The Binay probe: Guilty until proven innocent

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After weeks of accusations in prime time and front page news, Vice-President Jejomar Binay appeared on ABS-CBN’s cable news channel ANC on Tuesday night in an even-handed interview with Lynda Jumilla.

The VP denied allegations of corruption in the construction of the Makati City Hall building, and the purported ownership of a claimed 350-hectare property in Batangas. He produced documents to back his statements and prove his innocence, as press, public and politicians have been demanding.

What’s wrong with this picture?

For those who know the National Union of Journalists Code of Ethics, the answer is plain. The NUJ’s Rule No. 8 states: “I shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise.”


If media followed this tenet of fairness and truth, it should be Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th facing Jumilla and other journalists, being questioned about his claims and having to produce papers to prove them.

That would be how media in America, Europe, and developed parts of Asia would handle such accusations. And that too is how the Philippine press would address charges — if the accused happens to be one of their own or one they wish to protect.

Imagine what The Philippine Daily Inquirer would do with aerial photos of a sprawling, luxurious farm if PDI’s controlling Prieto family were the one alleged to secretly own it. Certainly not a huge Page 1 picture with the banner: ‘Prieto farm 350-ha estate’.

But Philippine media will be Philippine media. When this writer, then the Cabinet Secretary, lamented the practice of rushing to print with appalling allegations without asking accusers for proof, a respected journalist and leading advocate of press freedom and responsibility, argued that the press don’t have time to wait for evidence in the race to get news out.

‘Sabong’ journalism
Thus, controversy coverage in the country is almost always down to “sabong” or cockfight journalism. After a politician rolls out charges sans any kind of basis, reporters quickly run to the accused and get denials and reactions. No matter that the claims are utterly outlandish. Nothing like two fuming public figures blaring at each other, to grab eyeballs on the evening news and the morning paper.

Which is why this writer, when he was Presidential Spokesperson, was not a Malacañang Press Corps favorite with the tack he employed in dealing with baseless accusations seeking comment.

Rather than issuing the usual denial, which just gives the newspaper or TV program its desired “Palace denies” headline, I always asked the reporter: Did you ask the accuser for proof of his claims?

The reporter would then query if Malacañang wanted proof. To which I would reply: No, I’m asking you if you did your journalistic duty and asked for the accuser for the basis of his charges? Interviewers would promise to get back to me, but none ever did. And the accusations often did not see print or broadcast. Evidently, they were hogwash.

Some media do ask for proof after being reminded of their professional duty. When then-Senator Panfilo Lacson claimed in 2007 that money given to legislators at a Palace function came from the Philippine National Police intelligence budget, reporters asked him for evidence.

The former PNP chief retorted that the agency should disclose its intelligence spending — something he knew it would never do — to prove that the funds didn’t come from it. In other words, Lacson wanted the accused to prove its innocence.

Another senator, Serge Osmeña, claimed in 2005 that then-Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo quit under Palace pressure. ANC anchor Carmina Constantino asked the senator what basis he could cite to make the people believe him. To which he replied: “The people will just have to take my word for it.”

Guard against media manipulation
With politicians keen to grab headlines and pummel opponents with sensational claims, and most media letting them have their way without even a whisper about the basis for allegations, how can a hapless newspaper reader and TV viewer defend against untruths? Here are some simple do’s and don’ts.

First, always check if the report mentions any evidence for the charges. If there is none, then almost surely, none was presented or even demanded. Otherwise, the proof would have been mentioned very early in the story.

And if one can contact the reporter or anyone in the paper or program, ask if there was any solid basis for the allegation. It would help make media do their professional duty to press for proof if they knew that intelligent Filipinos want more than sabong journalism.

Second, read newspapers and journalists of different leanings, not just the biggest-circulation journals or the writers one agrees with. This tack serves to get a more balanced perspective and a fuller coverage of events and issues.

