A goddamned trial balloon

"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.



Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

9 responses to “A goddamned trial balloon

  1. manuelbuencamino

    And Tiangco is the perfect pin to prick the balloon

  2. djb

    the real story may be the main stream media and what various parts of it are willing to do for a “scoop”…shades of arlene…the trimedia have become an extension of the govt..it’s a bankrupt symbiosis…

  3. philip fino

    babao or tiongco- would either shell out an incredulous amount of money for this? after 6 months, they cannot trace the REAL source of the bail money?

  4. richard rivera

    You’re correct–whether or not Julius Babao did pay, quo vadis? If Julius is a friend of Dawud Santos, then, it is perfectly natural for a friend to help another friend right? However, insinuations such as the bail was Babao’s way of “compensating” Dawud for the exclusive reports are downright below the belt. I’ve known Julius for years. And he will not pay anybody just for an exclusive (no one among us ever did, especially coming from the “old schooled” police journalists such as our generation).

    Besides, even if you know Dawud personally, like me, who’s also a Muslim revert, so what? Does it make me a terrorist? No. Does it make me a terrorist financier? No. So much ado for nothing.

  5. Ricky Carandang

    If the story was so flimsy, why did PDI run it on page one without itself checking if there were reason to believe it?
    Shouldn’t they have checked it out before running it?

  6. John,
    This may not be true of julius or you, but the public is certainly willing to believe that media, in general, is corrupt or corruptible. For example, in this case, it is plausible in people’s minds that ABSCBN–thru Julius–paid for an exclusive with a real live terrorist who’d been arrested but was bailable. Sorry to say, but the media’s reputation is almost as bad as the government’s. And terrorism is just too little understood or sensibly debated to expect people to discriminate the bad apples from the good. Tragic.

  7. The intelligence report is flimsy but not the story that the president is leaking an unverified report that a reporter is a terrorist-coddler. That was the story and it’s solid.

    If I remember it right, there was a denial of Julius the frist time the story came out.

  8. AndyV

    I am not sure if Julius can be considered a terrorist or not if he was indeed the ‘guarantor’ of the bail bond.

    Just my two cents.

  9. Mylene


    Ricky Carandang raised an interesting question. Why did Inquirer give the story the prominence it did not deserve?

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