Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rumor has it

I was channel surfing recently and I stumbled into the ABS-CBN show called "The Bottomline," hosted by Boy Abunda. I don't really watch this show, for the fact that the format doesn't appeal to me and that Abunda's interview style isn't the kind I like to watch. However, his guest for this particular episode was Cesar Flores, President of Smartmatic Asia Pacific, the company that supplied PCOS machines to the Philippine government.

I was interested to hear just what he had to say about the Philippines and Filipinos. This is a guy who's been insulted and maligned to the high heavens by so many Filipinos, from the cynical to the ignorant, for whatever reason they can think of. And yet, his company enabled the country to pull off one of the biggest automated election project in the world, something that Filipinos should now be crowing about to the world, more than, say, the longest langgonisa in the world (or some other trivial object meant for the Guinness Book of World Records). That is, if only some Filipinos had not reverted back to playing the old game of eliminating the positive and accentuating the negative. Some losing candidates seem to be trying to throw anything they can think of to show there was cheating last elections, hoping it'll stick, hoping that (in billiards term) lakas tira, lakas tsamba.

If I were in Flores' shoes, I'd probably not like us very much right now. I wouldn't be surprised if he left the Philippines in a huff once Congress focuses its short attention span on the latest expose (like a sex video scandal or something as "important" as that) and forget the messy world of Pinoy politics, like a nightmare I woke up from. His answers though were interesting, careful honesty was the name of his game. He was honest enough to admit that the Php 7.2 billion Smartmatic got for the project wasn't worth all the hassle. But he surprised me by saying that he'd be willing to do it again in a heartbeat, should they handle another Philippine election.

The answer he gave that struck me the most was when he said that Venezuelans (of which he is one) love chismis as much as Filipinos, the only difference is that we are more prone to believe in them. He seems to be lamenting the absurd level of gullibility that Filipinos have for gossip and unverified reports. He was being polite. He could have gone on about the tendency of the man-on-the-street to become uto-uto and malisyoso based on sabi-sabi and he wouldn't be b.s.ing. Or the tendency to like chismis too much, in a very unhealthy and creepy way.

Often in a society where personal space is an alien concept and your private life is never a taboo subject to your nosy neighbors, a girl's sudden chubbiness can result to pregnancy rumors. A married man is seen with another woman, doing nothing suspicious, and infidelity talks begin. News of wrongdoing gets out and a person is crucified like he's been a bad guy all his life, with his mistake snowballing with each retelling of the story (although when it comes to politicians, we have really short memories). Remember the old movie joke about taking stories to another level to impress others, with a cough humorously being elevated to TB. This is the kind of Filipino tendency which gives our TV networks the idea and motivation to rely on tabloid-style reporting, as such style really does produce ratings. Philippine yellow journalism would make even William Randolph Hearst blush. But I digress...

Okay, you may be saying, "but he's a businessman, he's covering his own ass, protecting his bosses' interests." That may be true. But think about it. How many hours of airtime and print space are wasted by reporters jumping on statements backed by flimsy statements because sensationalism gets ratings? How many investigations has the government done over nothing but malicious conjectures because it provides an avenue for grandstanding, which unfortunately, does result in name recall come election time? How, for the love of God, can we actually even think of believing a guy who dresses up like this?

And yet, Koala Boy got his more than 15 minutes of fame, his jockstrap wearing mug appearing prominently on TV news and newspaper front pages a few weeks ago. Seriously, he wears an underwear on his face. Put this in the "I wish I was making this up" category. He could have at least put a handkerchief over his face to make himself look like a bandido. Or a cool ninja headgear with just the eyes showing.

And you have to wonder about those losing politicians who said they were offered the services of by so called "IT experts" who promised to rig election in their favor, in exchange for a significant amount of money. Now you're telling us this. After you lost. With the belief that you were a victim of the people who approached you earlier. What? The public wasn't good enough to know about such schemes until you yourself could use this as an excuse for losing? You're playing the victim card now? Cry me a river.

My thoughts on this? Those hackers are con-men. They'll be happy to take any money that stupid politicians will pay should they fall for this trick. Up to now, there has been no evidence to suggest that PCOS machines were hacked to produce false results, except alleged promises of victory, for a price, by amateur con-men to their professional counterparts.

There is good news here, however. Yes, good news. Koala Boy's fame lasted only about a week, before being resigned to circle of oblivion where pathetic embarrassments dwell for eternity. Turns out he didn't capture the people's fancy, just their ridicule (it's the underwear mask I tell you). Or maybe the joy felt by most people over the most credible elections in decades just had too much momentum, bowling over a marsupial look-alike. The next cycle saw him beaten by presidential smoking habits and habitations. Maybe that gullibility is going away. [remembers the result of the last elections] Okay, maybe not. But we're getting there (I hope).

Former US President Ronald Reagan said "trust, but verify." This may be true if your source has a record of reliability, and just as long as your give more importance to the "verify" part. But a schmuck that came off the street peddling snake oil, you have to think a thousand times before buying his story. And a guy dressed like a koala, fuggedaboutit.

Otherwise, stuff like UFOs, dancing sun, and satanic backmasking will get media mileage. What? They already did?

And Filipinos have to learn to be as critical of their media as they are of their leaders. Not to cast doubt on anyone, but no matter how the press says they are for the people, they are still a business, with a bottom line that should always be in black and increasing. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”- Buddha

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