IF the alleged post-Christmas day mauling of businessman Delfin de la Paz and his 14-year-old son by the sons of agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman Sr. has generated as much attention, it’s not only because the incident involved an unequal encounter, as Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila put it, pitting the family of a high official of the Arroyo administration, a Cabinet secretary no less, against plain powerless citizens. It’s also because from the start the public had ready access to an important point of view: that of the supposed victims.
New technology has made such access possible, via the blog of dela Paz’s daughter Bambee, who wrote her eyewitness account of the incident at the Valley Golf and Country Club — yet another demonstration of what some commentators have already pointed out as the power of social media in this day and age.
But Bambee’s version of the story has since been challenged by the Pangandamans themselves, calling it “one-sided,” meant only to tarnish their reputation. The Pangandamans insist that it was the de la Pazes who instigated the brawl, with Nasser Jr., the mayor of Masiu town in Lanao del Sur, eventually filing a libel case against Bambee in their hometown.
Others have also weighed in on the apparent inconsistencies of Bambee’s account with those of other witnesses, primarily golf club personnel who also supposedly saw the incident.
Yet, notwithstanding the efforts to contradict Bambee’s version, and pending the outcome of an impartial investigation on what really happened, the de la Paz family has only continued to draw remarkable sympathy from readers.
Consider as well how it would have been had Bambee not immediately blogged about the brawl. Only the Pangandamans’ version of the story — they being more powerful and influential — would likely have been given prominence in the media. It would probably have ended up the same way that Stephen Guerrero’s story did the first time it saw print back in 1995 — forgotten in just a matter of days, as is the fate of most random acts of violence, after landing in the inside pages of a few newspapers.
For those who may care to remember, Stephen Guerrero was then an 18-year-old Philosophy student at the University of the Philippines who was mauled, arrested, tortured and detained for more than 24 hours by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents on March 17, 1995.
But the earlier reports on Stephen’s story only carried the NBI’s official line, in which he was portrayed as a “troublemaker” and “high on drugs.” If that were the case, it was because no reporter bothered to get past the “official” sources to listen to Stephen’s version of the events.
PCIJ Fellow Gemma Luz Corotan did and learned that Stephen, who was an Ateneo High School graduate from an upper-middle-class family, was mauled and tortured by four to 10 burly agents simply beacuse he tried to stop an NBI official, Atty. Orlando DIzon, the agency’s Special Operations Group chief, from beating up a jeepney driver who smashed his car.
Read the PCIJ’s report on Stephen Guerrero’s nightmare again.
The PCIJ report generated tremendous impact that was missing in the earlier reports on the incident. As Corotan wrote in a “Paper Chase” article in i magazine then: “The fallout was huge, Newspaper columnists took up the student’s cause. There was a Senate inquiry. A day after the report came out, NBI’s top division was disbanded and the men involved in the mauling, including (Dizon), were appropriately punished. President (Fidel V.) Ramos also called to Malacañang the NBI chief to question him about the incident.”
In all, what made the difference in the eventual unraveling of the real story was Stephen’s point of view as the victim. And as in the de la Pazes’ case, technology also had quite a hand, via the lowly fax machine which the Guerrero family used to send Stephen’s version of the events to the media.
Now imagine if blogs were already a fad back then…