Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Done by color of justice

Just as the “Garci tapes” sufficiently constitute a prima facie case of the impeachable offense of betrayal of public trust on the part of President Arroyo that the House could only ignore at the expense of its constitutionally mandated checks and balances function, so do the homophobic harangues engaged in by former SC justice Isagani Cruz a sufficient case of civil right infringement that Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) could only take blithely (in apparent efforts of getting along to get along) at the expense of its avowal to be a “respected and influential Philippine media organization” and “a catalyst for social progress.”

If neither Arroyo nor Cruz is held accountable to their “lapse in judgment,” then trust by the voting public in the electoral process in the case of Arroyo or by the reading public in the PDI’s pursuit of the “highest standards in journalism” in the matter of Cruz is greatly imperiled.

In Arroyo’s case, there is a clear-cut remedy when a leading public official is charged with an impeachable offense. And when such remedy is short-circuited by the very agency constitutionally charged to enforce the same, the violated public has the fallback to activate its reserved power of removal of the recalcitrant representatives. This is one of One Voice’s goals, I recall.

It is not so, as in Cruz’ situation, when it comes to the agency we call the fourth estate. (The people as we know have accepted the agency of the media to keep an eye on the powers that be because they - the people - are too busy with other pursuits.) But readers do not vote, although they could exercise the so-called right or power of exit (as in a refusal to patronize a product). That would have been enough in a free market of ideas.

The rub is: media outlets like PDI are one-stop shopping centers for news, opinions, punditries and other forms of discourses (and also the place to look for jobs, prices of used cars or to advertise a business, post obituaries, etc.), and in the case of online editions, access to information is oftentimes free. Hence, the exercise of exit could be effectively rendered nugatory. This is where the commitment of media owners to the highest standards of journalism comes into play. Whenever called for under the premises, media outfits must be uncompromising and fastidious in policing their ranks of incompetents, hacks, charlatans, or purveyors of mendacities and prejudices. In clear cases of bigotry, the capital punishment of dismissal or retirement must be exercised by media employers with great dispatch if only to simplify the process of accountability.

Breaches of public trust range from the vulgar and crude to the scheming and insidious. For instance, Erap’s juetengate was easily graspable even by the uninitiated among us. But harder slogging has been needed to decipher the electoral fraud of the type GMA is accused of. As we are learning unlawful singling out of a designated group (specifically, “the vulgar members of the gay community”) could be committed while making it to look like what’s consummated is just a sharp critique of unseemly or indecorous behavior in the guise of free speech.

The history of bloodletting is well-documented as a result of the Great Yellow Peril peddled by out of control scaremongers. Today, stirrings against the green peril (as well as the Red Scare in the Philippine countryside) are costing so many lives in the name of the metaphoric War on Terror. Should PDI tolerate a former Supreme Court justice to self-indulge in his cultural blues and launch a crusade against the “invasion” of the pink peril in the Philippines despite acknowledging one “study made in Sweden in 2005 (showing) that homosexuals all over the world are to a large extent subjected to violence, insecurity, isolation and exclusion”?

My thesis: If Justice Cruz wrote his tirades before his appointment to the highest court of the land that would have been a reason for outright rejection; a judicial opinion of the same nature if given by him to resolve an actual case during his SC tenure should be a ground for impeachment; in other jurisdictions, Justice Cruz’ diatribes are prima facie hate crimes.

“It is the worst oppression,” according to Sir Edward Coke, “that is done by color of justice.”