Alerted that the Philippine government was poised to file criminal charges against her that were non-bailable offenses, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) and her husband hurriedly booked five flights (to anywhere) leaving Manila on the evening of November 15 after securing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from her Supreme Court (SC) appointees to block government authorities from preventing their departure.

The video cameras of all the Philippine TV news stations were waiting at the airport as GMA dramatically emerged from an ambulance wearing a face mask and a neck brace. The cameras then showed in live action the visibly distraught former president being escorted around the airport in a wheel chair with TV and print media photographers hovering over her.

The airport suspense drama climaxed when Philippine immigration authorities ignored the TRO and refused to grant her permission to leave the country based on the hold order issued by Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima. In attempting to leave the country, GMA was ironically following the precedent set by her mortal enemy, Sen. Ping Lacson. When a warrant of arrest was issued against him in December of 2009, Lacson immediately fled the country before he could be arrested while his lawyers challenged the legality of the warrants. After his lawyers succeeded in getting the Court of Appeals to junk the warrants, Lacson triumphantly returned to Manila in March of 2011.

GMA had claimed that she needed to leave the country immediately because she was suffering from a “life-threatening” spinal disease called spondylosis for which, she alleged, no medical treatment was available in the Philippines. Her lawyer, Raul Lambino, charged that the government’s decision to deny her permission to leave the Philippines was “inflicting inhumane, cruel punishment” on his client.

Was it all just a ploy to gain public sympathy for GMA? If it was, the ploy worked, at least with certain Filipinos in the US.

In a TV news story broadcast on the popular Balitang America program on The Filipino Channel (TFC) on November 23, ABS-CBN correspondent Henni Espinosa reported the reaction of US Filipinos like Goya Navarrete who told Henni: “For humanitarian reasons, they should let her go for medical check-up or operation — whatever is recommended by doctors in the Philippines.”

I asked Goya, who lives in South San Francisco, where she receives her news information and she replied “TFC.” She said she is so busy that she just doesn’t have time to read the community newspapers and she does not use a computer.

Goya is not alone in her reliance on TFC news for information. According to Nerissa Fernandez of ABS-CBN International, “TFC is now in over 300,000 households in the U.S, on cable, satellite or Direct-to-Home, IPTV, SVOD (subscription video on-demand) and online (TFCNow) platforms. It has a 45% market penetration in the U.S.”

Although there are more than 100 Filipino community newspapers serving more than 4 million Filipinos throughout the US, the primary news source for the community is Philippine cable TV principally TFC and its main competitor, GMA7. Philippine television media is now more influential than print media.

As a regular weekly columnist, since October 1987 in the Philippine News, I am saddened by this development as it is further proof of the “dumbing down” of the community’s consciousness.

“Print media communicates through logic and analysis; Visual media communicates only through images,” Scott Aniol observed. “The very nature of visual media prevents its capacity for profound depth. Visual media cannot thoroughly evaluate the human condition like printed media can. Words communicate in linear, logical form; something communicated in words can thus be judged to be true or false. But an image cannot be true or false.”

Aniol charged that “visual media encourages mindless consumption. Visual media is certainly more popular because it requires little if any active participation. In fact, visual media is attractive primarily because it is easy.” You don’t need any measurable IQ to watch TV.

“Print media stimulates imagination; visual media discourages creativity. Print media allows the reader to fill in gaps with his mind, while visual media leaves little room for imagination, painting every picture for the viewer,” Aniol asserted.

As the weekday host of Balitang America, Gel Santos Relos regularly reads the teleprompter to report the news to the TV audience. During these 15 minutes of air time, Gel has no opportunity to inject any insights she may have about the news she reports.

But Gel has a syndicated column, The FilAm Perspective, that appears in Filipino community newspapers which affords her the opportunity to comment on the news. In her November 23 column, for instance, Gel wrote that even after GMA obtained the TRO, “Justice Secretary Leila De Lima did not give up. She exhausted all possible legal measures to make sure GMA would not get in that plane. Citing absence of an official copy of the Temporary Restraining Order by the government, which is mandated by law to make Supreme Court decision binding and executory, and then filing Motion for Reconsideration (MR)” provided De Lima with the opportunity to “buy time.”

“GMA went back to the hospital, and booked yet another flight for Friday for Singapore, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s rejection of the MR filed by DOJ. But De Lima proved faster this time, and a formal case of election sabotage was filed Friday morning before the Regional Trial Court in Pasay,” Gel added.

The severe time limitations imposed by a 15 minutes a day TV news program do not provide US viewers with an opportunity for any in-depth news analysis. If Gel had her own talk show, she could interview guests who could provide special insights on the news as she did when she posted in her Facebook page on November 23 the analysis of US-based neurosurgeon Dr. Chito Salumbides, who commented that “in itself, spondylosis is not a disease, but rather represents the changes of aging, of wear and tear.”

“That is why, at some point in one’s life,” Dr. Salumbides explained, “experiencing neck or low back pain is to be expected. If an individual who is over 50 year old and gets an MRI of the cervical and lumbar spine, almost all will show spondylitic changes. But that does not mean the individual is sick. The older the patient is, the more spondylosis occurs. That is why it is a great folly to declare GMA’s spinal condition as getting worse or “kumakalat na.”

In fact, when the Pasay Regional Court Judge summoned GMA’s physicians to testify about her medical condition, they all conceded that GMA did not face a “life-threatening” condition as her lawyers had claimed but that she was getting better.

But all of these verifiable facts are available only to people who read articles in the print media. Those who rely solely on television images for their news will recall only the distraught face of a harassed GMA heartlessly denied the opportunity to leave the Philippines for emergency medical treatment of her “life-threatening” condition.

If TV news is the future, can ABS-CBN and GMA7 at least offer its US viewers talk shows that provide in-depth news analysis?

(Send comments to Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334/7800)

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