Column: A host of “unexpected errors”

Published on April 28, 2009

Sometimes an error can be, not an anomaly, but the very norm. In the exact same way that a public official’s “lapse in judgment” may actually reflect the politician’s characteristic practice of politics, an “unexpected error” can turn out to be a regular feature of a system, the essential aspect of a case.

Consider the controversial acquittal, by a special division of the Court of Appeals, of American serviceman Daniel Smith of the crime of rape. The vital assumption animating yesterday’s Inquirer editorial bears repeating (it is something many of us can agree with): there is no question that the Court of Appeals has the responsibility to overturn trial court judgments if necessary. But the public has the right to expect any such reversal to be based on reasonable grounds.

In my view, the decision written by Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa offers not reason but prejudice. And it is a dangerous pre-judgment—it presumes that “Nicole” could not have been a victim because she was a party girl who drank hard. This is an error many of us can easily identify; even the “indecorous” can be sexually abused.The error is at its most glaring in Zenarosa’s sweeping dismissal of Nicole’s “No.” As recounted in an ABS-CBN news report, Zenarosa wrote: “Resistance by words of mouth [surely an error of usage, but a minor one] does not suffice to establish that she indeed did not give her consent to the sexual intercourse.” Colleague Ricky Carandang, writing in his blog, supplies the next clause in the decision: “but it must be by an act done in good faith and not through a mere pretense or token resistance under the circumstance.”

In other words, Zenarosa did not take Nicole at her word—and couldn’t, because (to appropriate only one of the many sins the judge imputes to a “reckless” Nicole) the girl from “far-away Zamboanga” had the nerve to vacation in Subic with “two American friends whom [she and her stepsister] met only about three months earlier.” Bad girl.

This is an “unexpected error” that reveals the heart of the matter: As long as we continue to assume (in our innermost thoughts) that rape remains a crime against chastity, the justice system will continue to be systemically deaf to rape charges raised by those whom society considers unchaste—whether they are raped by Americans or not.

* * *

I borrow the term “unexpected error” from an unlikely source, the Philippine Airlines website. I must have been one of thousands enticed by the airline’s radically reduced prices to actually try to make an online booking yesterday, the first day of a two-day promo; I failed to do so, however, despite spending at least five full hours trying to engage the website. I logged on at midnight, and for the first hour could not go much beyond the first page. I set the alarm and went online at 3 a.m., spending two hours figuring out the best itinerary. When it was finally time to make a purchase, however, I got an error message. I was back online from 8 to 10 a.m., again with the same results. I failed to complete any transaction. Throughout it all, I kept getting error messages, the most persistent being a pop-up that read: “The application had an unexpected error in processing your request. Please try again later.”

I relate all this, not as prelude to a rant, but as constructive criticism. I noticed that the website had a patchwork feel to it; for instance, at one point a message cautioned me, thus: that if the page did not redirect in 10 seconds, I must refresh the page. In doing so, I would encounter a page with the words UNALLOWABLE ITINERARY OPERATION; would I be so kind as to click Yes to proceed?

It felt like an IT guy had suggested a temporary fix. In other words, the “unexpected error” that kept popping up seemed to me, after the second hour online, to be neither unexpected nor an error. It seemed like a feature of the system. Perhaps PAL can replace its online booking system altogether.

* * *

Other “unexpected errors” that tell us more about how things really are, in an age of diminished expectations:

ABS-CBN and privacy. I missed most of ABS-CBN’s first-week coverage of the Failon case, because I was in Baguio at the time, trying to come to terms with the Supreme Court-sponsored Forum on Environmental Justice.

What I did manage to see was the “TV Patrol” newscast the first night of Trinidad Etong’s wake. The network relayed her family’s request for privacy—but for some reason ABS-CBN saw it fit to station “TV Patrol” co-anchor Julius Babao outside the funeral home. That decision I could not understand; was it really necessary to host part of the newscast from the Arlington chapels? Perhaps this decision, too, was an “unexpected error”—a decision that seemed to have been made for the news managers by the network’s own newsroom culture.

Melo’s dilemma. The controversial ex-general, Jovito Palparan, is set to return to the Batasan where he was apotheosized by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but this time as a mere party-list representative. Much of the attention last week was focused on Commission on Elections Chairman Jose Melo, who had previously pinpointed Palparan, when Melo was chair of the presidential commission investigating political killings and politically motivated disappearances, as command-responsible. Would Melo ignore Palparan at the oath-taking? Would he resign at the ex-general’s belated (and still-disputed) election victory?

I’ve a sense that the appeal to Melo to resign is itself an “unexpected error.” If all the good men resign, who will be left to represent us in government? Perhaps the politics of disengagement helps explain why “lapses in judgment” have become characteristic.

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One response to “Column: A host of “unexpected errors”

  1. Pingback: Editorial: “The romance of rape” « Newsstand

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