Last 9 July 2011, sensationalism reared its ugly head once more when Inquirer News — one of the more established news organizations in the country, both online and offline — published an article that may have damaged the reputation of a straight arrow in Davao City’s judiciary.
The news article itself was far from being the result of shoddy reporting, but the headline and the sub-head were very damaging, and moronic. The article was by-the-book reportage, stating how the judge interviewed by the reporter viewed the unfortunate handling by court sheriff Abe Andres of the 1-July demolition order of squatters’ homes in Barangay Soliman, Agdao, Davao City.
The article, however, assumed that the judge was allying himself with the violence-prone mayor. Far from it. The judge in question merely stated his informed legal opinion that the demolition order was not implemented according to lawful practices. On the other hand and in spite of this, he stood up for the sheriff in a way that nobody has ever considered in this whole unfortunate mess: the judiciary and the executive branches of government are necessarily autonomous.
The title that the Inquirer came up with, therefore, was an oxymoron to the article. Why in the world would a news article, which clearly portrays a judge defending a court sheriff, have a heading that reads “Davao judge ‘shoots’ the sheriff”?!?
What makes matters worse is the factual error on the part of this news organization. The judge interviewed for the article is the city’s executive judge, Isaac G. Robillo II. The sub-headline of the article reads “Demolition was illegal, says judge who ordered it”. Judge Robillo did not order the demolition. The writ of demolition, as everyone who’s been following this knows, was issued by Judge Emmanuel Carpio.
To be fair to the Inquirer, the people behind their social media efforts did respond quickly to our call to attention on Twitter. My cousin, Michael Aquino, shares the curated tweets here. One thing, however: those same people blamed their Mindanao Bureau (which they erroneously called the “Davao bureau”) for the factual error. Wrong. The article per se was more or less factual. It was the headline and sub-head that were blatantly and stupidly sensationalist. My source says that Inquirer news headlines are written by headline writers in Manila.
I must disclose that Judge Robillo is my uncle, my father’s older brother. However, this does not in any way influence my unbiased view of what is proper reporting and what isn’t. I have always pushed for more conscientious coverage of Mindanao news by national agencies. And for this, I was once invited to participate in the nation’s annual forum of decision-makers in the news industry, Media Nation.
To tell you how much of a straight arrow my uncle is, allow me to relate to you a story that broke my heart several years ago.
A young friend of mine, Harold, who was then a bubbly, wide-eyed fresh graduate of a Japanese-language course, went through living hell. I’d heard he’d been retained by a manpower agency to be their examiner for their in-house language classes. Turns out it was a recruitment outfit with illegal activities, and one day their office was raided by the police. Harold was there during the raid, because he was evaluating their exam papers. He was not hired by the agency, and he absolutely knew nothing of their operations — all he was asked to do was conduct the Japanese-language examinations for their recruits. But the police arrested Harold along with the agency’s owners. Despite the owners’ attesting to Harold’s non-involvement in their operations, the police still hauled him to jail.
It was almost seven days before I found out, but I rushed to the police barracks right away, and managed to sweet-talk the police to let my friend visit with me outside the cramped cell. I could barely contain my tears as Harold answered me when I asked him why he was craning his neck to see out the window. He had not seen the sun for a week. You would feel damaged, too, if you knew Harold: a hopeful, fun-loving, eager-to-learn young man who came from lowly beginnings but never let that limit his dreams.
Right after that, I went straight to my uncle to try and plead with him to intervene for Harold. Short of shooting me down, Judge Robillo did not even let me talk to him about the case. The first hint he got that I was going to talk about a pending court case, he asked me gently but very firmly to not discuss it with him. The case wasn’t even in his docket.
Harold stayed in jail for three months. I almost hated my uncle for that. But knowing him, and knowing how my family has always valued integrity, I understood completely why he could not, and did not, interfere with the law.
My uncle is well aware of the flaws in the law, or in the way the law is implemented. He is keenly aware of how “due process” poses many difficulties for Filipinos. But Judge Robillo has always exercised sound judgement in upholding the law, and will continue to champion it as Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Courts of Davao City.
In behalf of my family, I call on the Inquirer to publish an erratum and an apology to Judge Isaac G. Robillo II.