Similarly, one must regularly look in the inside pages, where news not in line with a paper’s slant may be buried. A leading journal once ran a story about the Philippines having the best microfinance framework among more than 100 countries — on page 9 of its business section. Asked where news about the Philippines having the worst microfinance program would land, a senior writer of the paper quickly replied: Page 1. (That was in the past administration, by the way; it’s often the opposite today.)

Third, ponder the possible motives driving accusers. Are they and their organizations or advocacies helped by besmirching the reputation of the accused? Do they gain from having their names and faces prominently featured in media, especially in aid of election? Of countless televised congressional hearings, only a handful ever lead to legislation, but they certainly help raise name recognition for participating legislators.

Besides having political ambitions, legislators enjoy parliamentary immunity to make even false statements in Congress. They can also extend that abuse-prone privilege to witnesses. Plus: lawmakers can make threats to get the testimony they want, as Trillanes allegedly did to agri-tycoon Tony Tiu.

These and other tenets of media awareness are crucial not just for the public, but most especially for radio news programs. Most cite newspaper reports, often the most widely circulated papers. They should quote a broader range of publications, so they don’t end up disseminating the political leanings of just the biggest broadsheets or tabloids.

A final rule of thumb. When you read or hear a report, ask one simple question: If that news were about me or someone close to me, would I be so quick to believe, or will I want proof? Then demand for the accused what you would also require for yourself and your family and friends.

(Ric Saludo was Asiaweek assistant managing editor before serving in government in 2001-10.)

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29 Comments

  1. One cannot give politicians the benefit of the doubt as they are held to a higher standard than your average citizens. These people make rules and decisions that affect how we, ordinary citizens, conduct our daily lives. Not only should we subscribe to “where there is smoke, there is fire,” we should also ascribe to the saying that something is rotten when there is stench. Binay has been aspiring to become the president of our republic so it is fair game that the voters get to know the kind of person that he really is. For a family whose main source of income is derived from public service, a reasonable person would be right in questioning how its lifestyle is sustained given that there is nothing ordinary about having homes in the richest enclave of the Philippines. It simply doesn’t add up, cannot possibly add up on a public servant’s salary. In the court of law, one will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But in an investigation, it is the job of the probers to find out the source of the smoke and/or the stench. We will never progress as a country when we ignore the preponderance of evidence of corruption. Enough. Face the senate inquiry or commit an Angelo. That would be the honorable thing to do. And while we’re at it, just please return the loot to where it rightfully belongs – in the public coffers.

  2. Herman P. Hondojare on

    A plunder complaint has been filed against Vice President Jejomar Binay, his son, Makati mayor Erwin Jejomar Binay Jr., and 21 others before the Office of the Ombudsman by Save Makati Movement for the alleged over price Makati bulding

    VP Binay son the current Mayor of Makati have attended for several times The Blue Ribbon Sub Committee Hearing in Aid of Legislation but there was already pre-judgement and he was humiliated by trillanes, cayetano and pimentel for the very clever way of asking question to make him guilty.

    VP Binay has a very valid reason not to attend the subject kangaroo hearing and its obvious motives is to malice and destroy the man reputation and family, grabbing the attention of media news in Aid for their re-election in 2016.

    Filipinos shall never vote them again in 2016.

    God Bless The Philippines

    • Junior was with counsel while he was being grilled by the senators – they cannot be faulted “for the very clever way of asking question to make him guilty.” It is their job to flush out the truth from someone who may have been caught with his hands inside the proverbial cookie jar.

    • Been hearing about this allegation for 3 years now, and I can tell by the progress of the hearing that the sub committee was just doing their job to dig more deeper to find out how the Binays acquired these property using different names and entities ………
      What belong to Makati must be returned to Makati, the ”LOOT should be returned to Makati and the guilty must be Jailed !

  3. The accuser must prove his allegations and not the accused..Parang baliktad ang nangyayari. Kung ganyan pala mag-aakusa na ako ng mag-aakusa total di naman pala dapat mag-provide ng proof.

