‘Paawa’ tearjerkers from the media
I agree with Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano when he wished that media would focus more on the magnitude of the crime rather on the supposed difficult prison conditions the senators accused of plunder will have to live with. “Difficult” means newly painted rooms with bath for each celebrity detainee, foam beds, electric fans—amenities regular detainees can only dream of. But still a far cry from the supercomfortable lives these wealthy senators have been used to.
Day in and day out these past few days, the media have been casing the Philippine National Police main headquarters where the PNP Custodial Center is located. The center serves as the place of detention for the accused senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, perhaps the first among the many linked to the PDAF scam. The third accused, Juan Ponce Enrile who is 90 years old, might be placed under hospital or house arrest.
President Aquino prefers leniency for Enrile on humanitarian grounds. This does not mean leniency on the part of the Sandiganbayan where the plunder cases will be tried.
“All I ask from the media is to… focus on the crime rather than do stories portraying the condition of the accused as unfortunate,” Cayetano said. One tabloid headlined the presence of rats and cockroaches in the PNP Custodial Center. There are rats and cockroaches in places where they can feed—homes, offices, restaurants—so what’s the big deal? A pest infestation is a different story.
Cayetano lamented that the media “lost its focus” in its coverage of the multibillion pork barrel scam to which lawmakers and bureaucrats have been linked. “The focus should be (on) how the crime is punished and not (on) the plight of those being detained.”
His reminder: “We should remember that the poor and hungry farmers are the real victims here. Almost all the major corruption issues in the government involved agriculture funds like the fertilizer fund scam, swine scam and this issue of pork barrel funds.”
And so Cayetano would rather not visit the detainees “because I remembered the victims of the crime.”
Cayetano sounds like he is sure the accused are guilty of the crime. Interestingly though, Inquirer reporter Marlon Ramos noted, “alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles has named Cayetano among the politicians who received campaign contributions from her.”
Of course, it is not for Cayetano to tell the media how to do its coverage, but it is his right to air his lamentation.
The two senators’ voluntary surrender is commendable. Instead of making a scene of protest and defiance, they opted to give up peacefully. This was the opposite of the chaotic arrest of showbiz denizens, father and son, deposed President Joseph Estrada (now Manila mayor) and Jinggoy Estrada (now senator and accused) in 2001.
In fairness, I don’t think the media set out to do a bleeding-heart coverage, that is, with the objective of portraying the accused as victims of injustice or to make them look kawawa or pitiful. But the accused themselves had set the stage for a bleeding-heart story. Sobbing spouses and young children, tight embraces, tearful goodbyes, heart-rending one-liners and all that.
For cinematic effect, days before his expected arrest, actor-turned-senator Revilla went the rounds of his constituencies to rally support for himself, there to bask in his supporters’ weeping and gnashing of teeth. Many Facebook users took turns bashing this for-the-movies plot by the “Ang Panday” mainstay, even suffixing the movie title with a letter or so. It was more laughable than pathetic.
And even if I imagined it in cinematic slow-mo, no way would I use as a soundtrack the saddest portion of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. It was not gut-wrenching enough. It was funny. I say this not to insult Revilla’s acting talent or his and his supporters’ sadness. It’s just that it wasn’t convincing for me.
Most accused invoke their families’, especially their young children’s, suffering and shame (“They don’t deserve this,” “They suffer taunts and unkind comments,” etc.). Ows? Didn’t they think of the shame their children would suffer when they as much as dipped their dirty hands into the barrel? Sure, they were thinking of providing for the abundant future of their families. But didn’t they think of the grave dishonor they will bring upon them and the generations to come? In contrast, when the poor are caught stealing, they promptly admit that they stole in order to feed their families.
In a television talk show, former senator (1987-1992) Rene Saguisag quipped with irony that he dreads the day when his grandchildren are all grownup and find out that their grandfather once worked in an institution such as the Senate. Which a generation before had the likes of Diokno, Laurel, Recto and Salonga, but now, if he might add, is groaning for redemption. A nesting place for a new, different breed.
The pork barrel is not evil, he mused, if you can trust yourself with it, like he did. Well, how many Saguisags are there who sign their names with the Benedictine U.I.O.G.D. (ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus) and live by it?
I am sickened by the jailhouse telenovela-style tearjerkers in the media. I am not saying that media should show delight in the discomfort (not suffering, really) of the celebrity detainees. I am not saying they should use “serves-you-right T-shirts.” As a church prelate said, there should be compassion, always. Compassion for the accused and their children who innocently enjoyed and wallowed in the fruits of their parents’ alleged ill-gotten.
But compassion, most of all, for the poor farmers and other marginalized sectors who were robbed of the little that were due them. They are the true victims!
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