if something of this magnitude happened to Paco, it can happen to any of us. The documentary serves to reinforce that the Larrañaga’s nightmare is our society’s reality.

To have the courts and the media remain unreceptive to criticism on their handling of Paco’s case would be the last nail in the coffin of justice. The long-running joke will no longer be “just tiis”, but the integrity of the Philippine justice system.

Much ado about merging

1 Nov

Last June 4, a breaking news item by Philippine Star showbiz columnist Ricardo “Ricky” Lo got tongues wagging and cursors hovering in the local internet sphere. The article discussed the green-lighting of a “landmark” merger between media outlets TV5 and GMA7, to be formally launched November this year.

According to Lo, TV5 head Manny V. Pangilinan — popularly known by his moniker MVP – ”virtually confirmed” the merger at a June 2 presscon in San Francisco, where he was inking a separate deal with satellite broadcaster Dish Network in behalf of TV5.

Dish Network also provides satellite services for the streaming of GMA7 shows in the US.

After a few hours, TV5′s online news arm Interaksyon published an article disputing the Philippine Star scoop. Interaksyon cited exclusive correspondence with MVP, who explained how he was misquoted by Lo.

“You know, all I said was: Please support TV5 here in the States. And by the way, please support GMA7, too, since Dish carries GMA. That was all. No mention of merger, investment, combination.

“Certainly no mention of a November deadline or any deadline at all. Sure, some people speculated, and all I said was I can now say we are under discussion but nothing has been finalized at this time,” said MVP. The absence of finality in the merger talks was corroborated by TV5 chief executive Ray Espinosa.

In the following months, buzz of the alleged merger remained. ABS-CBN, the last player in the triumvirate of leading Filipino media networks, even released a PR article online detailing how chairman Eugenio Lopez III was “not threatened” by the proposed GMA7-TV5 deal.

Come October, both parties released statements confirming the fall-through of the controversial merger. MediaQuest Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of the MVP-helmed PLDT group, said that both networks were “unable to arrive at mutually acceptable terms despite the continual discussions and efforts exerted in good faith.”

For his own part, GMA7 CEO Atty. Felipe Gozon proffered: “The issues that the parties were not able to resolve had nothing to do with the price.”

Even if the deal has fizzled out for the time being, this is hardly a case of much ado about nothing. It has opened the minds of media executives, producers and audiences alike to the previously far-fetched possibility of a media merger and its underlying – albeit unrealized – repercussions.

The privatization of media is a double-edged sword. In their landmark text Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel explore this duality by dedicating a chapter to the characterizations of who journalists work for.

In the operations of any media corporation, two divisions find themselves both cooperating with and contradicting one another: the newsroom and the network’s corporate arm. As the competition stiffened among different corporations and different channels of media besides, news producers worldwide adapted to various extents a paradigm of the citizen as a customer.

Such a mindset ultimately leads to the corrosion of the integral values of justice, freedom and independence in reportage. Justice in news coverage engages three aspects: fairness, balance and objectivity.

Fairness entails airing both or every side involved in an issue. Balance demands that equal space and equal time be given to all parties. Objectivity, meanwhile, is the avoidance of words and phrases that imply judgment to avoid unduly influencing audiences.

One aspect of freedom in journalism concerns upholding the constitutionally-protected freedom of expression and of the press. This freedom is necessary for the press to adequately and competently perform its functions of citizen advocate and watchdog of power.

Freedom, however, is not only limited to the absence of stifling government control or intervention. Its second aspect entails journalistic autonomy: independence from pressures both internal and external to the newsroom that may impede judicious reportage and editorial judgment.

How do we see these journalistic values lived out or undermined in our most influential news networks? The Philippines alone provides a notable case study.

All three of the largest television networks are owned and operated by businessmen. Affluent families control the publication of the most widely-circulated newspapers and magazines. Such managerial hierarchies lend themselves to what Kovach and Rosensteil dubbed the “bureaucratic inertia” of corporate media ownership.

This presumes that the business, political and even personal interests of head honchos snowball into newsroom decisions to pursue, discontinue or modify certain stories. The danger lies in private interests holding a greater mandate over the public’s right to know.

There is much to be desired and to be enraged about when the priorities of a newsroom shift from producing stories that matter to producing stories that sell. Running a media organization as a business-minded individual or family already brings with it a plethora of conflicts of interest. To imagine the consequences of a merger between two of the largest news networks, both ran by businessmen to boot, would be to multiply the propensities of bureaucratic inertia twofold.

While it is initially reassuring to know that irreconcilable factors not concerning money weighed in on the GMA7 decision, audiences and media practitioners alike ought to be vigilant for the likelihood of another think – and another deal – coming, especially when these could compromise the impartiality and integrity of local news operations.