Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said it was “disturbing”. But what was really disturbing was her being disturbed–and the Armed Forces’ making it seem as if, by posting or facilitating bail for a crime suspect, a broadcaster had himself committed a crime, or worse, would be implicated in any crime the suspect commits.
ABS-CBN’s Julius Babao has denied it. But if he did facilitate, ease, or even advance the money for the bail of one Tyrone del Rosario Santos alias Dawud Muslim Santos last April, why should Mrs. Arroyo find it “disturbing”–and why should the Armed Forces, not to mention one of Mrs. Arroyo’s favored media hacks, go all over town virtually accusing Babao of a crime?
In an interview with a Manila columnist, Mrs. Arroyo cited a report by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces (ISAFP) which claimed that Babao had posted bail for Santos, and said that she found it “very disturbing”.
Santos was subsequently released. He is now accused of being a member of the Rajah Sulayman Movement (RSM), allegedly headed by his brother Ahmed Muslim Santos, that’s supposed to be plotting terrorist bombings. RSM has been linked to the Indonesian-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya. ISAFP can’t find him, but his lawyer insists he hasn’t jumped bail.
Rear Admiral Tirso Danga, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, has accused Babao of protecting and coddling Santos and chastised the media, although he did later say that the “evidence” that “implicated” Babao in posting bail for Santos, who was arrested last April for illegal possession of firearms, is “circumstantial.”
“Evidence”? “Implicated”? “Circumstantial”? Danga’s talking as if there were a crime in the statute books called “posting bail for a crime suspect,” whereas, as Senator Rodolfo Biazon has pointed out, “[posting] bail is perfectly legal under our laws if the offense is bailable.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan agreed with Biazon. “Assuming that Babao indeed posted bail for Santos, it is not a crime,” said Pangilinan, who added that he trusted Babao’s professionalism while doubting that of ISAFP. “I wish I could say the same for ISAFP, especially after it was embroiled in the ‘Hello Garci’ wiretapping scandal.”
Pangilinan was referring to ISAFP’s being used to tap the phone of former Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano for someone’s personal purposes. The results were the “Hello Garci” tapes, which, while meant to monitor Garcillano’s telephone conversations, ended up implicating Mrs. Arroyo, her husband, local officials, and some of her generals in a conspiracy to commit electoral fraud last May 2004.
As disturbing as that has been, ISAFP and its bosses’ conduct on the Babao issue is equally troubling. From its own reports, for example, one learns that ISAFP spies not only on suspected terrorists, but also on their acquaintances and media people who interview them–or who facilitate or post bail for them.
This may not make much sense to thinking people, but it all does to Danga, who blamed not only the media but also “democracy” for allowing Santos to be released on bail.
“You will notice that we have been fighting an enemy that uses the very democracy that they are trying to destroy as a refuge,” he told media. The subtext of that statement is that to defend democracy one should cripple or even destroy it by, among other means, hurriedly passing an anti-terrorism bill that will define terrorism so broadly it will make a picket at the electric company a terrorist act; won’t allow anyone bail; will presume suspects guilty rather than innocent; and will make it a crime for anyone to so much as mention the Bill of Rights.
What we’re seeing is a demonstration of the authoritarian mindset that’s found haven in the current regime, in which the line between what’s legal and illegal has been so blurred it no longer regards the difference as meaningful. That’s what’s most disturbing.
Be that as it may be, ABS-CBN is correct in investigating Babao, not for violating any law, but for possible violation of the ethical precepts of journalism.
If Babao facilitated or posted bail for Santos because the latter’s a friend, the most anyone can fault him with is failing to choose his friends more wisely. If he’s related to Santos, on the other hand, that would excuse him altogether since one can’t choose one’s relatives.
But if he facilitated or posted bail for Santos to get an exclusive interview or something similarly intended to make his job as broadcast journalist easier, he would be in violation of journalism ethics.
The fifth provision of the Philippine Journalists’ Code of Ethics prohibits journalists from accepting or offering “any present, gift or other consideration of a nature which may cast doubt on my professional integrity”.
Posting or facilitating bail for an actual or potential news source would be a form of payment–a “gift”–in exchange for information. This common practice–and certain columnists close to Malacanang routinely pay for information in their TV shows–creates the bad precedent of sources’ expecting payment for whatever information they provide journalists.
What’s worse is that paying for information in whatever form–whether in cash, gifts or favors– compromises its reliability. Since the source would try to convince the journalist that he’s getting what he paid for, he is likely to embellish the facts to make them seem more sensational than they really are.
In a world in which information is the key factor in citizen understanding of the issues that concern them, the practice of journalists’ paying for information makes the making of an informed citizenry even more difficult by sowing confusion rather than enlightenment. That possibility rather than some convoluted notion of an imagined crime dreamed up by ISAFP or Malacanang should disturb us all.