    • anong proof pa ang kelangan mo para maniwala ka na dapat ngang imbistigahan ang mga ipinaratang ni mercado? sandamakmak na mga orihinal na nilagdaang mga dokumento ang isiniwalat ay hindi ka pa rin man lamang magduda? walang kwenta ang senado kung di nila pag-uukulang pansin ang mga katiwalian at kamalignuhang nangyayari sa makati. si robin hood nagnanakaw sa mayayaman para ipamahagi sa mga mahihirap; ang idol mo nagnanakaw para sa sarili niya at sa buong pamilya nya. saan ka pa???

  4. Mr. Saludo, you must be one of the chosen few Filipinos to lead our nation because you know the journalistic principles and I think you are a principled person. At present, we have a number of so-called journalists who are mere gossipers. Gone are the days of responsible journalism in the country. You moved my nerves in your piece. God bless you.

  5. The business of media is to capture loyal audience, viewers and readers. Since most citizens tend to treat the media as entertaining medium, media by all means knowing this phenomenon, most often sensationalize any issue, whether trivial or of national importance. Politicians and the media are in perfect symbiotic relationship. That’s the reason why the media moguls foster the ambitions of their favorite or budding politician(s). The most unfortunate thing is that advertisers run to the leading media outfits or networks, thus encouraging media management to profess the principle and mentality of dogs in a dogfight. Currently, VP Binay is terribly beaten but the more the media outfits and networks are lusting for more punches to be thrown.

  6. So there is Rule 8 after all. But how many in the Press Sector are aware of such Rule or are guided by such principle?

    On another related matter. In the case of PDI, for example, don’t they have journalism ethics or exemplars-oriented in-service seminars for themselves? Are they contented of being lowlife-like mouthpiece of evil-intentioned accusers?

  7. VP Binay has been given ample opportunities to refute the allegations against him. Instead of appearing before the senate subcommittee where the charges had been aired, he has opted to ” go directly to the people” where he will be preaching to the already converted who will not have the opportunity to ask him questions for clarification or validation. His apprehension that he will be insulted thereby compromising the office of the Vice President is baseless. He is the Vice President of the Philippines; he has a daughter- senator who is a member of the subcommittee; he has a battery of competent lawyers ; and he has a coterie of spokesmen who are adept at coming out with the right spin even at the expense of the truth. Then what is the Vice-President afraid of? The truth?
    The avalanche of charges against the Vice-President and, more revealingly, the members of his family has pierced the veil of pro- poor stance that this family has carefully cultivated through all these decades. Behind the well- publicized maka masa empathy they have shown lurks insatiable greed and rapaciousness which indubitably reduce social and welfare services to the poor. Give the senior citizens P650.00 worth of birthday cakes while we partake hundreds of millions worth of kickback seems to be the mantra.
    And here you are castigating other media outlets for writing about these shenanigans and subtly claiming to be a professional journalist? The best proof of your professionalism is the continuing four- year confinement of your once (?) principal for similarly plunderous act of your future principal?

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr Romero. The article does not defend the Vice-President or castigate his accusers. It urges the press to verify accusations, and the public to be critical in reading the news. Nothing wrong with that, one hopes.

  8. Are you saying that when a senator accuses another senator of crimes of this magnitude they should come to the press & tell them everything they have on that person. As thats what i think you were saying. What they have done is held an investigation into binays affairs & it seems to be getting bigger & bigeer all the time. Im not sure what will come out of this but i know something is amiss here. This tui guy he will soon be in for a shock as the amlc are now getting involved & they i think have the capacity to look into some ones bank accounts, he will regret all this as no doubt he himself will probably have certain ammounts of money not declared to the bir. But it seems there are so many things here that connects binay to so many things. It looks a bit like no smoke without fire. Theres a lot of smoke now we need to find the fire & im sure they will & if binay is guilty so they should.

  9. You consider Mr. Saludo, a top journalist and Manila Times a well balanced publication ! You people must be insane like any other readers on his column. Open your eyes readers, be sensible and please read other circulations. This paper is one sided and only writes what you people like to read. By the way, I stand neutral so I am neither pro or anti Aquino….

