Seeing through the confusion

We live in one world, but we see the world in many different ways. Confusion results when we fail to distinguish these different ways of seeing, as when we try to make them consistent with one another, or to reduce them to a presumed common essence—like truth, for example. Instead of asking which one is true, we should be asking: “From whose point of view?”

Let us take, as an example, the confusion sown by the proliferation of those aptly-named “Napolists.” These are supposed to be lists of names of lawmakers who received kickbacks in exchange for allocating their pork barrel to dubious projects, government officials who received grease money for facilitating the processing of pork barrel documents, and private individuals who acted as brokers for these corrupt deals in exchange for commissions.

In the beginning, there was only one list—the one that the accused pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles was reported to have given to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima when the latter saw her at the hospital just before she underwent surgery for a medical condition. That event had all the elements of something truly newsworthy—a faceoff between the nation’s chief prosecutor and the accused in a highly controversial case, a possible change of heart by someone facing mortality, and an explosive list of names that could terminate political careers and shape the country’s political landscape for a long time.

Almost instantly, De Lima came under pressure from politicians and opinion makers to reveal the content of the Napoles list. Holding her ground like a prosecutor, she declared that the list needed to be “vetted” for its evidentiary value. People suspected her of wanting to “sanitize” the list to protect the allies of the administration. Eventually, she relented, saying she would have no choice but to comply if she was ordered by the Senate blue ribbon committee to submit the list. Sen. TG Guingona, chair of the committee that had been investigating the pork barrel scam, forthwith issued the order. De Lima begged for a little more time to complete the Napoles affidavit that could provide context to the list, but this was denied. As soon as she submitted the list, the Senate committee made it public. Today one senator whose name appears in the list unfairly accuses her of “lawyering” for Napoles.

In the interim, other lists sprouted like mushrooms in the middle of a stormy night.  There is the list that Jaime Napoles, husband of Janet, is supposed to have given earlier to former senator Ping Lacson. Lacson submitted this to the Senate blue ribbon committee ahead of the one De Lima received from Janet Napoles herself. Then there is the list that Sandra Cam, the professed leader of an association of whistle-blowers, is supposed to have obtained from other sources. Finally, there is the list that lawyer Levito Baligod, who represents the key whistle-blowers in this case, submitted to the Department of Justice back in March 2013, when his client Benhur Luy was allegedly being held illegally by the Napoles camp.

On top of all these lists, which media outfits have breathlessly reported in the race to “scoop” the competition, the Inquirer produced its own list of names plus a serialized account of the Napoles scam. The report is based on scanned documents found in the hard disk drive of a personal computer purportedly belonging to Benhur Luy. In April 2013, Benhur’s parents sought the Inquirer’s help in finding their missing son, who, they claimed, was being detained by Napoles because he had become a threat to the latter’s illegal operations. During that visit, they allowed the Inquirer to copy the files lodged in the hard disk drive.

In the wake of these revelations, the public is having a hard time deciding which of the lists to believe. Some names appear in all the lists. Others appear in one or two lists but not in the others. In the meantime, politicians are all over the airwaves denying and protesting the inclusion of their names in these lists, and threatening to sue the alleged sources.

I go back to the point with which I began. It is always important to know who is talking, which perspective he or she is coming from. At least three perspectives are at work in the ongoing public conversation on the pork barrel scam, all claiming the public’s exclusive and undivided attention.

There is, first of all, the perspective of the justice system. Its main concern is to determine what is legal and what is illegal. Its interest is in those facts that can stand scrutiny in court.  Then there is the political. Its attention is consumed by those events it deems relevant to the question—who should wield the power to make binding decisions for the nation? And lastly, there is the perspective of the mass media. The media are preoccupied with information—information about what is new and different.

How are we to manage this complexity? The answer is fairly simple. Let the legal system do its work quietly. Let today’s political players jostle with one another in their bid to give every bit of information a distinct political spin. Let the mass media perform their function of marking today from yesterday by telling the news, and giving us the tools to anticipate what is to come. And let us all be vigilant.

A good part of vigilance is knowing how to observe. We must not allow any one of these necessarily partial views to claim a monopoly of the truth. “There are no facts, only interpretations,” Nietzsche famously said. Many of our problems arise when we conflate perspectives—as when the justice system allows what is politically expedient, or newsworthy, to determine what is legally actionable.

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