Corruption & the AFP Pabaon Scandal: Stepping Back from the Hearings and Making Sense Out of All the Opinion Columns

News and Opinion Overload

When life imitates art, it usually ends up looking a lot like a poor knockoff. Oftentimes, whenever this happens, we get bizarre results.  Sometimes, there may even be some lethal consequences.

I am sure that a fan of Hollywood films will remember “A Few Good Men” from the 90s.  The film starred Tom Cruise, as a hotshot JAG lawyer, and Jack Nicholson, as a die-hard US Marine colonel, someone who ate breakfast “300 yards from 4,000 Cubans” who were all trained to kill him.  In the climax of the film, Tom Cruise pushes Nicholson’s Jessep character to lose his composure and spill the Cuban beans – that hazing/ Code Red ordered by him indeed killed a marine.

While the film succeeded in selling the drama to moviegoers, I don’t think the same courtroom techniques employed by Tom Cruise’s Kaffee should be regular fare in Philippine courts.  I don’t think it’s particularly effective in getting to the truth, either.  That’s regardless of whether we can handle the truth or not.

Take the case of the Estrada impeachment hearings.  Did it come to a legal conclusion?  If you consult the history books, then it’s a big NO.  However, that NO didn’t come without a lot of drama.  Heck, we all got played by the emotion from the daily telenovela that starred a former actor/mayor-playing-a-politician-who-thought-he-could-be-president-while-getting-jueteng-money.  Eventually and much to the relief of GMA, the former president Estrada got convicted for plunder — LONG after he was forced out of office by a factor outside the impeachment court.  It wasn’t the courtroom rhetoric that made the former actor/mayor Estrada become a former president.  It was something else.  It took…tada…people power.  The mob did him in.

If people will go back to that moment in 2001, what drama triggered people to take to the streets and jam up EDSA for a second time?  If my memory hasn’t failed me yet, one of the strongest images then was Tessie Oreta’s dancing after the impeachment court decided not to open the second envelope.  It was a moment that embodied political evil’s triumph over a poor nation — the lady danced over the grave of truth.  It sold all the drama that both ABS-CBN and GMA can only dream of selling in an entire lifetime.  Agitate the stirred-up emotions with a bit of viral text messaging and…tada…instant mob!

Real-life drama, like that of the 1986 and 2001 People Power, cannot be packaged in one TV show.  However, that constraint isn’t enough to stop people from trying to get the same effect.  Media will constantly try to produce the next entertainment extravaganza.  If they can’t, trust the politicians to do this for them.  It’s a perfect system and sticking to it certainly takes a lot of stress off the shoulders of TV producers and writers.  It’s a perfect fit.  Bad news = Drama and Bad news is now this country’s weird form of entertainment.  This has become the entertainment norm for the last decade.  Call it an appetite for pain, if you want.

Fast forward to 2011.  We now have regular hearings in aid of legislation, a favorite tool of legislators to get all the media mileage they want in their quest to ferret out the truth and vice versa.  Ms. Anna Pamintuan of the Philippine Star opined the other day that these hearings have become the court of last resort for the poor people of the Philippines.  She even described it as some sort of fast break hearing — indicted in the morning, convicted in the evening news.  If it’s just swift justice that we want – trial by publicity – we might as well just form lynch mobs and string up those accused on TV.  Of course no one in his right mind will ever agree to that.  We’re all so civilized now.  We can only do People Power — absolutely no lynching.  That’s why we’re stuck with these hearings.  While these hearings may seem okay to most, including me from time to time, isn’t it disturbing?  At this point in Philippine history, have we become products of political and media manipulation?  Admit it.  We, Filipinos, love our trials-by-publicity as much as we love our telenovelas with the sampalan and sabunutan.

These hearings that serve almost like trial courts are bordering on inefficient use of public funds.  It’s loaded with drama without anyone getting sent to prison.  It’s a tease.  It sells the idea that things are moving forward when in fact they’re frozen stiff.  Cito Beltran couldn’t have put things nicer in his column yesterday about what is happening in the popular hearing of this day.

In the currently very popular Garcia Plea Bargain hearing/ AFP Pabaon scandal, in the quest for the basic truth of the matter, a brilliant but aggressive senator of the land – Trillanes — tried to do a Kaffee (or a Tom Cruise, for that matter).  However, he ended up losing a resource person instead.  Did he expect Angie Reyes to cry out “You can’t handle the truth!” or simply that GMA did it?  Trillanes was no Tom Cruise.  Angie Reyes was certainly no Jack Nicholson.  And OMG, Jinggoy was certainly no Demi Moore.

