Juday's right to peddle opinion
I can’t make heads or tails of the hullabaloo around Judy Ann Santos’ infomercial on the Manila Electric Co.
If we are to go by the vehement reaction of some quarters, it is as if the actress has committed treason simply by explaining—or simplifying, some quarters say oversimplifying—the electricity systems loss issue.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan castigated Santos for “taking the side of Meralco” on the issue saying in so many words that because Santos “allowed herself to be the tool of Meralco” she, in effect, has ceased being a supposed “good example” in this country.
It is as if there’s a law in this country against impartiality, or against anyone taking a side of a controversy.
Going by the lawmaker’s acrobatic logical deduction, everyone who takes a contrary position on an important issue loses all credibility. I wonder what that makes of the many people—columnists like me, included; and certainly politicians like her, too—who do peddle their own opinion and who do take a stand on important issues of the day. Does that also reduce our worth in the public eye? If this is so, then we should probably declare illegal and immoral any commentary that’s contrary to what seems to be the prevailing one.
Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, chairman of the House committee on public information, vowed to look into possible violations by Santos of the Consumers Protection Act. I wish him luck in his Quixotic quest. We all know, of course, that nothing is going to come out of this empty threat because to begin with, there are obviously more wanton and more serious possible violations of this particular law including perhaps the phony endorsements of senators and politicians of commercial products of dubious origins and merits.
I think that the congressman was simply trying to do what many lawmakers in this country are good at doing: Spewing fire and brimstone, in the process blindly grasping at whatever threat that comes handy. Please, since when was explaining an issue from a specific perspective—no matter how inchoate or how terrible the metaphor used—a criminal offense?
Taking the cake, however, was the overkill reaction of Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption: He called for a boycott of the Santos’s films and television shows. I concede that everyone in this country has the right to make an utter fool of himself or herself, including calling for a boycott of whatever and whoever. God knows far too many films and televisions shows in this country do deserve to be boycotted for their sheer stupidity. But one wishes certain people learn to moderate their act and for a change engage their minds before opening their mouths. Shooting the messenger is just so trite and passé.
The infomercial in question, where the popular actress likened the systems loss issue to melting ice lost in transit after purchase, is simply one perspective of the issue. Of course it is a biased perspective. Of course it is propaganda; it is a paid advertisement isn’t it? The problem is that very many people in this country continue to adhere to this stupid notion that the masa in this country, who presumably identifies with the actress, is unable to make the distinction between truth and propaganda. Of course everyone in this country knows that that infomercial is Meralco’s attempt at face saving.
Ask any person in this country what they think of the infomercial and you are bound to get the same reactions: Santos is an ABS-CBN talent commandeered to come to the defense of the network’s sister company, she was paid to do the infomercial, it’s all smoke and mirrors, etc. We all know that infomercial is Meralco’s way of explaining and defending itself.
Whether or not the points made in that infomercial are accurate, or whether the metaphor used is appropriate or not is open to interpretation and debate. Anyone who disagrees has the right to rebut, refute, or even take out his or her own infomercial. It’s a free market out there. If certain people think that the infomercial is misleading or inaccurate, then they should explain why. What they cannot and should not do is shoot the messenger.
I find it ridiculous that there are people in this country, lawmakers and civil society leaders at that, who take affront at anyone’s right to express opinions or explain certain issues from his or her own perspective.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the castigation of Santos seems to emanate from a rather unflattering judgment of the actress’ purported lack of wisdom, bordering on disrespect for the actress’ intelligence.
I am not making an endorsement of Santos’ mental qualifications. She did allow Jamby Madrigal to co-opt her identity in an election and inflicted the Senator, known for her legendary emotional hara-kiri, on the country. But hey, aren’t we supposed to be a country of equals and therefore entitled to make our own judgments, opinions, even endorsements, no matter how seemingly incorrect or unpopular?
In his denunciation of Santos—and I stress that the denunciation is directed at Santos, not at the points she made in that infomercial—Abante said that because Santos sided with Meralco, Santos clearly did not understand the situation and that her act was motivated by monetary considerations. “This is what money can do,” he proclaimed with some undisguised measure of self-righteousness.
I read somewhere that Santos did get paid for that infomercial. Four million pesos, if my reckoning serves me right. I don’t see how anyone can take that against her—she is a celebrity who makes money that way. Last I looked, there is no law in this country against making a living. What I can’t take is the wanton disrespect for Santos’ right to make and peddle an opinion because, “she is just an actress.” It’s all part of this dangerous stereotype that casts actresses as simpletons who simply parrot whatever their benefactors ask them to do. Is it too much to assume that Santos has her own mind and her own advocacies?
I understand that someone as popular as Santos has a moral obligation to her followers. I also concede that actresses like her with a massive fan base have the responsibility to take into account some notion of “the common good” in her actions and statements. But—and this I insist on—no one in this country, absolutely no one, has the right to dictate his or her own notion of what is right or wrong on another person.
At the end of the day, we all have to account for our own actions. If Judy Ann Santos made a grievous mistake by taking the cudgels for Meralco, then that is something that she has to account for personally. But I don’t think she should be castigated for participating in a national debate simply because she is an actress and has been paid to do so. That’s her right and privilege. Excluding her from the debate because she is presumably “inferior” is just another form of bigotry.