Why, who is going after the Inquirer?
By Joker P. Arroyo
Editor's Note: Per request of the author, the following is published "unedited and in full, including the title."
MANILA, Philippines -- When Secretary Neri pleaded at the close of the September 26th 2007 joint committee hearing on the NBN deal that he would like to consult his superiors before he could agree or not to disclose his conversation with the President, the Minority Leader Senator Pimentel broached to me the idea of an executive session where Neri could speak in the strictest confidence and thereby break the impasse. I agreed.
That was consistent with the Senate Rules on Executive Session, Rule XLVII, Sec. 127, which provides that it "shall be held whenever a Senator so requests it and his petition has been duly seconded."
The presence of DBM Secretary Andaya, as attested by the Blue Ribbon Transcript, was authorized by the lead Chair, Senator Cayetano in accordance with Sec. 126, that "such other persons as may be authorized by the Senate may be admitted to the (executive session)."
At the start of the closed-door session, Senate President Villar invoked Section 128, that everyone "shall absolutely refrain from divulging any of the confidential matters taken up by the Senate, and all proceedings which might have taken place in the Senate in connection with said matters shall likewise be considered as strictly confidential xxx."
So sacrosanct is the executive session that Sec. 129 proscribes that "any Senator who violates the [confidentiality injunction' may, by a two-thirds (2/3) votes of all the Senators, be expelled from the Senate xxx."
Three days later, on September 29, 2007, Inquirer's Malacañang reporter, Juliet Labog-Javellana, quoting four unnamed sources, filed a detailed account of what supposedly happened in the closed-door meeting which was banner headlined in the Inquirer issue of Sept. 30th.
It was a double-whammy, First, against the Inquirer for a patently baseless report that everyone privy to that meeting has stoutly denied. Second, against the Senate for the possible sources could only be the senators present who faced the prospect of the ultimate sanction under the Senate rules: expulsion.
Considering the serious breach of Senate rules, P.S. Resolution No. 165 was passed without any objection by the Senate.
The resolutory portion is simple and forthright. It reads:
"Resolved, as it is hereby resolved, to direct the appropriate Committee to conduct an inquiry into violation of Rule XLVII and/or other rules of the Senate as a consequence of the aforesaid [Inquirer] news account and to investigate any/or all Senators and non-Senators who were present during the said Executive Session and to impose sanctions as may be warranted under the Rules."
The Senate would go to great lengths to conduct a formal investigation of the erring senators, if any; for breach of its Rules, if there was; and to impose penalties, if warranted. The Senate cannot have four members who cannot work within its Rules. What was the response of the Inquirer?
Within hours after the Senate adopted the investigative resolution and as the Inquirer was going to press, its editors suddenly declared that it stood by the Javellana story wholesale. That is, without conducting any investigation--in sharp contrast to the Senate's careful and calibrated response.
Inquirer thought it had played a neat shell game. By absolving Ms Javellana with self-serving and indecent haste, Inquirer sought to absolve itself. Did it? Only if the accused is to be the judge of her own guilt.
But no one was accusing the Inquirer. Not yet anyway. The Senate has in fact provisionally taken Ms Javellana's claim of real sources at her word, and was conducting an investigation to uncover these sources and then check with them the veracity of the account they allegedly gave her.
Why should that so disturb the Inquirer like an inveterate cardsharp who may actually have been playing an honest game?
At no point will the Inquirer itself be investigated, only the senators and the others who were present at the executive session. Ms Javellana may invoke the confidentiality of her sources to stop herself from revealing their identities but not to stop the Senate from finding out for itself. Unless a newspaper is of the view that it has, in some regard, the last word on what a Senate may or may not do. We do not think so.
And now the Inquirer has hunkered down for a siege that no one intends to lay it, devoting four kilometric but distorted accounts of the issue on its front page, plus two editorials and numerous columns. Everyone at the Inquirer is at the ramparts scanning the horizon for enemies that are not there; for the inquiry will be of the Senate by the Senate without any regard to Inquirer. Unless the Inquirer is of the view that anything it may concern itself with is its sole prerogative to dispose of and no one else. What an odd self-important notion.
With characteristic imbalance, the Inquirer extended to me a single slanted headline coupled with a predictably editorialized news account of Senate Resolution No. 165.
It grasped at the off-tangent straw thrown in its direction by a lawyer with an axe to grind against the Senate because he was barred from attending any Senate committee hearings for unruly behavior and improper knowledge.
Amado Doronila, Inquirer's career obscurantist, joined the pride and writes about a freedom whose loss he was not around to experience.
Doronila labors mightily to transform the Senate Resolution into a battle for the liberty of the press. But the Senate has no fight with the press. Neither has the Senate a fight with the Inquirer. All the Senate seeks is the truth about the sourcing of Ms Javellana's thus far universally denied story so that it can deal with the offending senators and not with a newspaper whose feeble grasp of facts has lost it a lot of credibility though not, to be sure, any of its entertainment value.
Nor is the Senate interested in denying Ms Javellana the confidentiality of her sources, thereby hobbling the journalistic right to search for the truth. Far from it, the Senate seeks only to protect the confidentiality of executive sessions without which its effectiveness in searching for the truth will likewise be hampered.
What surprises us all is not that Ms Javellana made a claim of sources that has been roundly denied by everyone concerned but that her editors nonetheless published a story in the teeth of the declared confidentiality of the Senate proceedings, thereby damaging perhaps irreparably one of the legislature's most effective devices for getting at the truth. The fault was not so much Ms Javellana's for claiming sources that may not exist as her editors for going ahead with a story regardless of the consequences to the Senate and the larger public interest in arriving at the truth about the ZTE affair.
As the Senate grills all the senators who were present at the session, it may well be that some or just one of them may ask that Ms Javellana be invited to shed some light on the matter, perhaps also in executive session so that no one else may know what or whether she spoke. After all, as the writer of the offending article, no one is in a better position to help the Senate resolve the issue. This time we trust that the strictest confidence will be maintained by all concerned.
The Inquirer of course may refuse to allow Ms Javellana to attend or may threaten her continued employment if she does; that is its prerogative or rather that of the editors. But it cannot, in all decency, criticize the Senate for doing its duty in this matter. I hope the Inquirer publishes this statement. It would only be fair and a profound surprise.
N THE interest of fairness, the editors take exception to the author saying two less than factual items: First, that the Sept. 30 banner story about the leak of what happened to Neri at the Senate executive session of Sept. 27 had been "universally denied."
Except for Senator Arroyo himself, not one of Philippine Daily Inquirer's four news sources for the Sept. 30 news story had come forward to deny it.
Second, that the editors stood by the story bylined by Juliet Javellana without investigating first. There was no need. Juliet was assigned to check out a tip the editors got about what happened behind closed doors at the Senate executive session. Certain other editors were in on the whole process of Juliet's news gathering for and verifying and cross-checking the story. From the start, Juliet was not acting in a vacuum. Though she alone wrote the story, the editors were there all the way. There was nothing to investigate. All this time, the editors were on top of the story.