Column: Willie, and patterns of sin

In which I criticize a noted lawyer’s scorched-earth approach to litigation; I was able to include his detailed answer, which he sent in the middle of Holy Week, in the succeeding column. Published on April 19, 2011.

AN “UNETHICAL lawyer,” now “relishing his return to the limelight,” in the process “betraying principles he fought for in the Estrada impeachment”—if I were to describe Leonard de Vera, Willie Revillame’s counsel, in these terms, he would feel offended, and rightly so.

Each of the terms can be traced to some factual basis. De Vera was suspended by the Supreme Court for two years, for unethical conduct. (A news release from the Court in July 2006 began thus: “The Supreme Court yesterday suspended Atty. Leonard De Vera from the practice of law for misusing the US$12,000 he had received in trust for his American client.”) De Vera was a prominent legal resource person on TV during the Estrada impeachment crisis in 2000 to 2001; in fact, he served as a private prosecutor in the impeachment trial. And De Vera, in those same years, was very vocal about the culture of corruption, and the role that excessive amounts of money played in it.

But these inconvenient facts aside, it would be illogical (and also unfair) to criticize De Vera’s conduct as Revillame’s counsel in the last several days in precisely those three terms. But I do want to give him a small dose of his own ad hominem medicine.

De Vera has obviously taken the view that the best defense of Revillame’s behavior during the unfortunate Jan-Jan episode is a scorched-earth offense. Alleging prejudicial bias, he has gone on attack mode, severely criticizing one of the country’s foremost psychologists, several members of the Movie and Television Classification and Review Board, top officials of the social welfare department and untold numbers belonging, apparently, to a vast Facebook-enabled conspiracy (organized, supposedly, by rival network ABS-CBN), all out to get Revillame.

His approach, however, is decidedly unhelpful. (It may be a direct consequence of the circumstances in which Revillame left ABS-CBN, a victim, the best-paid man on television thought then, of insufficient company support.) It can only inflame the emotions. If De Vera ascribes a dark bias to Revillame’s critics, what does that make of De Vera himself? His defense of Revillame can only be biased too, and based on contract. Why, then, should anyone believe him?

If he (and by presumption the client he works for) cannot distinguish between different kinds of critics, then he is no better than the man whose impeachment he prosecuted.

* * *

In the thick of Holy Week, one aspect of the latest Revillame controversy suggests itself to me. And that is, precisely, that it is only the latest. In other words, there have been others. And like any other sinner, like all of us, Revillame too is marked by the pattern of his sins.

I use the word “sin” analogically—like the term “original sin” itself—but will anyone be surprised if some of these same controversies amount to sin as understood in the Christian sense?

A recent column in the Star by Yoly Ong, on the “10 ways to be a monster hit,” serves as a useful index of Revillame’s previous controversies. By far the worst, it seems to me, is the “Wowowee” stampede that claimed the lives of 78 fans. (I saw that long, bedraggled line the day before the stampede; the fans were already there, at the mercy of both the elements and the show’s organizers.) More deaths than the Ampatuan massacre; ABS-CBN should have ended his show right then and there, to prevent anyone saying the awful truth: That one can get away with murder. That, in fact, is what Revillame’s pattern of sins suggests: He is always trying to “get away” with something.

I have many friends in TV5; I am genuinely happy that the network’s fortunes have taken a turn for the better, under new management; I can vouch for the thrilling sense of possibility that now animates the network’s managers, producers, reporters. It is a source of deep anxiety to me to realize that, despite Revillame’s record of controversy, all this promise of the new TV5 turns out to depend, to an uncomfortable degree, on Willing Willie’s good will.

* * *

RIZAL 150 NEWS. For my money, the best “coffeetable book” on Rizal is Vibal Foundation’s superb edition of Asuncion Lopez Bantug’s biography, “Lolo Jose.” I am happy to relay the news that the same foundation is preparing what it calls “a multimedia tribute” to mark Rizal’s 150th birthday.

The digital platform is a cornerstone of Vibal’s Rizaliana. On June 10, it will launch The Complete Jose Rizal, a special section in (I only hope that the section’s collection of Rizal’s letters won’t be a slave to the 1961 compilation translated by the estimable but overworked Encarnacion Alzona). In the same month, Vibal will launch a Rizal app for the iPad: “a trilingual interactive e-book of ‘Ang Pagong at ang Matsing’ … featuring an intuitive interface, gorgeous graphics and an immersive score.”

Working with Instituto Cervantes, Vibal will also publish, in old-fashioned print, the two novels in the original Spanish—a worthy effort, especially if the Spanish-language editions are an improvement on those published by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. A superior introduction please, and useful annotations!



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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics, Readings in Rizal

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