Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On the wrong side of history...again

This is my column today.

A post-EDSA II headline that has remained stuck in my memory to this very day is something from the Varsitarian, student publication of the University of Santo Tomas. In an issue released after Joseph Estrada left MalacaƱang Palace, it proclaimed with ill-disguised dismay at one of its famous alumnus: On the wrong side of history again.

The headline referred to Francisco Kit Tatad Jr., infamous press secretary of the dictator during the dark years of Martial Law and one of the 11 senators who voted to suppress evidence contained in a brown envelop during the Estrada impeachment trial. The Varsitarian chided Tatad for valiantly taking up the cudgels for Joseph Ejercito Estrada during the impeachment trial and for standing by the man until the very end of the short-lived presidency.

Of course, the unparalleled unpopularity of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has given Joseph Estrada a new lease in his political life so much so that he is now running for president again. Estrada has succeeded in deodorizing his image once again that many of those who aggressively pushed for his impeachment in 2000 have since then had a massive attack of selective amnesia. Some actually found it convenient to apologize to Estrada supposedly for misjudging him. The Boracay mansion, the jueteng payola, the midnight cabinets, the shoddy work habits—all these and more have become mere fragments of the imagination. Given current political sentiments I am no longer sure many would agree that Tatad was on the wrong side of history during the second EDSA revolution.

The decade-old headline came to mind once again while watching Tatad and Liberal Party senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros Baraquel square off last Sunday during ABS-CBN’s Harapan.

Tatad and Hontiveros Baraquel faced off on the reproductive health bill.

Hontiveros Baraquel, Akbayan party-list representative at the last Congress was a co-author of the bill known as House Bill 5043. She introduced herself last Sunday by announcing her unequivocal support for reproductive health. She announced her intention to re-file the bill and to work for its passage into law if she wins as senator. Now, there’s a woman with conviction and courage, indeed.

Tatad, reportedly a devout Opus Dei member, has been consistent in his opposition to the reproductive health bill, to contraception, and other things he considers “immoral.” What makes him qualified to be an expert on morality after loyally serving the dictator and contributing to the oppression of Filipinos for more than two decades is a question that baffles the mind.

The format of last Sunday’s Harapan required that senatorial candidates ask each other one question about a particular issue. Each candidate was allowed thirty seconds to rebut the answer given by his opponent. It was exasperating to note that most of the candidates didn’t make full use of the time given to them for rebuttal. Instead of commenting on the answer given, they invariably asked a follow-up question. Perhaps the candidates do not have the faintest idea what rebuttal means but it is also possible, of course, that someone goofed and forgot to brief the candidates on the format for the debate. Nevertheless, I have always felt that candidates who cannot follow instructions, exceed the time limits given to them, or simply give irrelevant answers to questions don’t deserve to be voted into office.

Tatad’s question for Hontiveros Baraquel took twice the allowed time limit to formulate. Program host Ted Failon had to break the rule on time limits because it was necessary —the whole point of Tatad’s question remained inchoate and there was nothing for Hontiveros Baraquel to sink her teeth into at the end of the prescribed time for asking questions. Tatad started his question by quoting United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s alleged remarks to Congress, which reportedly expressed US President Barack Obama’s firm commitment to ensure that all barriers that prevent women from enjoying their rights supposedly including the right to abortion will be lifted. Tatad’s question and its premise were actually simple: That the Philippines will be influenced by the United States’ aggressive stance on reproductive health bill, which in some states extend to a woman’s right to abortion.

Hontiveros Baraquel couldn’t help but take a dig at Tatad’s shallow premise by saying that she wasn’t aware that Barack Obama is also President of the Republic of the Philippines. I know; it was what you would call a cheap shot but you bet I relished Tatad’s discomfort. Hontiveros Baraquel didn’t even break a sweat—she even managed to make a pitch for Liberal Party presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino.

In the second round, a Tatad supporter asked Hontiveros Baraquel a question on condoms and HIV/AIDS citing an alleged “empirical data from the United Nations” that supposedly showed that HIV/AIDS infections in Thailand increased even after the Kingdom launched programs on condom use. Hontiveros Baraquel refuted the data and in essence pointed out that on the contrary, HIV/AIDS infections in Thailand declined as a result of aggressive programs to promote condom use. In his rebuttal, Tatad valiantly propped up the same fallacy that moralists have been shamelessly using to justify their opposition to condom use: That condoms are ineffective against HIV/AIDS.

I could cite yet again tons of reliable scientific data that validate how condoms are effective in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But I doubt if Tatad and his ilk would be willing to reconsider; I doubt if they would be listening at all. They have made up their minds a long time ago and it doesn’t matter to them that they are unearthing invalid data, or flaunting half-truths, or even asking irrelevant questions.

The results of the poll conducted for each segment of the debate was indisputable about whom the people thought was being more truthful or, conversely, being untruthful. Hontiveros Baraquel constantly got overwhelming scores for truthfulness while Tatad’s scores showed that most people consistently found him being untruthful. For the first round, Hontiveros Baraquel got a rating of 84.7% for truthfulness while only 15.3% thought she was untruthful. In contrast, 51.8% rated Tatad as untruthful while only 48.2% thought he was being truthful. In the second round, the results were even more embarrassing for Tatad. Only 29.3% thought he was being truthful while a whopping 70.7% thought he was being untruthful. In contrast, an overwhelming 85% thought Hontiveros Baraquel was truthful while only 15% thought she was being untruthful.

The results of the poll validate what many surveys have been saying all along: That most Filipinos support the reproductive health bill despite the unreasonable and often fallacious arguments being used to discredit it by the likes of Tatad and his ilk.



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