Columns

It takes one to know one

Blind items are usually the stuff of entertainment journalism, and this happens when some scandals involving popular movie stars break out on social and mainstream media. “News” items like these are classified as the result of “tsismis,” considered the favorite pastime of community members across the country, done through informal conversations and usually transmitted by word of mouth. Some professionals are also known to indulge in juicy and even salacious conversations aimed at destroying their colleagues’ reputations.

Engaging in this type of interaction is quite easy to do because it does not need scientific rigor, as required in academic discourses. As a former academic, I know some of my former colleagues preferred to engage in this type of “discussion” rather than do the more challenging scholarly exchanges on how to make theories more understandable and digestible to our throng of eager students. This reminds me of a widely known quote from Madam Eleanor Roosevelt:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

As many communication experts tell us, what is transmitted from one oral channel to another may end up either distorted or blown out of proportion once it reaches its final destination.

It is disconcerting to hear a “blind item” type of information from no less than President Duterte himself. In his address to Mindoro provincial officials last Thursday, Mr. Duterte claimed that one presidential aspirant is “into cocaine,” and that he is a “weak leader,” that he only has his name and family wealth behind him. He seemed to talk about this person with derision, as shown in his facial expression. Then he made a give-away remark about this presidential aspirant—that “except for (his father’s) name,” this candidate has not accomplished anything.

One does not need to have a high intelligence quotient to guess who Mr. Duterte was alluding to. All the leading presidential aspirants, except one, do not come from a prominent, wealthy family; no one among them is the son of a strong leader. The only woman among the leading presidential aspirants, Leni Robredo, is definitely out of the “suspected” aspirant who is “into cocaine.” She does not fit any of the descriptions Mr. Duterte used to characterize the presidential aspirant in his “exposé.”

In a report in The Manila Times the following day, Mr. Duterte identified the presidential aspirant, and as everyone guessed, it is former senator Bongbong Marcos, who is running under the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. Presidential daughter Sara Duterte has allied with Marcos Jr. to be his running mate, after she withdrew her candidacy for Davao City mayor and substituted it with her candidacy for the vice presidential post last Nov. 15.

Mr. Duterte’s “colorful” communication style is quite unprecedented in Philippine presidential history. Toward the end of his term, he still rambles on with his usual, street toughie talking style, complete with either invectives or foul phrases. Now he has added sharing blind items, aka “tsismis,” to his speaking repertoire.

As the chief architect of “Oplan Tokhang,” Mr. Duterte could have ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to invite this person for an investigation regarding who his supplier of cocaine is. Isn’t that what the drug war is all about? To get rid of the drug problem, you have to eliminate its source. Why did he stop at just sharing some “tsismis” items during a public event? Is the use of cocaine “allowable” because it is the high-end drug of the rich? Does Mr. Duterte practice selective justice in this regard? Many victims of extrajudicial killings in the anti-drug war came from impoverished families, and the drug associated with them is the “poor man’s cocaine,” or methamphetamine hydrochloride, popularly known as shabu.

If indeed this accusation is true, how did the President know about this habit of the “weak leader” he alluded to? Is this the result of some thorough investigation or just mere speculation? Or could it be that he has something in common with this presidential aspirant?

Some sage once said that to catch a thief, you must be one yourself: it takes one to know one.

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