Monday, March 17, 2008

Red faces and lurid accusations

This is my column today. In case you don't know the url of brian gorrell's blog: http://www.delfindjmontano.blogspot.com/. Enjoy!

There were lots of red faces at the Senate last week.

The hearings on the ZTE controversy, which up until last week seemed to be a never-ending fount of juicy revelations, hit a major snag as Senator Ping Lacson’s much-ballyhooed “explosive” surprise witness turned out to be a dud. Many will remember that a few days prior to the hearing, Lacson was grinning like the proverbial cat that swallowed the bird and bragged about the credibility and reliability of his surprise witness.

As it turned out, Leo San Miguel refused to sing like a lovelorn canary. Instead, he exposed the deadly sins (mostly pride, sloth and wrath) of certain senators—and the defects of the whole process of selecting and prepping up witnesses—to public ridicule.

And as if that comedy of errors caused by faulty scripting, inflated egos, and inefficient staff work wasn’t enough, Senator Jamby Madrigal felt compelled to add more embarrassment to the Senate. The millionaire heiress renowned for legendary and diva-like tantrums went ballistic at the Commission on Appointments and blocked wholesale the confirmation of 26 officials among them Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Elections Commissioner Moslemen Macarambon, and 24 military officers by simply invoking Section 20 of the commission’s rules. Section 20 is a non-debatable privilege that is sparingly invoked, and up until Madrigal’s handiwork last week, never for all candidates for confirmation.

Other senators pleaded for Madrigal to reconsider; but she was intractable. The lame excuse she offered was that she was doing it “out of principle.” Senator Pong Biazon opined that Madrigal was actually smarting over the confirmation of Brig. Gen. Nestor Sadiarin, which she vowed to block but was unable to do because she wasn’t paying attention during the last session and only posed her objection after Senate President Manny Villar had banged the gavel. Madrigal’s unprecedented filibustering was a classic illustration that indeed, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

It was almost painful to watch our senators scramble all over themselves to defend the indefensible and to make sense of the nonsensical. The two events not only dampened public enthusiasm on the ZTE scandal but also, once again, cast doubt on our senators’ overall competence. The two events were avoidable and could have been prevented if only our senators weren’t the hotheads that they were and were willing to subjugate personal pride and feelings in the interest of nobler and loftier aspirations.

And we still wonder why despite the mounting evidence against this administration, many remain hesitant to ally themselves with these senators?

***

The oust-Gloria Macapagal Arroyo movement may be crowing about how support for the cause is snowballing and about how the numbers are rising algebraically, but it seems more people are preoccupied with another type of scandal that has taken the blogosphere and the Internet by storm. I couldn’t believe it at first until I saw the numbers for myself: Almost 200,000 unique hits in a few days, 46,000 unique hits in one day alone! Now, that’s the kind of traffic that many bloggers can only dream of. Imagine a situation where the same number of people assembled at Ayala to demand GMA’s resignation!

In case you’ve been living under a rock in the last two weeks, the salacious and convoluted twists and turns in the ZTE scandal has been deposed from being the most “popular” issue in the Internet. What has been keeping the Internet abuzz in the last two weeks are the lurid—and I must add, downright libelous—revelations about the dirty secrets of Manila’s social set as detailed in a blog created by Australian Brian Gorrell. Google Brian Gorrell if you want the sordid details.

It’s a scandal that is riveting because it involves gossip of the absolutely prurient variety embroiling the people who hog the society pages of our newspapers. Thrown in for good measure were allegations of large-scale thievery and embezzlement, sex and drugs, and accusations of blackmail, conspiracy and injustice. The fact that the main characters involved were gay men and that one of them was living with HIV added fuel to the conflagration and as expected, sexist and bigoted commentary.

The plot further thickened when the blog was suddenly taken off. Gossip mongers had a field day speculating as to the real cause for the suspension of the blog. Some suspected that it was the handiwork of hackers hired by those dragged into the mud pool. Others cried censorship. Some hoped that Gorrell finally got what he was asking for, which was for the Filipino ex-lover who had been vilified and demonized in the blog to return the P3.6 million pesos that was supposed to have been embezzled from him.

The blog has been restored and has since then resumed spewing the most potent vitriol on some members of Manila’s social set. Mercifully, the comments section has been turned off. It was quite dumbfounding to note that hundreds of people dove into the fray dragging more names, sullying more reputations, and in general making irresponsible commentary. In short, madaming nakisawsaw, turning the whole thing into a dissing orgy.

This latest scandal validates the emerging power of blogging as medium of our times and consequently and necessarily opens, once again, discussion on the ethics of blogging. The general perception, it seems, is that because blogging is a free medium and because it happens in cyberspace, people can express themselves as freely as they wished. Many people are taking far too much liberty with the medium and the hell with fairness, truthfulness, and accountability. This is a phenomenon that is potentially counterproductive in the long run.

I am not making judgments on the veracity of the accusations and counter-accusations engendered in the Gorrell scandal. But as a blogger (although in the interest of full disclosure, I must add that I don’t blog as much as I used to anymore), I feel a certain level of alarm at the way people are indulging in free-for-all mudslinging. In this particular case, many of the things people are saying are not only irresponsible and unfair; they are downright libelous!

On a positive note, it was heartening to note insightful discussions on the relevance (or irrelevance) of the social set in some of the blogs that offered commentary on the scandal. There is truly a need to conduct a more realistic appraisal of the authentic social value that these so-called “socialites” provide. I don’t want to knock on individual expression. But there is definitely something not right in a setup where wealth and excessive lifestyles are flaunted and regularly splashed across the pages of newspapers as if they are the most natural things in the world while the majority live below the poverty line.

And finally, the scandal seems to validate another disturbing phenomenon: It does seem like our collective tolerance for dirt and sleaze has breached new levels. Gorrell spewed toxic vitriol, indiscriminately and wantonly dragged many people into the fray simply because they were friends of his ex-lover, and in general did the equivalent of mass scale character assassination. Many people found it entertaining and are demanding more, more, more.

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