POSTSCRIPT / July 5, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Fixing cases is easier with public in the dark

IF you watched the live TV coverage of the impeachment trial of then President Erap Estrada and read the news reports the next morning, you would have noticed the yawning chasm between what you witnessed on TV and what you read in the papers.

This point alone should convince any reasonable person that justice and the people’s right to know are better served by allowing television coverage of the upcoming trial of Erap Estrada on plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan.

With their inherent limitations, the media are generally unable to present a full and objective report when covering complicated cases. The people thus become easy prey to those who would peddle falsehoods and fix cases.

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WE have to look for some way to supplement media’s regular reportage, especially in their handling of cases with devastating effects on public affairs.

It is not the perfect answer to this frailty of our media, but full, live TV coverage carried out with professionalism and responsibility is one such remedy.

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LET’S not kid ourselves. Those of us who have had encounters with the robed kind know how justice is dispensed in these parts.

Even the venerable justices of the Supreme Court know, or should know, what we’re talking about.

The first step to fixing the criminal cases of former President Erap Estrada, or for that matter any case before any court, is to shut out a nosey public.

We’re not saying that the Sandiganbayan can be fixed or that the Supreme Court is party to some shenanigans, but the tribunal’s ban on live TV coverage of Erap’s trial creates precisely the hush-hush situation where fixers and their ilk thrive.

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BUT we are not advocating exactly the same television coverage we had to live with during Erap’s impeachment trial in the Senate. We must not pattern the coming Sandiganbayan trial after the televised Senate circus.

Firstly, the Sandigan trial will be vastly different from the Senate hearing. While the senators were supposed to sit as judges, many of them ended up acting also as witnesses and/or lawyers either for the defense or the prosecution. In the Sandiganbayan, the justices’ role is clearly defined.

Whereas in the Senate hearing media acted like they were covering a celebrated police case, in the Sandigan trial we would like to see a more staid atmosphere with preset TV cameras sitting passively on their tripods with no technician touching them as they whirr away.

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OUR compromise proposal, as put forward in previous Postscripts, is for a three-camera operation with one focused on the witness stand, a second on the judges (justices) and a third providing a wide-angle view of the audience.

All cameras will be pre-positioned before the trial begins and left alone. They will grind on impersonally, passively, objectively.

If three TV cameras are too much for the court to take, we can knock that down to just two by removing the third eye trained on the audience. The worst scenario is to settle for just one camera giving a close view of the witness testifying.

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IT is very important that at least one camera is dedicated to whoever is testifying on the witness stand. It will provide the watching public a close view that even the justices, we dare say, will not be able to have from their perch on the bench.

The cold text of stenographic notes will never be able to capture the full substance of any testimony. But an audio-visual coverage provided by a TV camera capturing the demeanor of the witness will enrich the public’s perception and appreciation.

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STILL on the subject of television, listen to reader Arnold Lim, a constituent of Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte:

“The main problem of the Philippines is moral education. With all the crime and corruption going around us — laws being broken everyday — people are beginning to have a hard time discerning what is right and wrong. Worse, they are beginning to accept this and treat it with apathy.

“Although the situation seems bad, the government can do something to turn this situation around.”

“The main problem is education. People don’t get enough education. They can’t tell right from wrong anymore (example, the EDSA III phenomenon). The solution is to build more schools, get more teachers, force kids to learn in school.

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HE proposes a solution:

“But with the corruption and the bankrupt situation of the government, it will take forever to build enough schools and hire enough teachers. So, I propose this solution: Use TV as a medium of moral education.

“Simply put, TV viewers should regularly be bombarded with advertisements that promote good Filipino traits and principles.

“Examples: Ads that say ‘Ang Pilipino ay masipag.’ or ‘Ang Pilipino ay marunong mag-ipon.’ or ‘Ang Pilipino ay mapapagkakatiwalaan.’ ‘Ang Pilipino ay magaling mag-aral.’ etc.

“Ask ad agencies to make these ads — even get some wholesome movie stars to show actions of ‘pagiging masipag’ or ‘pagiging matulungin,’ ‘marunong gumawa ng tama,’ etc.

“Step 1: Make the advertisement.

“Our ad agencies are among the world’s most creative. They can easily produce effective ads that promote what’s good. The government should ask them to create ‘Pro-Pinoy’ ads. Or try tapping Fine Arts or Advertising majors in UP and other schools. Conduct a contest or ask them to do these commercials as their thesis — with a cash prize going to the best info-mercial. Etc. So now, we’ve got the ads.

“Step 2: Show these ads regularly on TV.

“The government should ask the local networks (RPN 9, PTV 4, IBC 13, GMA 7, ABS-CBN 2) to allot regular airtime to these ads. I don’t know how, but the networks must show these ads regularly.

“Either the government pleads to get a huge discount on the airtime, or the government pleads with the networks to do their part in educating the Filipino and do what’s right for the country. Or the government requires these TV stations to show these info-mercials regularly.

“These info-mercials shown regularly will help in the moral education of the general public. The idea is to promote to Filipinos that ‘doing good is cool,’ ‘The Filipino stands up for what’s right,’ ‘The Filipino works hard,’ etc.

“If these ads are shown over and over, slowly their messages will be injected into the Filipinos’ mind, and they will eventually start doing what is right and good for the country.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 5, 2001)

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