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Apr 19

Yet another blunder worse than a crime

That seems to be the way the pendulum of public opinion has swung, concerning Ted Failon and the death of his wife. Two things, after the initial flurry of details (some of them wildly off the mark) concerning the whole thing.

The first is put forward by Rina Jimenez-David in her column, Celebrities have rights, too:

[On]the morning of April 15… Ted Failon, then doing a solo turn, took note of how, in Quezon City, “not one, not two, not three, but four” cases of carjacking had taken place not just “over four days, three days, or two days” but overnight!

…Failon proceeded to skewer the newly-appointed OIC of the Central Police District who was hard put to explain this boomlet in crime. Then, as most everyone knows by now, Failon cut short his program to rush home and there, as he says, found his wife with a bullet wound in the head.

The QCPD would, of course, subsequently take a lead in the handling of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Failon’s wife.

And there is Patricia Evangelista’s marvelous column (read the whole thing), The Failon incident:

When the men behind the badge dragged Trina Etong’s sister Pamela screaming out of the New Era General Hospital, a short while before Trina breathed her last, they made Failon the victim.

This is what Kaye Etong, Failon’s daughter said while sitting in the ABS-CBN newsroom last Thursday to the police: My mother killed herself. She ended her life and died alone. My aunt and uncle were hauled off to jail. My father is being accused, and is attempting to bring our jailed helpers and relatives together to be with my mother.

The police are hounding us. I am here, on national television, announcing that I believe my mother chose to leave us and die. Now, is there anything else you want to put us through?

Understand that this is what that admission means: that one girl has been pushed to a corner to a point that she is announcing to the public that this woman, the mother who gave birth to her, who was supposed to love her and cherish her and stand by her, has chosen instead to die, knowing the consequences to the two daughters left motherless and guilt-stricken.

The consensus then is that, setting aside what might have actually transpired -or not- in the death of his wife, the police handling of Failon and family has turned public opinion squarely against the police. In general, our culture expects a wide latitude to be given even to one’s foes in times of family celebrations (baptisms, weddings) or tragedy (illness, funerals), and for a predominantly Christian (indeed, Catholic) country, suicide in particular is something treated with kid gloves because of the stigma that remains attached to that act. And whatever official scrutiny takes place concerning the prominent, we expect some consideration for their underlings. Whether tangling with the doctors over a proposed Paraffin test, dragging household help to jail, and then depriving a distraught sister of the cultural imperative of nursing her dying sister -well, how many cultural norms could the police have possible defied in a single week, concerning a single case?

It only reinforces the notion that the police are less interested less in law and order than in publicity and getting even.

After the grisly murder of Iglesia Filipina Independiente bishop (and former Obispo Maximo) Antonio Ramento, I remember his son describing to me, during the wake, how the police bungled the investigation into the murder of his father. One detail in particular stands out: the policemen brought their coffee and snacks to the murder scene and subsequently added the remainder of their merienda to the scene of the crime. Of course to this day, no one has been apprehended in the case of the bishop’s murder, the police considering a robbery gone awry.

The problem -for the police, anyway- is that once cases hit the headlines, police conduct is subjected to intense public scrutiny, regardless of whether that scrutiny is informed or not. There is, perhaps, an instinctive desire for the public to play amateur sleuth, a desire emboldened by all the detective shows people feast on in movies and on television. A few months ago, I picked up a marvelously entertaining book. “Beating the Devil’s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation” (Katherine Ramsland) which gives a brisk rundown on the development of Forensic Science and criminal investigation procedure since the Middle Ages. The testing of a suspect’s hands for gunshot residue, according to Ramsland, first took place in 1932, and was done by a certain Thomas Gonzales.

I bring this up, because of one particular aspect that looms over anything the police do or don’t do, concerning their investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Ted Failon’s wife: the politicization of the police, and with it, the prioritization of the political aspects of crimes, to the detriment -even abandonment- of scrupulous police procedures. The police are perceived to be neither professional, nor fair; put another way, the capacity of the police to engage in neutral investigations is hobbled and inevitably compromised, by political considerations that affect, in particular, high-profile cases: either things can be hushed-up if the case involves someone with access to the authorities, or taken in all sorts of unhelpful directions if the case involves people not in good odor with the present dispensation.

This not to say that the State had no right to get involved; or that charges shouldn’t be filed. In Ramsland’s book, she puts the involvement of the authorities in suicide (or alleged suicide) cases in context:

They were… the keepers of the king’s pleas. Those who held the office, soon to be called coroners, collected taxes, but they also summoned inquest juries for people who were seriously wounded or who had died from “misadventure.” Since these officials were there to protect the king’s interests, they could confiscate animals or objects implicated in accidental deaths and take over goods found in accidents or wrecks, although they could not themselves render verdicts.

