Sense of proportion
I was struck by three things last week that stood out for their breathtaking lack of sense of proportion.
The first was the news about Vhong Navarro. It came—or exploded—early last week alongside news about government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) signing the last of the protocols governing peace, the one about the MILF “decommissioning” or disarming itself.
By Tuesday last week, the first had shoved the second aside as headline story. It was so in several TV news—a partial CCTV footage of what transpired in the apartment Navarro visited in Global City leading the way, followed by several stories that examined the video, that interpreted the video, that showed various reactions to the video. By then the peace talks had been reduced to a follow-up story on the fighting between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The Navarro incident continued to have a long shelf life, dominating the news the rest of the week. By weekend, I’ve gotten the joke about the Presidential Security Group apparently mistaking P-Noy’s command to beat up Bong and not Vhong a dozen times on my phone. The end seems nowhere in near sight as I write this.
This is by no means the first time it happened, and it won’t be the last. It’s the perfect tabloid stuff, reeking of sex and violence, a combination that grabs residents of rich and poor countries alike. Though it tends to sink its claws deeper on us. The other times it happened were when Ernesto Maceda bared the Brunei Beauties, figuratively speaking, and when Bong, not Vhong, went to town on Katrina Halili and—showing the impact these things have on the national consciousness—succeeded in climbing to the top of the senatorial polls.
Whose curiosity isn’t pricked, no pun intended, by things like this? You’d be a hypocrite to say you ignored the story or did not join friends in speculating on what really happened there. But what makes this a little more tragic, or cringe-worthy, is that it happened alongside one of the most important, indeed historic, events in this country’s history.
The hostilities in Mindanao have dragged on for as long as anyone can remember, dating back to Spanish times whence originate our moro-moro pageants. At no time has the prospect of real peace been more within grasp than with the signing of the disarmament protocol. And we can’t see beyond the misadventure of Mr. Suave whose face looked anything but suave at the end of it?
The sensation is not unlike the Daily Express headlining a man who was electrocuted while climbing an electric post on the day Ninoy Aquino was laid to rest. Except that that disconnect was brought on by a muzzled press in the pit of a tyranny.
This one we’ve just freely inflicted on ourselves.
The second was the story about the Sandiganbayan sentencing nine public officials of Sarangani to life imprisonment for malversation of funds. I was about to applaud when I saw the story’s head, until I read on and saw the amount the nine officials—two current and seven former—were going to spend the rest of their days in jail for. It was all of —P475,000!
I was about to applaud because I thought it was high time the courts took graft and corruption seriously and made this country realize that serious things bore serious consequences. I was about to applaud because I thought stealing from an impoverished place like Sarangani was like stealing from the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” it drove home the cruelty of it. I was about to applaud because I thought at least the Sandiganbayan had the resolve to do what government prosecutors had failed to do, which was prosecute offenders; and what the other courts had failed to do, which was to send the convicted to jail.
But life imprisonment for nine people for P475,000!
Let us be clear: Of course public officials should be punished for stealing, whether they steal P1 million or P1,000. Particularly, as I said, in places where a thousand bucks can mean the difference between life and death. The fact that people who are accused of stealing tens or even hundreds of millions have not yet been prosecuted, convicted and jailed is no reason to not prosecute, convict and jail people accused of stealing a few hundred thousands. Even if that raises all sorts of conundrums about selective justice. We have to start somewhere and this is as good a place to start as any.
But you want to make a statement, make sure your statement will not be lost in the gales of laughter that will greet it. Life imprisonment for nine people who stole a collective P475,000 is not the sort of thing the public will look upon with awe and admiration, it is the sort of thing the public will look upon as a joke. It is not the sort of thing that will be touted as proof Lady Justice is blind, it is the sort of thing that will be cited as proof the Sandiganbayan is insane.
The way it struck me was the way Rodrigo Duterte’s not very facetious proposal to kill the rice smugglers in Davao City struck me. Some things are way out of proportion.
And lastly, there’s Imelda Marcos dropping in on Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and being horrified by her condition. “It’s inhuman,” she said about Arroyo’s continuing detention. Her sentiment was echoed by the bishops who visited Arroyo as well, which included the ones who got the CBCP to vote to continue to support Arroyo after the exposure of the “Hello Garci” tape, and the one who dismissed the charge of cheating against Arroyo by saying, “Everybody cheats anyway.”
They miss the point. What is inhuman is not the fact that Arroyo continues to be detained, what is inhuman is the fact that they continue to be free.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.