  10. I think that because the culture of corruption has been tolerated in our political system and our government for a long time, what most of us did not realize is the implicit result of this practice to our society and our way of life. “Pakapalan ng mukha” is the mantra of those committing the offense.
    Unlike other cultures, such as the Japanese, the person accused/subjected to questioning resigns automatically on their own for moral reasons or by the dictates of their conscience.

  11. Vincent de Belen on

    Very well said Mr Saludo. Media outlet most of the time published only to sensationalize not to inform without any proof . Only those they favor were given mileage . hoping for a well balanced news like the way it should be.

  12. Edgar G. Festin on

    Very good column.
    But why don’t you and Mr. Makabenta say that the paper you write for has been correctly bold and principled in exposing the lies of the Aquino adiministration?
    In his column last Tuesday, Mr. Makabenta even attacked “the media” for being Aquino propagandists without thanking this newspaper for allowing him to write freely and for being unlike the others.

  13. Been hearing this Batangas property of Binay’s 3 years ago, and I am convinced that this property belong to the Binay’s especially the tax dec./tittle have been compromised.

  14. Jose A. Oliveros on

    Mr. Saludo, please send sufficient copies of the National Union of Journalist Code of Ethics to the Philippine Daily Inquirer for distribution to its, publisher, editors, reporters and columnists, specially Solita Collas-Monsod, Neal H. Cruz and Ramon Tulfo. They need to review, internalize and follow every single word of that Code. Thank you.

  15. This is as informative as it can come. Readers would certainly be better at digesting news stories following the advice of the writer.

  16. Nory Cabanilla on

    It is true that under our laws, accused are deemed innocent until proven guilty. But the hearings in the Philippine Senate are supposed to be in “aid of legislation” , not to convict a person for any criminal misdeeds. From my readings of newspaper accounts, those testifying against Binay have presented a prima facie evidence of Binay’s corruption. If not refuted satisfactorily by Binay, the people will conclude that he is indeed a corrupt government official. He was invited by the Senate to give his side, but he still refuses to do so. So what will the people think? He is afraid because he is really corrupt and can’t rebut the accusations against him. Assuming these proceedings to be judicial, he is being given a day in court.

  17. Why the double standard? Why did you guys believe Clarissa Ocampo and Chavit Singson but not Vice Mayor Mercado and the others who were all Binay’s own people when he was mayor? Ocampo and Chavit by the way were found out to have lied during the Sandiganbayan trial. Binay refuses to go to the senate because he said he has been pre-judged. Nobody can possibly be more pre-judged than Marcos and Erap, yet Marcos wanted to come home to face all his charges but his Corista inquisitors barred him from coming. They were afraid of the truth. Erap rejected GMA’s offer of exile and faced the charges like a man. Do you guys remember what you did to Lacson when GMA was the president? Where are all those accusations against him now? Binay doesn’t measure up to these three men when it comes to character, so it escapes me why you guys give him your undying faith.

    • pardon me, if memory serves me right, clarissa ocampo testified that she witnessed personally erap signing as jose velarde in the bank documents she gave erap to sign. do not get me wrong, am not pro-erap. just saying what i read in the papers during the impeachment trial.

    • She was not a member of the account management team that was handling the Dichaves account , the real management team said so during the trial. Where she got the authority to transact business with regards to that account is still a mystery. Clearly her motive when she made the gullible Erap sign as Jose Velarde was to frame him up. Politics at its dirtiest is what it was.

  18. P. Akialamiro@yahoo.com on

    You belong to the top breed of journalist, Mr. Saludo. Like in any other profession, ethics should be strictly followed, expecially when dealing with one’s reputation.

    The problem (onli in da Pilipins) is that, the ‘journalist’ may have his/her own private agenda, just like the politician; or, that the investigator is the “tuta” of someone and wants to “grandstand” in aid of his election or re-election for that matter, not in aid of legislation. It only shows that there’s a lot of “dysfunctional” system in the country. Even among those who portray themselves as leaders, dignity is cheap and shallow. As they say, one may be “learned”, but not “educated”.

    Right on, Mr. Saludo!