…One’s manner of death had implications for taxes, because in certain types of deaths the king confiscated the property.

A suicide is no longer an outlaw, except in the religious sense (for Catholics, hence the lingering social stigma in our society involving suicides; though the Church more often than not, tempers this by giving wide latitude to the assumption that a suicide might involve temporary insanity, mitigating the circumstances in the eyes of Church authority). However the State requires all deaths to be certified and registered; and death by suicide is the kind of thing that requires ruling out other possibilities, such as foul play. All these certifications and necessary inquiries, too, necessarily involves taking notice of the financial implications (and motivations) of alleged suicides.

But this brings up the possibility that what violates the law may not be worth the persecution involved. Consider the established fact that the site of the suicide was cleaned up; and that, since it is reasonable for the State to inquire into the circumstances, cleaning up the scene obviously makes a determination one way or another more difficult. Therefore, an obstruction of justice. But there is also the possibility that if the cleaning up can be considered a sign of foul play, it might also have been a very human response to the grisly nature of the event: what normal person wants a reminder of the event to remain? If the former is determined, then if done alone or in cooperation with others, the cleaning up was certainly a crime; if the latter, it does not seem either reasonable or beneficial to the public to insist on a persecution leading to conviction.

The police could have come out smelling like roses out of this one, precisely because the QCPD had been criticized by Failon. Instead, they did practically everything possible to alienate public opinion and render a dispassionate, professional finding after a scrupulous investigation.

In this, the only counterpart of the police in terms of unprofessional behavior was large segments of the media. The airwaves were cluttered, from the start, with misleading or patently false information in some cases. There were pious requests for privacy to be respected, followed by a showbiz-style extravaganza that passed itself off as news coverage: network muscle was wielded to monopolize the news in favor of ABS-CBN’s coverage, which may or may not have been motivated by the manner in which the rival network tried to peddle its own scoops, including the broadcasting of the alleged suicide note.

[email protected] pointed out in a recent conversation that what seems to have been overlooked, in the mania for amateur sleuthing that accompanied the event, was the element of justice. For Failon’s wife and the real circumstances, whatever they might be, surrounding her death; and for her family. The public’s interest is, of course, to ensure that if foul play resulted in her death, that it be punished -and conversely, for the family and friends of the victim to be cleared of any potential, unwarranted, stigma attached to that death.

The police blunders means whatever they determine will be clouded by public skepticism; and for Failon and his network, that ratings and protecting one of their own trumped all other considerations.

aside from masticating quotes CSI: “a… family burdened with tragedy that put you under a microscope. That close, nobody can look good.” Indeed. Some reactions giving a sampling of public opinion can be found in Smoke, in Purpose Driven Paul, and Now What, Cat? in pakshet 101 and Touched by an Angel.

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  1. cocoy

    [email protected] pointed out in a recent conversation that what seems to have been overlooked, in the mania for amateur sleuthing that accompanied the event, was the element of justice. For Failon’s wife and the real circumstances, whatever they might be, surrounding her death; and for her family. The public’s interest is, of course, to ensure that if foul play resulted in her death, that it be punished -and conversely, for the family and friends of the victim to be cleared of any potential, unwarranted, stigma attached to that death.

    yep. i hope the family goes into counseling, whether murder or suicide, the stigma is a huge burden to bear.

    The police blunders means whatever they determine will be clouded by public skepticism; and for Failon and his network, that ratings and protecting one of their own trumped all other considerations.

    sad but true. yep.

  2. Carl

    With a corrupt and inept police and a corrupt and inept judiciary, where can we turn to for justice?

    This Failon case could have been handled much better. I recall the famous Madeline case in Portugal, where a British couple were accused by Portuguese police of being involved in the murder of their own daughter. It continues to be a mystery to this day, even if it now seems that the parents were really innocent. That was a much more complicated situation and involved much more sophisticated sleuthing than this.

  3. UP n grad

    Oh, wow… for quite a few days there, I thought there will be one who will CEASE/DESIST from flogging this Failon case.

  4. baycas

    We await the autopsy findings set to be released tomorrow. Let’s hope the pathologist had no observer effects and examiner bias…

    Men generally believe quite freely that which they want to be true.

    – Julius Ceasar, page 155 of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War 155 (51 B.C.E.)

    Our assumptions define and limit what we see, i.e. we tend to see things in such a way that they will fit in with our assumptions even if this involves distortions or omissions.

    – M.L. Johnson, biologist (1953)

  5. baycas

    Quoted in “Crime Reconstruction” by William Jerry Chisum, Brent E. Turvey
    Chapter 3, Observer effects and examiner bias: psychological influences on the forensic examiner:

    [T]he history of science generally, and the history of psychology more specifically, suggests that more of us are wrong longer than we need to be because we hold our theories not quite lightly enough.

