Barking At One's Own Reflection

Arroyo's lawyer turns tables on 'immoral' media


The election lawyer of President Arroyo is turning the tables on the messengers of the controversial news about a $20,000 dinner tab in New York.

In a press conference in Malacanang on Wednesday, Romulo Macalintal said that the media has no right to broadcast or publish criticisms against a lavish dinner of President Gloria Arroyo and her entourage in New York last week since the media themselves have shown "illegal and immoral" behavior.

Militant groups described the $20,000 (about P1 million) dinner at the five-star French restaurant Le Cirque in Manhattan as "highly immoral" considering the state of poverty in the Philippines.

Macalintal said media's own "immoral" activities include accepting commercial placements of government officials and 2010 presidential aspirants. He said these infomercials aired in between TV shows circumvent provisions of the law on illegal campaigning and constitute early campaigning methods.

"Kasi ang issue kanina, sinasabi sa press [conference], naghihirap ang taong bayan. Wala silang makain so bakit ganun sila (President Arroyo and others) kung kumain? Eh kung naghihirap nga ang taong bayan, bakit sila lang ang inaatake [na] gumagastos ng ganoon kalaki. Ganun din naman sa advertisements, (The issue raised in the press conference was that Filipinos are in dire strait. Most people have nothing to eat while President Arroyo and her entourage spend that much for just one meal. But why attack only the President and her entourage for the ills of the country? The 2010 presidential aspirants are doing just the same)," he said in a follow up interview on ANC.

"Ang sinasabi ko naman, merong mga media na nagrereport na iyan (infomercials) daw ay illegal. Bakit daw ginagamit sa advertisements and pera ng bayan? Eh kung ganyan ang position ng media, ay hindi niyo dapat tanggapin ang mga advertisements sapagka't kapag tinanggap ninyo ang mga advertisements... nagiging bahagi din kayo ng illegal activities (There are also media that report that infomercials are illegal since these are financed by public funds. Why then are your media organizations agreeing to place these ads? You are part of these illegal activities), " he added.

Petty arguments?

Vergel Santos, chairperson of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, however described Macalintal's arguments as "quibbling" (irrelevant or trivial).

He said Macalintal should not impose his own views on morality, but should instead focus on more important issues like whose funds were used in paying for the $20,000 dinner at Le Cirque, Arroyo's accountability in the controversy, and the legal implications of the issue.

"The mere fact that you were seen there, feasting on something expensive while your nation is in such a state of poverty is by itself a scandal. This government should be sensitive and prudent enough to understand and to know what it is getting itself into," Santos said in an interview on ANC.

Santos clarified that there has been no court ruling as yet that declared the infomercials as illegal. He also said that the fact that media groups allow informercials to air on their channels does not inhibit them from making criticisms or comments against concerned parties.

"Hindi naman sinabi na [dahil] tinanggap lang ang commercial eh hindi na natin pwede batikusin.That doesn't prevent media from making comments on the commercial itself," he said.

The Akbayan party-list filed a letter of complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman regarding the $20,000 New York feast and asked for an investigation into the possible use of public funds during the dinner.

The Palace had issued statements that it was Cong. Martin Romualdez who picked up the tab for the meal. Romualdez has declined to confirm it.

Macalintal also did not give details about the New York dinner, saying he was not privy to the facts. Asked what Arroyo should have done in regard to the dinner at Le Cirque, Macalintal said: "Kung ikaw ba inimbitahan, itatanong mo kung magkano ba kakainin natin diyan, magkano babayaran natin? Imposible yun (If you are invited to a meal, will you ask how much will be spent? That's impossible)."

In a statement, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Arroyo and her companions dined on soup, salad, main course, and drinks like tea and coffee.

After the $20,000 dinner in New York, a separate report on another lavish dinner emerged. This time it involved a $15,000 dinner at Bobby Van's Steakhouse in Washington on July 30.

The statements and counter statements above remind me of a story of a fictitious personality characterized by a peculiar dog who found a pool of water for the first time. He barked and barked at the strange creature he saw in the water who is sharply staring back at him. No matter how hard he barked at the creature, it didn't went away. It just barked back at him as hard as he barked at it.

The essence of the people's message through the media is represented by that peculiar dog. The reactive counter statement of the administration through its designated spokespersons is represented by the dog's own reflection in the water.

Suppose it was the president of a poor country in Africa who did a similar thing as what GMA did, would we filipinos care to criticize the act? Most likely, most of us would not. Or, suppose it was a very rich and famous pinoy/pinay celebrity who did such similar thing, how many of us (especially the media) would be able to even think of at least an iota of criticism instead of probably glamorizing it?

It is but a natural tendency for sensible people of a nation to react when impropriety directly concerns them. And there should be no need for reactions to be overblown by repeatedly hammering on people's sensibilities so that it comes almost to the point of instigation. But in a time where ethics is mostly ignored and corruption is hardly resolved by the concerned authorities, even a loud voice has very little hope of being given attention though heard. Thus grew the malady of blowing things out of proportion.

In all of this hubbub let us at least recognize that what we are barking at is merely the reflected image of our own selves. We may bark at it to our own exhaustion but it will never go away. Unless we realize that the peculiarity is in us and do something to change our selves we will only be seeing that strange old creature and will be barking at it every time we look down at a pool of water.

Just because we have beams in our own eyes that we are not able to see the logs which are in our brothers' eyes? But before we should point out each others' weakness,
what if all of us first remove the obstructions in our own eyes that we may see clearly? We might be surprised to realize that there would be nothing left to point out.

Tunay na pagbabago sa ating mga sarili sana totoong simulan na natin.