Naïve as it may sound, I do have a question: if Rabusa can turn from crocodile into a guilty rat, who are we to say that more senior crocodiles cannot turn into guilt-laden rodents, too?  After all, Trillanes did say that there are bigger crocs than the former general who committed suicide last week.  Who knows?

Dead men tell no tales, unless you’re a forensics expert or a spiritista, that is.  Frankly, I don’t know what value the senate can get out of a dead resource person.  Columnist De Quiros even says it’s honorable for Trillanes, Estrada and Rabusa to have intensely grilled former Sec. Reyes – push him against a very hard wall.  It may have been required, but I am 50:50 on it being honorable.  If the end justifies the means, then there is no use glorifying an act that resulted in basically nothing but MORE speculation.  In the end, it was Angie Reyes who killed Angie Reyes — literally and figuratively.

So now, I throw the same question at them, who were they (Estrada and Trillanes) to decide then that the senior alleged croc cannot turn rat?  Isn’t that the reason why Reyes was called in as a resource person, for him to shed more light into the matter? One can even loosely infer that former AFP Chief Reyes saw the political ambition behind these interrogators and decided to “scorch the earth” to stop them dead in their tracks.  If the PCIJ-Reyes interview notes point to a hint of guilt, then there may have been a strong possibility that he could have clarified more than any inquiry in aid of legislation can ever hope to achieve.

Achieve.  That’s a pretty strong word to use together with “inquiry in aid of legislation.”  The reality is that they cannot stand together in one sentence, taken in the Philippine Congress’ context.  When a former legislator and government man — Ernie Maceda — writes that these hearings result in better budget management in government.  If Mr.Maceda is right in his assumption, then the legislative body should have spotted the conversion scheme long ago.   Even Angie Reyes acknowledged that the system was there even when he still just a young lieutenant.  That makes it all weird.  Doesn’t the government have the budget approved on an annual basis?

In fairness to the Congress, Mr. Maceda did say they got results out of the hearings on the hot issues of their day (like PEA-Amari).  He also cited some gains on the hot case being heard in the congress today.   Take note of the use of HOT.  The focus is only on hot issues.  And that is just it, if our lawmakers were eagle-eyed as we would like to believe, then we wouldn’t have these scandals we have today, right?  Am I clamoring for near-perfection?  Not really, but assuming the legislative body eats up a substantial chunk of government funds (from our taxes), it should be safe to demand a bit more diligence in their work.

What’s wrong with the government’s setup?  It’s either the combined brainpower of the people crafting our laws is no match against creative crooks or the congress and senate were just blind all of those years.  How much pork barrel did we give to them, anyway?  How much accountability do congressmen have when it comes to spending the public cash, anyway?  How much time do they spend on really protecting the PUBLIC’s interest?  If paying taxes was legally an optional thing with a menu for how you’d like to budget your tax payment, I’ll probably give legislation the least amount of money due to poor performance — dami pa kaya absent diyan.

Really, we citizens should look at this issue objectively and not let ourselves get carried away with the agitated emotions that both politicians and media are peddling.  I say that they — all the people involved — should stop washing this crime off their hands.  Why not just fix the damned holes?  Stop the hearings.  File the cases.  Fix the system and don’t take your eye off the process.  It is not the absence of funds to do it.  I think that It’s the absence of will to do it.  If a small person, like an auditor of the CoA, can rise to the occasion, why can’t the bigger people do the same?

What kind of law do they hope to craft anyway after the AFP Pabaon hearings?  Wait!  Don’t they have the bill for Freedom of Information already?  Maybe they should just make tanggal the alikabok off it.  At least they should start reviewing the FOI Bill again as a start.  However, have you heard any senator or congressman mention that in recent weeks?  Just because PNoy didn’t include transparency as a priority doesn’t mean that it should be a dead project.  If there’s no measure derived from the hearings, then it’s really just a glorified GMA and Ombudsman Merci hunting expedition.  It would have been cheaper to use an IED on them — that’s what the people expect anyway, right?  No, we want our live telenovela.

Do we really need live TV media inside these hearings?  When you know that millions of eyes are looking at you, do you not try to look and sound your best?  There’s no incentive in being smart and silent, especially when you know that your performance can be a very big meal ticket in the future.  The smart bet is in looking smart and being loud.  Does that put national interest in the forefront?  Maybe we need a director on-set to make it all authentic.

Now, I go back to my beginning statement.  When life imitates art, what do you get?  You get the paying public to lose their money without them even knowing it.  If this goes on any further, the paying public might end up losing the shirts off their back.


Related reading:

Silence of the Lame

System Failure

What to Do with a Thief Squealing on his Cohorts

A P 179-B Slush Fund?

What About GMA?

Doing a Mubarak


A Warrior Comes Clean in Last Battle for Honor

Estrada, Arroyo to the hearings?


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