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At Large

A soft spot for the underdog

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Given all the challenges to good governance and development that we face in the country, it seems a bit silly to devote a column to an altercation between a newspaper columnist and radio commentator, and an actress, her actor-husband and their friends.

But the fisticuffs between Ramon Tulfo and husband-and-wife Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto and their companions were news big enough to merit a banner story in this newspaper (where Tulfo has written a column for decades), as well as a fuzzy photo (in later editions) taken, it seems, with a cell phone camera.

Are there national policy implications in this story? Does it say anything about the administration of justice, the fairness of law enforcement? Not that I know of, although, judging from statements made by Tulfo, the incident seems to have revealed the inaction of airport police, who stood helplessly by while Tulfo was being ganged up on. Regardless of who started the fighting, shouldn’t it have fallen on airport security to step in and stop the exchange of blows if only to restore order?

Manila International Airport Authority  general manager Angel Honrado’s admission that there was no CCTV camera at the Terminal 3 luggage carousel area only adds to the general picture of incompetence, if not indifference, on the part of airport security. What if something more grievous than a brawl between a journalist and an actor’s group of friends had taken place? What if a terrorist had struck and planted an IED that killed and maimed hundreds? Would the excuse that there was no camera, and thus no security footage, suffice? No wonder our airport security ratings have yet to gain the world’s approval.

* * *

When I heard the news, I was surprised but not really all that astounded. This is not the first time that Claudine Barretto’s name has been dragged into accounts of violence, although I think this is the first time Raymart Santiago, whose onscreen persona is of a gentle comedian, has ever figured in a public brawl.

Claudine, however, has been linked to several accounts of threats she allegedly issued against a former girlfriend of her late former boyfriend, another actor, Rico Yan. The stories I heard involved not just threatening phone calls and text messages, but even acid attacks on the girl’s car and gate.

Neither is this the first time that Barretto has figured in a brush with the media. Some years back, she sued the show biz glossy “Yes” for allegedly publishing photos of her residence and for coverage of the set of a soap opera which, if memory serves me right, featured Claudine as some kind of sea princess.

That case, at least, had public policy implications. For if it would turn out to be libelous for a show biz magazine to be covering an actor’s life and work without her express permission, then what could show biz media cover independently? Should movie magazines confine themselves to running stories vetted and approved by an actor’s managers or home studios?

The question brought on by Claudine’s case hinged on the definition of a public figure, which Barretto certainly was and is. Should someone who makes money making TV soap operas, movies and product endorsements, who maintains her career by seeking to be perpetually in the limelight, enjoy the right to turn on or off media coverage by whim and inclination? Or is not the choice of a show biz career a tacit agreement to open up one’s life to public scrutiny?

Too bad the case was settled out of court before any legal opinion could be decided. But maintaining amicable media relations doesn’t seem to be a priority with Barretto, nor with her husband or their friends.

* * *

Now, a word about Mon Tulfo.

When we were still in our old BF Condominium offices in Intramuros, Tulfo had a small corner of the anteroom leading to the newsroom to himself. Here he sat hunched before an ancient manual typewriter, for at the time he claimed his fingers were too big to fit on the smaller and lighter keys of a PC. Two benches were filled with the flotsam and jetsam of society, mostly people who felt victimized by criminals, police or both, or who had genuine grievances.

Day after day, Tulfo listened patiently to his public, and more often than not their complaints would appear in his column, which to this day appears in the Metro section of this paper.

I don’t know what happened in the intervening years, but certainly Tulfo improved his lot, with a TV show and a radio show thrown in for good measure. His signature style was that of a belligerent observer, castigating both law enforcers and law breakers in equal measure, fearlessly naming names and using language usually not allowed in more polite precincts like the Op-Ed Section. It is no surprise that he has gained the reputation as the “best dressed” columnist of the Inquirer, since he has so many libel suits.

He would soon bequeath this bellicose style to his brothers, who now form a small army of Tulfos sharing the same booming voice and aggressive stance. Still, there is nothing like the original.

* * *

So in the course of a decades-long career taking on police generals and kidnap-for-ransom kingpins, a brush with an irate actress and her “gallant” husband and their overeager friends would, for Tulfo, amount to little more than a hill of mongo beans.

Certainly, I don’t think he anticipated that an airport brawl would end up placing him in a banner story and on the agenda of gossip shows for at least a week. But I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he says he was initially motivated by sympathy for Claudine because he felt she had a “legitimate” grievance against the airline. One thing Claudine and Raymart should realize is that Mon Tulfo has always had a soft spot for the underdog.


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Tags: At Large , Claudine Barretto , opinion , Ramon Tulfo , Raymart Santiago , Rina Jimenez-David



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