Sometimes all the spin one needs is provided by the heightened emotions that a given issue creates in the public. Half the time that means freeing those who are culpable from all responsibility, or giving them the space to negotiate and navigate an issue in silence and behind the scenes, like shadows we do not see, and we have yet to prove are in the jails we are told they are in.
Yes, we have yet to see Joseph Pemberton, the primary and only suspect in the Jennifer Laude murder. Yes, Marc Sueselbeck went over a fence and pushed his way towards Pemberton’s purported jail.
Those two are connected but not the same. Anyone who even imagines these two analogous is obviously making us all miss the point.
The AFP as complicit
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has kept Sueselbeck from leaving the country, as they would like for him to be declared an undesirable alien. The latter makes sense. The process does not.
Why couldn’t we have let him leave and then declared him an undesirable alien?
There is obviously a need to embarrass Sueselbeck, the man who has just lost his fiancée to a gruesome murder. It is also obviously a distraction from the man who we should all want to see, in the flesh – or at least live on television—to make sure he’s actually here.
The truth is while TV cameras are being trailed on Sueselbeck at the airport, Sueselbeck fainting, Sueselbeck on a stretcher, Sueselbeck walking arm-in-arm with the Laude family to court, local media is missing out on actually proving to the public that Pemberton is even here. They are being bound to this ongoing Sueselbeck story, while Pemberton is freed from any form of public scrutiny.
To add another layer of distraction, we’ve got the personality that is AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lieutenant Harold Cabunoc who uses Twitter like we have seen no other government official use it: with brute force, and nary a rationale. Questioned for accepting Sueselbeck’s apology but pushing for the deportation proceedings, Cabunoc responds: “What??? Kung ayaw nyo na may batas tayong sinusunod, maybe Law of the Jungle gusto mo bro. Di kita papanigan dyan! Sorry.”
Ah, there are apparently no laws in the jungle. Now it all makes sense, the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearance of activists in the countryside and rural areas. I’ve never feared a Twitter account so.
But the AFP Spokesperson does not stop with engaging in Twitter wars that speak of the Philippine military’s stance with regards critics and criticism. Cabunoc also unthinkingly parallels Pemberton with Sueselbeck and back, like it’s an unquestionable truth.
He responds to a tweet that tells him Sueselbeck only got carried away with his emotions that’s why he went over the fence and pushed his way into the army camp. Cabunoc tweets back: “Ganyan din ba mararamdaman mo kung sabihin din ni Pemberton na nadala lang siya sa emosyon at mag apologize siya? No double standard!”
His last tweet as of October 26 is also what I heard him say on TV: “Pananagutin si Pemberton kung talagang may kasalanan; at ganon din kay Sueselbeck na lumabag sa ating batas at security protocols ng AFP.”
To even imagine this parallelism to be valid can be nothing but spin. Because there is absolutely no reason to believe that a killing is the same as going over the fence of a military facility and pushing a soldier to try and see if that murder suspect is there. The murder of Jennifer Laude is not – cannot be demoted to – some petty crime that is going over-the-bakod of any place in this country. Sueselbeck who did it accompanied by camera crew from various media outfits, in broad daylight, unarmed, cannot be paralleled with Pemberton who has been living safely in the shadows since Jennifer’s death.
The only similarity between Pemberton and Sueselbeck is that they are both foreigners. Sueselbeck of course is no American, and arrived here to mourn the death of his fiancée. Pemberton was here because of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in military exercises with the AFP.
The spin ties neatly together, doesn’t it.
But there is no better spin for Pemberton than the one that comes from the mouths of those in Malacañang.
Responding only to the call to abrogate the VFA in light of the Jennifer Laude slaying, the President himself has spoken of how there is no place in the world where there is no crime, in the process rationalizing the murder of Laude to the point of making it sound like it’s a run-of-the-mill killing.
In a press briefing Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. explains why there has been no condemnation from Malacañang about the Jennifer Laude murder: “Ipinaiiral kasi natin ‘yung mga proseso ng ating batas, at kung magkakaroon ng ‘strong condemnation,’ ito ay maaaring makaapekto din naman sa pagturing ng mga nagsisiyasat.” He continues that the goal is to make sure that the investigation of the murder has integrity, as it is the Philippine that has jurisdiction over the proceedings.
Secretary Coloma forgets that the rule of law is not all that we need as a nation angered and hurt by the fate that has befallen Jennifer Laude. We also need to know that the government is one with us in this anger, that Malacañang also believes this was an injustice that is an affront to all our women and every Filipino, who lives on a side of nation that is dependent on the arrivals of members of the US military for VFA military exercises.
Alas, as with many things that demand emotion, Malacañang knows not how to unite with nation. Worse, they are utterly insensitive and speak of the murder of Jennifer with hardly any compassion. There’s no greater example of this than the President himself when he said he wasn’t going to Jennifer’s wake because it is out of character for him to go to the wakes of strangers.
Now it all makes sense: when the dead littered the streets of Tacloban and the rest of Leyte almost a year ago after Haiyan, the President was nowhere in sight. The victims of Haiyan were all strangers to him. And if you have a sense of how things are for Haiyan survivors, then it seems those who are alive are strangers, too. We apparently all are.