"Very disturbing." That is what the President was supposed to have said to Inquirer Metro columnist Ramon Tulfo last Wednesday, over lunch at the Palace. Her object of concern? The military intelligence report that ABS-CBN news anchor Julius Babao posted bail for Tyrone del Rosario Santos, an alleged leader of a Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated group.
Santos, along with others, was arrested on March 22 and posted bail on April 26.
Rear Admiral Tirso Danga, AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence (J-2), said Friday that the military had kept silent about Babao’s alleged act because “we did not want a confrontation with the media.”
Kept silent for six whole months? That must be a new record. Perhaps they could have vetted their intelligence in the meantime, instead of relying on something as speculative as seeing Santos leave jail on board an ABS-CBN vehicle.
Babao has not only denied ever paying for Santos’ bail; he pinpoints exactly who paid for it: Jonathan Tiongco, the controversial political operator whom Sec. Mike Defensor once used as an audio expert to debunk the Hello Garci tapes. Homobono "Asterisk" Adaza, who represented Santos upon Tiongco’s request, confirmed in two interviews with the Inquirer that it was in fact Tiongco who arranged for the bail.
A couple of phone calls, and Danga’s men would have found there really was nothing more to this, except a journalist’s pursuit of an exclusive. This is why we agree with the President: the incident is "very disturbing," but for reasons she will not agree with.
It is "very disturbing" that an intel report can go all the way up the chain of command powered by nothing more than a sighting and a charge of speculation. It is "very disturbing" that the commander-in-chief raises the issue of media collusion with alleged terrorists using nothing more than a flimsy report. Above all, it is "very disturbing" that, to appropriate the unfortunate terms Danga himself used, the Palace now seems ready, using nothing more than a single, speculative source, to provoke that "confrontation" with the media.
It is not a confrontation, but an ambush: The President of the Philippines is using six-month-old "data" to insinuate that a journalist is a terrorist-coddler.
A trial balloon, that’s what it is. An exploratory probe, the President and her men testing the mainstream media’s perimeter. Perhaps they chose Babao because his public image as news anchor is confused with the fuzziness of his morning-show persona; perhaps they thought it made him a softer target. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Palace hard line now includes an attack on the mainstream journalists themselves — and that journalists of all kinds must hold the hardliners to account.