    – Robert Rosenthal as quoted in Zuckerman (1992)

  6. BrianB

    Evangelista’s column gives us a pretty comprehensive assessment, but what’s left to be pointed out is this. The military has been subject to much criticism for its political involvements and meanwhile we’ve spared the police, which is also a political arm, dismissing them as merely incompetent. Do you think this incompetence has to do with their coconuts? The police has been playing emperor’s new clothes for a long time with regards to crimes perpetrated by politicians and the well-connected elite. Do you think this has nothing to do with their incomparable incompetence? Decades of conditioning.

  7. Madonna

    “If Ted Failon pulled the trigger of the gun that cost Trina Etong her life, then this would be a case where the country would side with a murderer because they would believe him more than the police.”

    Pat Evangelista just summed up the irony of how justice get trammelled from the start. When perception or publicity becomes the be-and-end-all, truth is always the casualty.

  8. Madonna

    The police has been politicized especially when under the local government code they have come under the supervision of mayors and governors. Plus, a considerable number of the older PNP officers still come from the PMA who are naturally military-oriented. The old police before Edsa I was under the PC-INP (lumped with the military Philippine Constabulary).

    I believe though that the newer and younger breed who are better educated and whose officers trained under the PNPA are more civilian in character and are more professional.

  9. Pedestrian Observer GB

    The prevalence of speculation is the result of a dysfunctional justice system in a society with endemic corruption where truth is so relative and mangled up. What is so scary is if this bungled up police investigation is the norm and not the exception….. I suspect the later especially when you have a justice secretary calling his underling crazy because it takes one to know one….. I rest my case your horror… errr honor.

  10. S o P

    WTF moment when I read the suicide note. WTF’s with addressing your husband in po’s and opo’s? She must be submissive or something and Ted some kind of domineering husband.

  11. S o P

    “Papa, Im so so sorry gustong gusto ko pong magsabi sa yo ng totoo, pero hindi ko po alam kung papaano ko uumpisahan.

    “Sobrang takot na takot po ako. Umalis po muna ako. Kasi hindi ko po kayang at nahihiya po ako sayo humarap.

    “Sana po mapawad mo ako papa. Sorry, sorry Papa

    Mama”

    Someone care to psychoanalyze the relationship between these spouses?

  12. S o P

    Also a question Manolo, and you might know about this, being in the media industry. Regarding the financial difficulties of this couple, aren’t top dog talking heads, Corina Sanchez, Ted Failon, Mike Enriquez etc, supposed to be paid millions per year by GMA and ABS-CBN? Couldn’t imagine the “financial difficulties” being too big not to be recouped in a year or two’s salary.

  13. Carl

    I wonder if this will cause people to rethink the Hubert Webb conviction?

  14. Mark T. Market

    If anything, this case enriches the public vocabulary on legal terms such as “obstruction of justice”. However, it’s also glaring yet again how media entities such as ABS-CBN and GMA, even the broadsheets vary in their treatment and coverage of the investigation. However, these differences can also be beneficial for the public–because it encourages critical thinking on the audience’s part in assimilating the news they receive.

    If I may contribute my own pop analysis to this, but on a relatively trivial portion of the case, the suicide note.

    Cheers.

  15. Paul Garilao

    Hello Manolo,

    Thank you for metnioning my blog on your site. It’s an honor for me.

  16. mlq3

    SoP I wouldn’t know, I never ask people about their salaries.

  17. Bert

    The blunders are piling up; and it’s Ted Failon’s.

  18. ramrod

    We’re used to cops’ blunders, its the norm. But Ted Failon’s blunders are quite rare, so that makes this case interesting.

  19. jiggs

    this case is eerily similar to the OJ Simpson case where it involves a personality and some stupid cops. Oj-Ted, Nicole-trina, Kato Kaelin-chinese houseguest, Mark Fuhrman-Mabanag. And just like OJ Ted will walk free not because he was innocent but because of classic police blunders

  20. viktor12

    the police have become so corrupted under the evil regime of Gloria Arroyo. This is the reason why the public do not trust them a bit. They are more concerned in pleasing their corrupt masters in the palace by the murky waters of Pasig.

  1. Rebound Relationships » THE RIGHT TO SPEAK: OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE Criminal News Stories

    […] Yet another blunder worse than a crime : Manuel L. Quezon III: The … By mlq3 ?Beating the Devil?s Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation? (Katherine Ramsland) which gives a brisk rundown on the development of Forensic Science and criminal investigation procedure since the Middle Ages. … Manuel L. Quezon III: The Daily Dose – http://www.quezon.ph/ […]

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