Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The anatomy of lying

I am one of those “critics” who have kept silent on the issue of the supposed breast implants of Dona Gloria. Frankly, to me the implants are a purely private matter which I would not want to dissect in this space or the one in Abante. And as my few friends know, we did not even deign the subject a matter fit for discussion.
What is worth discussing is how Malacanang’s mouthpieces and its press office handled the issue that as far as I know first came to public knowledge via a short column item in an article written by Jarius Bondoc for the Philippine Star.
While breast augmentation is in aid of vanity, which I maintain to be purely private and personal, why the performance of excision and biopsy had to be subjected to initial official denial is beyond me. In matters like these, it is the responsibility of those who speak for their principal, in this case their president, to first ask questions before they open their mouths.
Based on the frothing denials, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde failed to ask his principal what her doctors did to her at the Asian Hospital. Immediately he took offense at Jarius Bondoc’s straightforward reporting of fact, and denounced it as pure fabrication. More incompetently, he even trotted out a picture of his principal and asked if one could detect a breast augmentation job on that, which he rather unseemly referred to as a “boob job”.
When his principal and perhaps wiser minds looked at the brouhaha, they probably realized that Jarius had the precise lowdown on her medical records, and implying that Jarius fabricated the story was quite risky. Jarius is one person they knew they couldn’t “fix”. So they had to admit that indeed, Dona Gloria had breast implants done two decades ago.
That is what happens when one conceals the truth, and when discovered, tries to wiggle out of a situation by lying.
An honest person would have first discovered the whole truth, and decided to release the same to the public, minus certain unnecessary details that would only complicate public understanding of the situation. And spokespersons are supposed to be after all, purveyors of the truth, because as public officials, they are covered by the injunction that public office is a public trust.
But since lying is the rule in the Arroyo administration, Remonde and later his sidekick Lorelie Fajardo must have felt they were serving their Dona well. She too has made lying not only a habit, but part of her distorted apparatus of power. In this regime, prevarication is “virtue”, especially when it is necessary to pursue the evil ends of cheating and stealing.
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Now let me advert to another “situation” that happened early on in the short-lived Estrada regime. The Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with a story about a certain Caloocan beauty queen named JR Ejercito, who claimed that she was sired by then Mayor Joseph Estrada.
It has become public knowledge that Pres. Estrada had strewn wild oats in his wilder days, and he never hid this fact. He was after all a former movie actor, a box-office king at that, and liaisons dangereuse came with the territory. Probably the only difference between him and actors of today’s milieu is the use or non-use of “rubbers” or some such preventive device or drug.
The presidential spokesman then was Gerry Barican, an accomplished lawyer, writer, and former student activist. As far as I could remember, Gerry went to the principal before he faced the press the day when PDI came out with its story. The alleged scion had the “unmistakable” Ejercito eyes, and at first blush, she really did look like Erap’s progeny. President Erap denied such to Gerry, although he admitted knowing the mother from long past days.
The follow-up story alleged that Erap as mayor and senator did send the mother checks regularly in the past, which was interpreted as admission of parenthood, and therefore, sustenance. For a few days, Gerry Barican stewed, wondering whether his president had lied to him. And Gerry does not take to lying easily, and fully understood the requirements of his job as public trust.
He denied JR because Erap denied fatherhood to his spokesperson. In one of our lighter moments at the presidential yacht then moored at a Mindanao port, I casually asked the president about that incident. “Hindi ako sigurado”, he said. And propriety dictated that I ask no further, for that would have been intrusive of personal privacy which even a president was entitled to.
In any case, the brouhaha died down after a week, and I attribute that to the public’s appreciation that President Erap was not a known prevaricator. He had bared open his life to the public, never hiding patrimony of several, nor relationships with several. So if he or his spokesperson said that JR was not his, the public accepted that as the truth.
So what is the lesson in these two different episodes in the life of two presidents? Simple. When one lies repeatedly, anything he or she says, even if that may be true, will still be doubted. When one is not known to be a liar, what he says is accepted as fact until otherwise proven false.
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But incompetence rears its ugly behind once more when the once respected NBI enters the picture, and “investigates” the supposed leakage of medical records. It tries to hide Malacanang’s hand by saying that they were investigating at the instance of the Asian Hospital, which has understandably kept mum, neither confirming nor denying NBI’s yarn.
Sure physician-patient privilege may have been violated, not necessarily by the attending physician, but is there any criminal aspect to such violation? Civil liability perhaps, but only if the patient goes to court. And if Dona Gloria felt violated, then she should file charges and ask for damages in a court of law. Or she could go to the Philippine Mediacl Association, perhaps even the Professional Regulatory Commission, and file against her physicians for a breach of the ethics of their profession, much in similar manner as Katrina Halili went to the PMA to complain about Hayden Kho’s video voyeurism cum narcissism.

* * *
But then again, the president’s health is a matter of not just public interest, but one with national security implications. In which case, should her National (In)Security Adviser, Norbert the banana-eater, step in? How does Norbert balance the issue of personal privacy with the public’s right to know his president’s state of health? Finding that middle ground will confound Norbert as much as the public is confounded by his recent pronouncements about a “revolutionary” transition government.

* * *

Now the NBI should know (but aren’t they supposed to be lawyers out there?) that Article VII, Sec. 12 of the Constitution that their Dona has yet to amend states that “in case of serious illness of the President, the public should be informed of the state of his health”. In the situation that faced Barican, an adult claiming to be the president’s daughter is neither injurious to the president’s health nor is it a matter of national security, and so, a denial would easily put the matter to rest, being in the realm of gossipy prurience more than anything else. But in the situation faced by Remonde, and now the NBI which has gleefully waded into the matter, there is a clear constitutional precept that makes this particular person’s health of public interest.

Now surely both Remonde and the NBI know that per the Sotto Law, columnist Jarius Bondoc cannot be made to confess who or what his source of information was, and any attempt to pry such from him would be a violation of one of the cherished freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, which is that which protects the freedom of the press.

Or is this one of the reasons why Malacanang is moving heaven and earth to Cha-Cha? To create a new gloriannic order where media pests could tremble in fear, as in the days of Ferdinand?

* * *

What should worry Remonde, Lorelie, Anthony, Gary, even Ed Ermita, is why the “invasion” of her privacy did not elicit any public sympathy. Why the usual women’s groups did not bristle when one of their own felt violated? Why no public concern about her health did not register, as it normally should for the leader of the land? That is sad.