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.
Philippine National Police
rule of law