Friday, August 14, 2009

"Look Who's Talking?"

They were not as lethal as Professor Snape’s “Avada Kedavra” or Sectumsempra but his defensive words sparked a vague memory of some foreign sounding phrases I learned in my Philosophy I class:

“Argumentum Ad Hominem!” and “Tu Quo Que!”

I am no expert to carelessly use such Harry Potter wizardry-sounding terms especially since my Philosophy professor’s cigarette puffs somehow clouded my learning of this cerebral subject. This is Atty. Romy Macalintal’s turf, but it came as a shock to me when he verbally pivoted the accusing finger to the media naming the networks’ (specifying ABS CBN as an example) acceptance of premature political campaign ads as also immoral vis-a-vis the controversial $20,000 Le Cirque dinner of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with her entourage amidst former Pres. Cory Aquino’s death and the widespread poverty in the country. And reminiscent of a “Philo” Identification Test, while watching Punto por Punto of Anthony Taverna, I subconsciously tagged Macalintal’s argument as this kind of fallacy.

To validate my subconscious thought, I sought the virtual memory of the internet and borrowed the

definition of About.com of such Latin terms:

· Argumentum Ad Homineman argument based on the failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case; a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack.

· Tu Quo Que - A type of ad hominem argument in which a person turns a charge back on his or her accuser: a logical fallacy; Latin phrase that literally means “you too” or in today’s parlance, “Look Who’s Talking!”

Quoting him through the report of ANC’s Karen Caringal (Aug 13, 2009), Atty. Macalintal delivered his tu quo que in Tagalog,

Kayo rin taga media companies, hindi ba yung moral issue is also involved dahil kung alam ninyo na yan ay mali, kung alam nyo na yan ay indirectly campaigning, kung alam na ninyo na yan pala ay imoral, bakit nyo inaadvertise? Why accept their advertisement? Hindi ba bahagi rin kayo ng pagiging immoral? (You in media companies, isn't it also a moral issue if you know it's wrong, if you know it's a form of indirect campaigning, if you already know it is immoral, then why advertise? Why accept the advertisement? Doesn't that also make you immoral?),"

Notice his first two words. Are they not somehow the Tagalog translation of “you too” or in Latin, tu quo que?

While GMA may now be wishing that to get out of this dinner controversy is as easy as spitting out what she and her entourage had luxuriously swallowed, (or simply let her damage control team do the explaining until the public appetite for details about it dies down) Atty. Macalintal may now be wishing that he can simply swallow back what he has spat out during Taverna’s phone interview. That is, if he realizes as a lawyer, that his argument to defend the morality in question behind the Le Cirque dinner of the highest-ranking official of the land with her entourage despite poverty in the Philippines: by attacking the ethics of media in accepting premature campaign ads, can be summarized in four childish words, “Look who’s talking.” Is this a sign that the Arroyo camp is running out of arguments?

Whether media is indeed unethical in gaining from the ads of the political aspirants or not (this is another topic worth discussing), the main issue here still lingers while their camp continues to dodge the clamour for transparency, and the question that still begs to be asked is: Was the S20,000-Le Cirque dinner of GMA with entourage consumed in “good taste”?

And there is more seasoning for the good lawyer to eat back what he had said. By questioning the ethics of the networks, he was also unintentionally questioning at the same time the ethics of the politicians with the ads, many of whom are from the Arroyo camp, using government funds in advertising themselves in the guise of promoting the government agency they head. It is funny how temper can roast you in your own heat.

It is one thing to judge a person’s morality; it is another to pass on verdict to a public institution’s ethical behaviour. And the Presidency is an institution that requires great ethics and propriety, a very powerful position that entails tremendous helpings of accountability to the people who entrusted her this power. An accountability which when paired with transparency can save her from such sizzling public query and scrutiny with media in the lead. Why can she not just lay out the facts in black and white if indeed she sees nothing wrong with the dinner?

What has happened to a Filipino trait they used to inculcate in our minds as students – delicadeza or the sense of propriety? It is now as alien-sounding as the curses in Rowling’s books, worse, this generation may be more familiar with these curses than the Spanish equivalent of the word propriety which this nation badly needs.

An interesting blog (http://vaes9.codedgraphic.com/posts/the_deal_with_delicadeza) about delicadeza by Eugene Alvin Villar pointed out ways of mitigating conflicts of interest:

In times when delicadeza might not be appropriate or too drastic to apply in a particular situation, there are a few other means, listed below, that can be used to help reduce the negative effects of conflicts of interest.

· Disclosure. Disclosure is probably the most popular means of mitigating conflicts of interest. By self-disclosing that you have a conflict on interest in a process you participate in, you submit yourself to the court of public opinion (or at least the stakeholders) to judge whether your actions were fair or not.

· Transparency. This is related to disclosure in that you are revealing to the public something but instead of, or in addition to, revealing to the public your conflicts of interest, you make the whole process transparent so that the public can judge for themselves whether it was conducted fairly or not.

· Third-party audit or oversight. In certain processes where expertise is needed such as in finances, conducting an audit by a third party or having an oversight committee would be a good, though expensive, way to mitigate the effects of conflicts of interest. In this method, you subject the process to independent expertise to provide an objective or authoritative proof that, despite your conflict of interest, the process was fair. You might say that this method is a very specialized case of transparency.

With the action to be taken now by our lawmakers of reviewing the use of the Presidential budget, I believe they are now implementing the third way of mitigating such conflict of interest.

If faultlessness is the qualification to be able to assess the conduct of our public officials or institutions, what will happen to check and balance since nobody is perfect, not even Tita Cory? If no one is moral enough to have the privilege to comment on what our public officials are doing, then do we just let them be and let our nation become amoral because no Filipino is moral enough to bring to our attention the things we suspect as immoral?

Another point about our morality or ethics as a nation which seemed to be put askew after the accusing finger has been pivoted is: who bears the cross of moral leadership, especially now that former Pres. Cory Aquino is gone? Should media be the forerunner of morality in the country superseding the highest leader of the land in modelling the conduct of good ethics? Is it not supposedly the 180 degrees scenario? While media plays a very vital role in our nation’s morality, but still who should we supposedly look up to (even if she is not that tall enough)?

A third matter that disturbed me about our grasp of morality is the defense of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility Board of Trustee Vergel Santos for the morality behind acceptance of media to air premature political campaign ads. He was confusing unethical and immoral with the term illegal? Is our society this numb to ethics and morality already that we easily get mixed up? (from ANC’s Top Stories)

These confusions are but symptoms of a near-fatal social disease - moral decay. What we badly need is a moral leader.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said that the media is just making a big issue out of the Le Cirque dinner. For me, there is no need for media to enlarge it because the issue in itself is already huge involving: a relatively big amount of money, the person with the biggest share of power in the land, big dinner party in a restaurant where big names dine in the Big Apple, with a big delegation, while one of the biggest mourning in the country was taking place.

A big question in ethics begs to be answered. And certainly not with a lame childish defense of “Tu Quo Que” or ”Look who’s talking!”

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